Sunday, March 20, 2005

Baram trip in a nutshell

There was a caving trip that I could have gone today but alas, I had some errands to take care of before I head off for the field tomorrow. Nevertheless, I woke up early to get the caving group organized and send them off. I could have just put someone else in charge, and sleep in but I wanted to be involved as much as I possibly could. And I'm glad that I did because I met someone new. She's nice and she likes the outdoors - a new activity partner, hooray!

I'm mostly nervous about this trip (hint: no caves) tomorrow - new field site, new assistants to train (except for one), one prickly, difficult person to deal with, and a much, MUCH longer drive. I'd have to spend one night in Sarikei, before driving again the next day. I'm really not too fond of the extra-long drives every month but there's really no better solution.

I just realized that I never wrote about my past Baram trip so here it is in a nutshell:

Arrived in Miri, spent one night in a dodgy hotel where there were cockroaches in the bathroom (because we were trying to save money). I don't think the dirty A/C helped much and I ended up getting the flu the next day. Arrived in Long Lellang, sick as a dog. Slept the rest of the day off and reassured my colleagues that I would be well enough the next day to walk to the Penan village. Did feel much better the next day but still weak from the flu. One of our guides had to carry my backpack for me, much to my dismay. Needless to say, it was an eleven-km hike!! I have to say that I'm really proud of myself for pulling through. Thankfully, a good proportion of the hike was flat so it was manageable. We walked along a logged ridge where the views were simply amazing yet I felt sad because I had heard that before it was logged, there were large dipterocarp trees along the ridge.

"It used to be such a beautiful walk along the ridge..."

Not anymore.

I was so relieved when we arrived at the river, and discovered that there were two longboats waiting for us. The Penan longboats are much smaller, and shallower than the Iban longboats that I'm used to. They also used improvised boat engines that looked more like grass-cutter machines than an actual boat engine. It was about a 45-minute boat ride to the village and I sat as comfortably as I could on the small boat.

The village itself was much more comfortable than I expected - iron-corrugated roofs on small wooden houses built on stilts. Each house had a cleared compound. We stayed with Erra's family, sans the father who was working in the Bario. The mother was so worried that he hadn't come back as promised and brought up her worries throughout our stay. Thankfully, we bumped into her husband in Long Lellang a couple of days later.

I loved Erra and Long (the headman's daughter) - they were so adorable, and fiesty. The first time I met these girls was when we were bathing in the river. Suddenly, two little naked torpedos appeared from behind and jumped into the river. They were so curious about us, and mimicked us bathing. Because of these girls, I quickly learnt some Penan words (which sadly, I've forgotten now!) that included: "you're going to fall!" (an often-used phrase - it's amazing what these girls could get themselves into!). We bonded in the river, and after that, they wouldn't leave us alone, which I didn't mind. Erra was especially fascinated with my books. I've bought a couple of storybooks for Erra and Yong, which my colleague would deliver on her next trip. It was difficult looking for the right books though - obviously, it couldn't be in English but there are also just so many bad Malay storybooks out there for children. I mean, who's going to read a story on pontianak (vampire) to your kid??? So, I ended up with the Malay folklore staple: Sang Kancil (sigh).

We had brought our own rations with us however the Penan family also supplied lots of greens (leaves, actually). There were two kinds of leaves that we ate regularly: one of them was ubi and I can't remember the other one, but that was my favourite.

It was such a peaceful place, I really enjoyed my time at the village. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long because more work had to be done elsewhere. I felt sad when we left, especially when Erra cried up a storm when she realized that we were going.

This time around, the eleven km hike was much easier because I had felt better. I had wanted to continue on with my colleague to help her with fieldwork, but I still hadn't completely recovered from my bout of flu and felt that it was best to leave early with the others who were leaving anyway.

Needless to say, I do want to go back to the village. Apparently, you can hike to Bario using the village as your first jungle stop. It's definitely off-the-beaten path because most tourists just go straight to Bario via plane. Maybe one of these days.. (especially after fieldwork!!)..

Hmm.. that was a bigger nutshell than I expected. Pictures from the trip are here however I haven't gotten my act together and uploaded all my pictures. And I'm eyeing a pro flickr account because I think it'd be useful.... but the price.. (eeks)

Well, I'm off!


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