Jungle BBQ

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
Trip End Jul 2005

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Marco met up with me again in Kapit and we hung around until the permit office opened. We couldn't go any further up river without one, so we were stuck in the tiny trading post for 4 days. The ride up had been fascinating- huge barges carrying bits of rainforest down to the lumber yards, wooden churches peering out of the jungle and longhouses dotting the riverbank, but it isn't somewhere you'd want to stay for long. The locals can't understand why tourists seem to want to come here, but they're happy enough to have someone new to talk to.
Luckily we alleviated the boredom by befriending a local man and his 'rascal' (Malay gangster) son, Stanley. They were more than happy to show us the best places for satay and laksa (both of which apparently come from Sarawak) and shout us drinks in return for us listening to their tall tales.
Despite the fun we had (which, yes, did involve local rice wine and the inevitable karaoke), we were extremely happy at the prospect of leaving Kapit. It's a town much like the others in Sarawak. There are pig-hunters running around with shotguns. Local kids drive souped-up cars pointlessly around (there are no roads outside of town) and then go to karaoke or speed-techno joints at night. At home, we'd call it a redneck town- here it's culture.
The night before the permit office opened, Stanley offered to escort us to a local longhouse. Visiting a longouse is the whole point of going through deepest, darkest Borneo instead of taking a tourist bus up the coast, and you can only go to one by invitation (or by paying lots and lots of cash). Thus it was with a sense of irony (we had wanted to get out of Kapit so badly when we couldn't- now we could and we were choosing to stay!) that we agreed.
A longhouse is a local tribe's village. 40-50 families live in the one building. The houses are huge, and the traditional ones are centuries old. Newer ones are concrete and cater to big-spending tourists, but Stanley took us to an old one which, to make it even better, is home to an old headhunting tribe. They still use the skulls for their magic, and when they're not in use, the skulls decorate the kids' play area. Our visit was definitely a success despite the language barrier: we brought a massive bag of candies and were made famous. Cultural vandals? Who cares; We got good photos.
Afterwards we hiked down to a river and through the jungle to a waterfall. We had planned to have a BBQ, but were hugely unprepared. Nevertheless, between the three of us, we finally managed to get a fire going (of course we did, we're Men... but our masculinity was under debate for about an hour). We gutted the fish by hand and cooked them. All while the clouds moved over, and the jungle got wet and dark. Turned out alright too.
The strangest thing was that the river was apparently meant to be a picnic spot. Ages ago the government had built facilities and a path in the middle of nowhere. Our half hour walk into the jungle revealed a crumbling toilet block, vine-covered BBQ stands, tables and chairs and even a swing-set. It was all a bit surreal.
Despite the adventure, we were still happy to see the back of the place. We were lucky: we could leave. A week later, and Marco is still getting text messages from Stanley about how much he hates the place. That's the joy of being a tourist- if it sucks you can keep going.
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