Sarawak

Borneo - hand-drawn maps

Sarawak, finally. I planned to be here by the end of november and here I am, more than ten days later than planned.

On December 10 I hopped on a flight from KK to Miri, the starting point of my sarawakian adventure. I would have preferred to come here overland, but having missed the only daily bus from KK I was really not in the mood for another idle day, after my malaria-driven hiatus.
Miri is similar to other Bornean cities, with much concrete and little beauty. As I walk around, feeling out of place as often when I am somewhere new, I see a little restaurant advertising food from the Kelabit Highlands. That’s where Bario is, that’s where I am headed to. The woman serving me food is very kind and welcoming. She suggests me a soup of rice and dried fish, simple and tasty. I notice a bunch of rattan bracelets by the cash counter. Rattan is a climbing palm whose fibres are traditionally used by the people of the forest, so I ask her where is she from. It comes out that the lady, whose name is Seruma, is a Penan from Bario. When I tell her that that is my destination she gets almost as excited as me. She suggests me a possible route and tells me that she knows some guides. My original plan was to go by boat to a village called Long Seridan on the Tutoh river, and walk to Bario from there. This is the path that, after a few false starts, Eric Hansen followed to reach Bario in the eighties, but Seruma does not know of paths in that area. Instead, she suggests to reach Long Lellang and walk from there. It would be easy to go there by plane, but I want to try and go there overland. So, this is the plan: take a ferry in Kuala Baram, go upriver to Marudi and then to Long Lama, try to find a passage on a longboat to Long Miri, and from there try to find a way by boat or in the forest to Long Lellang. At that point I will contact Seruma that will organize a guide for me. A piece of cake, on paper. Seruma is dubious about the possibility of reaching Long Lellang overland, even Long Miri seems to be remote enough. I try to explain her what “stubborn” means. In the end I tell her that I’ll give my plan a shot, and in the worst case scenario she will have the chance of telling me “I told you”.
I am leaving tomorrow. All going well, I’ll be partying in Bario for New Year’s eve. More likely, I’ll be sitting by a fire in the forest eating boiled rice with my guide. Contacts will be difficult, but I will send texts to my Editor whenever possible and she will relay them on this website and/or on Facebook. Fingers crossed!

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