Hot in the hills and a visit to a longhouse

We didn’t need too early a rise as Daniel said he operated on “elastic time” (flexible) and we should be at his for around 9:30. Ish. So we had a leisurely breakfast then carried our bags to the Corner, after our hoteliers said they would have the same room waiting for us when we got back.

At Daniel’s, we juggled luggage around and filled daybags with waterproofs, bottled water and the like. The day was to involve looping back to Belaga so we didn’t need to worry about nightwear. We’d pick that up afterwards, and before heading to our hosts’ for the evening.

We had two guides – one a bearded guy with a huge grin and big machete, the other an older-looking chap who walked barefoot. The former was our primary guide, the latter our boat captain who would pick us up from the far end of our trek. The path we were taking was over a mountain (not a huge one) and onto a track used by the British to escape the Japanese in WWII.

A short boat ride up the river took us to a small village with several piles of ash. They’d had a serious fire very recently and lost three quarters of their housing. Through the village, the guide took us into the jungle. Then around in circles for ten minutes until he spotted the right trail.

It was a fairly uneventful if enjoyable hike. The canopy blocked a lot of the sun out, but it was still a very hot day and our guide made sure we stopped for water at regular intervals. It seems a lot of other people had done the same judging by the number of plastic bottles scattered around. So here’s a warning:

If you’re on a hike with me – anywhere: the wilds of Borneo or the chilly Lakes in Cumbria – and you chuck a plastic bottle, or a crisp packet wrapper, or whatever onto the ground I will make you eat it. Shove it back in your rucksack – it weighs less than it did when it was full.

It took us around three hours to get to where we met our second guide and lunch was cooked up for us. A healthy mix of rice, chicken (some seasoned, some plain), fish (ick), something “from bull” (very gristly – not sure what part of the bull it was from) and pineapple. We enjoyed the food then walked across a small beach to our boat.

Another small trip took us to a muddly landing site. Ten minutes or so of squelching through sucking muck and trying not to slip into creeks and we arrived at a small but secluded waterfall. Clothes were swapped for swimming togs and in we jumped/slipped/tenderly stepped. There were many small fish in there with us and it’s the first time I think I’ve had my toes munched on by one. Well, several, in fact. Gents, do ensure you’re not swimming au naturale as it could get very uncomfortable.

We cooled off in here for the best part of an hour before packing up and squelching back to the boat and sailing to Belaga. At Daniel’s we met up with some more incoming tourists, changed into slightly less smelly clothing, picked up some gifts and were driven to our accommodation for the night. The longhouse we visited was owned and populated by Kayan people. There are many different “tribes” inhabiting Sarawak of which the Kayan are just one. They have their own language, clothing, customs and so on. The clothing has become more of a tradition, and used for ceremonies and celebrations. Everyone we met was dressed in t-shirts and shorts.

The houses themselves are simple affairs, electricity provided by a generator and generally a whole family lives inside. The houses are like a terraced row back in the UK – many individual houses joined together. Small family units will be in each one, but everyone from end to end will be related by birth or marriage to everyone else. It does make for a very close-knit and friendly community.

Our hostess was Rini (I think I spelled that correctly) who spoke some English, though her sister next door was much more fluent and helped out a lot. She herself was hosting Chrystelle and Jean, though we spent most of the evening as a group of four outside chatting to the children and to the elders.

Ah, the children. Wide-eyed and shy except for one little monster called Cecelia who was constantly the centre of attention. Great fun! They loved the things we’d brought – colouring books, coloured pencils, exercise books and the like. The coloured pencils in particular were greated with huge smiles and a small scramble. I ended up being used as a pencil-holder as we tried to find out how many I could stick into my beard before they fell out. I think we peaked on five.

Dinner was lovely, and enough food for four – but it was only Anthony and I eating as the others were being fed by their host. We ate as much as we could so as not to apear rude (and because it was good!) then rejoined the crowd. The children had gone to bed (except Cecelia who had rules of her own, it seemed) and chewed the cud with the older folk – all of them women. I’d say the men were down the pub, but there aren’t any in Belaga!

Traditional head-dresses were brought out for us to wear; one old lady did a traditional dance to music blaring from a traditional Sony mobile phone/walkman/camera; the French couple decided to try some of the “tobacco” that was produced. One of our hosts mimed that it “makes your head go a little strange” and asked if she could send some to them. She was somewhat puzzled as to why the police on the border may not be too happy about it, but I think Anthony did a decent job of explaining!

Other “local” things were tried out. Chewing leaves, some very hard nut (I think betel, but I’m not sure) and then some men came in with a nest. The bees inside are very dangerous and apparently the sting can be fatal. These adults were plucked out (unconscious – I guess they’d been “smoked”) and held in a flame tail-first to destroy the sting and kill them. Obviously, we were thinking “honey”. Not “larvae”.

Hum.

It was gone midnight when we retired. Thin mattresses had been put down for us, and sheets provided. Enough for a night’s sleep. Our “room” was cavernous, taking up the entire upper floor, and the aircon consisted of permanently open windows at either end. Bats used it as a short cut. Really rather cool.

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