Sunday, June 29, 2008

Part 2: Adventures in Bario

We took a MasWings twin otter which sits less than 15 passengers from Miri to Bario. It was definitely the smallest plane I have ever been on. At the check-in, we even had to weigh ourselves (together with hand-carry luggage) to ensure that the plane is not overloaded!

Weighing myself at the check-in counter

The mighty Twin Otter

Bario, here i come...

Cramped in the plane

The plane is very small. As I was seated right behind the pilot and I could see him at work with all the switches throttles and all. The flight was smooth, although I got a bit nervous as we approach the Bario Highlands as the mountains seemed to get nearer and nearer as we climbed up.

Pilot hard at work

After landing, we disembarked only to be greeted by, guess what? ‘Buffalo-pies’ on the runway!

Pies on the runway!

Quite coincidentally, Nancy, who runs a guest-house in Bario was on the same flight with us. So we saved quite a bit of time (and ‘leg-work’) in searching for a place to stay. Nancy was at Miri to stock up, so her pick-up truck was already waiting at the airport for her. After her helpers loaded up her items (and there were really lots of stuff) onto the back of the truck, we put our backpacks there as well, got into the truck and started a really bumpy ride to here place.

Chit Chatting with Nancy

The roads were really soft and muddy at places due to the recent rains, so the ride was very, very bumpy especially once we were off the main road.

Nancy's Guest-House

Once at the guesthouse, we met with Nancy’s sister, Freda and her husband who were visiting Nancy. After resting for a while, Nancy led us to our rooms and showed us where everything was as well.

The guesthouse is nice, clean and very comfortable/homely. Which was great, especially after the few nights that we toughed it out at Mulu.

The Dining/Living Area

The Bedroom

Another bedroom


After a quick lunch, Nancy took us to the Bario school where we hiked up a small hill that gave a breath-taking overview of the Bario region (valley?).

View from top of the Hill

Enjoying the view with Freda, and Soo Sean

Three contestants for Mr/Ms Bario... Ha ha

After snapping photos here and there, we proceeded to look for the Penan folks (who are wanderers and do not stay put or raise permanent huts). On the way, we were distracted by a couple of kids who were not camera-shy at all. Both of them were so cute!

With a couple of adorable kids

After a short walk, it started to rain, so we quickly put on our raincoats and dashed across muddy grasslands (led by a boy we showed us where the Penan had put up their huts). Once there, the Penans were gracious enough to offer of their huts to us so that we can get some shelter from the rain. The Penans have quite attractive features… Fair, big eyes, etc…

Seeking shelter from the rain at a Penan Hut

All huddled together to keep warm from the rains

Once the rain stopped we took some pictures and headed back to the guest house. After bathing and cleaning up in a cold, cold shower, we were treated to scrumptious dinner. I especially liked the pineapple curry!

The electricity grid does not reach up to Bario, so each household has a generator for electricity. But since running the generator is quite expensive (especially with the recent hike in fuel prices), the generator is only run for a few hours a day… probably from 6pm to 10pm. After dinner, we just sat around the living room chatting with Nancy and Freda. When it got too cold, we proceed to bed at ~8pm. Drifting off to la la land amidst the sounds of crickets and frogs was a very different and pleasant experience!

The next morning, we were woken up by the cock-a-doodle-do of the rooster at about 6am. After a breakfast of noodles, eggs and sausages, we went to the Bario town center. The town center was a meeting place of sorts. There were stalls selling food, souvenirs, and forest produce as well. It seemed to me that everyone in Bario knew almost everyone there. All around we see folks greeting each other with such familiarity that we will never observed here, even in small villages.

Misty views from the guest-house in the morning... breath-taking!


At the market, we met with a couple of teachers (originally from Kuching) who were now posted to the Bario high school. We chatted a bit, and then headed back to the guest house.

'Central Market' at Bario

Soo Sean with Jeannette (who operates a stall at the market)

After that, we just sat around the veranda, lazing around; looking at the workings toiling the rice fields and how Nancy’s husband, Harris, was re-fitting some new toilets with the help of their workers nearby. Then Freda brought out some home-made pineapple wine made by Nancy. It was deliciously sweet! Hands down, it wins over Singapore Sling anytime…

Delicious Pineapple Wine

New toilets in the making

Soo Sean trying out the hammock... Is she praying??? Ha ha

After lunch, we started our hike to the salt-spring. One of Nancy’s workers, Lian (whom i befriended along the way) was our guide. It took us about 2hrs to reach the salt spring. The salt spring looks just like a well, but the water from it is of course, salty. The Bario folks collect the water and boil them for more than 12 hrs to reduce them to salt crystals. Too bad, no one was there making salt at the time. So we weren’t able to see the whole process. But looking at the items in the hut, and with some explanation from Lian, it is not too hard to imagine what it takes to produce the salt.

On the way to the Salt Springs

Make sure you take the correct turn at the junction!!!

Lian leading the way

Me, "kelentong'ing" with some folks we met on the way.

At the salt-spring with Lian

The hut where the salt are made

The stove

On the way back, we stopped by the house of a salt maker and manage to buy a few salt sticks (packaged like a dodol, actually). After that we visited a Kelabit Long House where an elderly couple was making floor mats. While Lian chatted with them, we had a good look around the long house. It was of course, long…. There were no partitions within the long house, but you can sort of work out where the different ‘sections’ are as there were a few fireplaces or kitchen laid out along one side of the wall. Soo Sean bought a nice hand-made floor mat from the elderly Kelabit lady before we left.

Pa' Umor Long House

Inside the long house

The kitchen

An elderly Kelabit couple

Kelabit Mat Weaving

Trying to help with the weavi

On the way back, we also stopped by a pineapple plantation where Lian went straight in to get some pineapples for us. Good chap! I guess he is quite a picky person as well, as he wandered very deep into the plantation before reappearing with three scrumptious looking pineapples. I of course (at Lian’s instruction), stayed back at the front of the plantation since I was only wearing shorts and would not have been able to handle the sharp spikes on the pineapple leaves grazing my legs. But Lian was wearing shorts as well, so I guess his skin might be thicker than mine…. However, he did complain about his legs hurting a bit when he came out. But my mind was too fixated at the juicy pineapples to heed him much. Sorry!

At the pineapple plantation

The juicy Bario Pineapple

Me, doing hard labour washing the boots after the hike

Of the hike to and back from the salt spring, I enjoyed the company of Lian more than anything else. We chatted along the way; it was a long way. He shared with me some highlights of the lifestyle of the folks there; like how one would have to be on the best behaviour and keep a good impression prior to marriage to ensure that the community will only have good comments about you. He also shared stories from his experiences in guiding some westerners through jungle treks. We had a good laugh when he described how he had to ‘pujuk’ or coax some of them (especially those that were in the ‘heavier than ideal’ category) with flowers and garlands to get them to continue to move when they got too tired, sat down and started crying!

Along the way, Lian also showed me some wild jungle fruits that were edible. We plucked and tried a few of them. Most were sour, but one was surprisingly sweet. Lian called them 'Strawberry Kampung'. ha ha.. Apparently that particular fruit also helps when you have a stomach ache. I also learned how to tell when it is 6pm in the jungle, without the aid of a watch. There is a particular noise made by crickets right around the time of 6pm. Interesting... I've heard the sound while in Mulu, but had never associated it with anything particular till Lian mentioned it.

In turn, I described to Lian, the lifestyle of us pampered city folks... Going to work, getting stuck in traffic, the Penang Bridge, etc… Lian said he cannot understand why people would want to be live in the city. He said he gets a neck ache from having to look out for incoming cars when he visits Miri. He also seemed quite curious about time zones when I mentioned about teleconference arrangements across different time-zones and jet lags when one travels across the zones.

Lian was also interested in planes, and we talked a lot about them. One of Lian’s big wish is to take a flight on a Boeing 747. He asked a lot of questions about it… some of them that never ever occurred to me on the many times that I flew on them. Changes my view of things a bit. Now that I am back in Penang, I got hold of a die-cast model of the plane (which I found on and sent it to him. As a token of thanks and appreciation to a new friend. I hope he gets, it as the whole of Bario shares one single postal address… the airport. Really!

From the long chats with Lian, I have developed a different view or perspective of life and living environments. More than just the usual ‘we should appreciate what we have’ cliché when coming back from more disadvantaged areas, I could understand and appreciate the plus points of the different living conditions and lifestyle. I guess I’ll just have to say that to each his own preferred lifestyle or environment. But I also think that we have the ability to make the best of what we have, or the environment that we are in. But we also quite easily trap ourselves within that environment once we develop our comfort zone. The trap is more in our minds that anything else. When we think too much, there will be strong resistance to change. But once we are in a new environment, more often than not, we will not only survive, but thrive as well. I guess that is why I feel we should step out of the comfort of what we are familiar with once in a while. It will toughen us up…. I hope.

I, for one could certainly enjoy life in Bario even without the modern amenities. In many ways, I really enjoyed my short stay there. Unlike my trips elsewhere, I really left Bario with a heavy heart. The people there are friendly and genuine. I guess Bario being the last vacation stop before I have to head back to the reality of work also had a hand in it, but it is the connection at a personal level to the people like Nancy, Freda, Lian, etc.. that made a huge difference.

With my new Bario buddies at the Bario Airport, before heading home

I miss Bario and all the folks that I've befriended there already…

Back from Vacation in Sarawak

Got back from a 10-day trip to Sarawak.

The trip was very refreshing change, as it was sort of a 'adventure vacation'.

The gang (10 of us) went caving at the Mulu National Park. While we were there we also conquered the 'Pinnacles'... a steep 2.4km hike up a rocky mountain which took us almost 8hours to complete.

After that three of us (Soo Sean, Wooi Kip and myself) proceeded to the Bario Highlands while the rest went to Kota Kinabalu.

After clearing most of the back-log at work, and shifting through the photos, I've finally found time to update this blog.

There will be two parts to it, Part 1 will cover the excursion at Mulu National Park, and Miri, while Part 2 will be on Bario.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pantai Keracut & Turtle Hatchlings

Hiked to Pantai Keracut last Saturday with Wai Lian, Soo Sean, Wooi Kip, Hai Seong and Mei Yee last Saturday.

We had planned to start early, but unfortunately some folks came late… Can guess who ar?
Anyway, I had not been there for quite a while, and was truly surprised at how nicely the place is now. It is now a National Park, with a Park Office and all. We had to register at the office before starting our hike.

I must say that my fitness level deteriorated a lot….. A few years ago, I was part of the organizing committee for a teambuilding whereby we organized a treasure hunt through the trail. At that time, I hiked the whole trail 3 days in a row. Once to explore the place, the second time to place the treasure hunt clues, and finally during the actual event itself. I don’t remember the trail being that challenging at that time. But this time around, I found myself out of breath during the many steep stretches of the trail.
Time to buck up and get more physical!!!

But the hike was definitely worth it… Not only was the beach nice and clean, there’s a turtle conservatory there as well. We were quite lucky as a new batch of turtles just hatched that very morning, and were placed in a container before being released. And we were doubly lucky that the park ranger allowed us to pick up and handle the little hatchlings. They were very cute… and extremely active!!!

Posing at the jetty while waiting for the late comers...

Finally, made it up and down the hill, through the jungle and to the beach.

The gang that made it...

Egg Mayo sandwich never tasted so good and satisfying

At the jetty

With the hyper-active baby turtles

After resting a while (and many photo sessions), we hiked our way out again and had lunch at Fatty Loh Chicken Rice before heading back home.

Once back home, I had a bath and what else…. Take an afternoon nap lah!