A white-knuckle ride to the deep jungle!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2011
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hock Chiang Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

8th March - Caught the 8 am bus from Sibu to Bintulu - nothing untoward on this leg of the journey - it was to come!  At Bintulu I parted company with Christian as he was going on to another National Park.  We arrived in Bintulu at 11.30 am - I had some lunch and in the indomitable words of Max Bygraves (a bygone British entertainer) "Let me tell you a story".......

The first thing I noticed when I came out of the bus station was the amount of 4WD Land cruisers and Toyota HiLux trucks there were outside the bus station - I thought "had there been a job lot and they (the owners) all got them at a bargain price?  Or was there something more sinister?  I was soon to find out.

We (my driver, Sap, and I) set off at a sedate pace along the road to Belaga for about 40 minutes - nothing out of the ordinary - THEN we turned onto a road where he stopped at a checkpoint barrier.  A man at the barrier came to the 4WD with a clipboard and pen - my driver signed something and when I asked him what it was all about, he told me that when a driver enters this area he has to sign that he has passed through this checkpoint and sign at the other end when he leaves that area.  When I asked him the reason I was told that in case he did not appear at the other end it meant that he had either crashed with a logging truck or had gone over the edge??  In the words of Callum (my grandson) I thought "Oh, great"  - just what I wanted to hear.

For the next 2.5 hours, I was glad that I did not know what was in front of me eg.  driving on both sides of the road (you had to follow arrows on wooden signs) to allow the huge logging trucks to make the bends, without going over the side of the mountain.  If my driver did not obey these signs we would have gone straight into an oncoming truck or gone for a quick descent!  Next, the bridges over mountain rivers were flimsy to say the least - he sometimes took a flying run at them to get over quickly!  At other times, the bridges were very narrow,  OR you could see the river below, because of the gaps in the timber planks.  And the reason why 4WD vehicles can only use this route?  When it rains, it pours and the surface becomes like a skating rink, or the car gets bogged down in the thick mud  - a regular car would have no chance!  To add to all this fun, there were steep drops and very high climbs on the road because we were going up and down the mountain - we rarely had a straight flat stretch of road.  And finally the surface was very uneven, gouged out ruts from the trucks, great big potholes, waterholes etc etc.  Luckily, the driver knows this road like the back of his hand and could anticipate all the nuances of the route.  Pauline, you would have loved it!!

And  GUESS WHAT????  This route is the only way back to where I was going next - what a great treat to look forward to!  From a health issue, you need to have the following in order:

A sound heart - even blood pressure - a strong back - nerves of steel - a good stomach, without much food inside - an empty bladder - need I go on??

Was it worth it, I hear you ask?  YES, in short.  Belaga is a lively town with very friendly happy people.  I was the only WHITE person in the whole place and stood out like a sore thumb!  After that journey I just wanted to have a shower, something to eat, a short walk and to bed - I slept very well, I was so exhausted.   I stayed at the Hock Chiang Hotel - I use the word hotel "loosely" - I am in the real outback here.  Henry, the owner, was really kind and helpful.

The next day, my guide, Hamdani, picked me up at my hotel at 9 am to go hiking in the jungle. The day started with a trip in his long-boat for about 20 mins down the Rejang River (there was water in it at this stretch) to visit a local people called the Kayan Tribe, who were harvesting their rice crop.  Well, actually the women were doing the harvesting while the men cooked the lunch, made coffee, smoked and chatted to my guide!    This is back-breaking work as it is all done the traditional way - baskets on their backs, pick the rice sheaves by hand, throw them over their shoulders into the baskets and later pack them into big sacks.  The next process is when the men tread on the rice sheaves to separate the rice from the stalks - then women put rice grains into sieves and separate the rice from the husks - then grinding is done and finally rice flour or they are kept in rice grains for food stock.  There you have it - the whole process from start to finish - nice and easy when you are just typing it or looking at them doing it!

We had coffee with them - very strong sweet coffee - they need the sugar for energy - and cream crackers!!  We then went off to see an orchard (again in the jungle) with peppers, small chilli pepper plants, banana trees, pineapple, cocoa, dragon fruit, papaya and durian.  You could not believe how much there was growing in that jungle orchard.

After that, we came back to join the rice farmers for lunch which was really good - we had rice (of course) wild lemon grass, ferns, wild boar (not me) large sardines - followed by oranges, dragon fruit and apples.  Then all the ladies lay down on the tarpaulin and had a nap - I had to join them as it would be bad manners not to!  The ladies then went back to the rice fields to carry on and my guide and I went back to our boat to visit the resting place of their tribal chief - I could not set foot on this place without permission of the present chief so I just took some pics from the boat.  After that, he took me to see a long house belonging to the Kesaman tribe - their are 13 tribes in this area of Kalimantan - all speak a different language - my guide could speak 6 of these languages.  This tribe is mainly Catholic and there are pictures or crosses on the doors of their houses.  This is the place where I watched a man crushing the sheaves of corn underfoot to get the grains separated.  The soles of his feet are like leather from doing this work.

Again, the locals were very friendly - and made me welcome, even though I did not understand a word they said - I have to believe my guide on that!  We left this long house and returned at 4.30 to my hotel - again via the river.  You cannot visit the long houses alone, because they do not speak English, you also have to be invited.  There is no way you could go into the jungle without a guide - as soon as you step off the beaten track (if there is one to step off), you are completely lost and would never get out alive - I kid you not!!

Belaga is the end of the line in this area - you either take the river or go over the mountain to get out of there - hence my exciting ride back on the logging route.  Most of the timber areas are owned by companies in Kuala Lumpur and the Palm Oil tree Plantations are mostly owned by Sime Derby (a British Co). The children from Belaga go to school on Monday and return on Friday - they live, eat and attend school in the same compound - all this is paid for by the Malaysian government - all free for the people.  Also, people who live in rural areas get free housing and services where appropriate.

My guide is a gold medalist badminton player - he won his gold medal at a national tournament in KL last year.  He is also a wood carver and has a carving outside the National Art Gallery in KL - the government paid him for 46 days to do this carving outside the Gallery. A big thank you to Hamdani fr making my stay in Belaga a memorable one and to Sap for Lewis Hamilton driving skills.
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