Inching my way to Long Lellang


After waiting, waiting, and waiting some more I found a passage from Long Lama to Long Miri on a longboat loaded with durian.

Many locals grow this fruit and this season is the best in five years, both in terms of quantity and quality, resulting in a sort of durian rush. On our way to Long Miri we were boarded twice by longboats of durian farmers selling their yeld. The owner of the boat is one of the main merchants on this bit of river, selling durians in Long Lama and selling all sorts of goods in Long Miri. I stayed in Long Miri two nights, guest of Jon Wan, the durian merchant. I was expecting Long Miri to be a long-house, a traditional bornean community house. I have yet to see one of those, and I am starting to wonder if this expectation is as naive, stereotypical and out of time as expecting native Americans to still live in teepees and hunt bisons. Long Miri is a kampung, or village, of about 500 inhabitants, and it is not too different from an italian farmers’ village, apart from being surrounded by the rainforest and from its older inhabitants to have elongated earlobes and traditional tattoos on legs and forearms (Kayan traditions that I was too shy to photograph).
Yesterday, while I was planning my way to Long Lellang via Long Akah (marked on my map of Borneo, so one would imagine it to be a village of some relevance) on the Baram River, I was told that Long Akah is long abandoned, and that going upriver from Long Miri “tidak boleh”, can’t be done. It seems that bornean maps are upholding their reputation of unreliability, which Eric Hansen already described in the eighties.
I am also beginning to accept that roads are replacing rivers for transportation, so I followed the suggestion of my hosts to go to Long Lellang by ‘kareta’ (car).
I am in a place called Long San now, a Kenyah village a few hours away from Long Lellang. It comes out, Long San is 20 minutes away by longboat from the abandoned Long Akah, and locals consider the two villages as one after the villagers from Long Akah moved to Long San (I still have to find out why). Another discovery is that I could have likely reached Long San by boat. It is possible, people just do not do it anymore. Logging roads and plantation roads are considered more practical, but this consideration seems to depend on place and habit (for example, people travel between Marudi, Long Lama, and long Miri mostly by boat, even if there is a road connecting at least Marudi to Long Lama). Also, people in Long Miri are making too much money with durian right now to care about a white man’s whims and waste one or two days on a longboat trip, even if well paid. I reached Long San hopping from one pickup truck to the other, three in total, including the back of a truck of the local timber camp. Tonight I will sleep in Long San’s one and only, very minimal hotel (six rooms above Long San’s one and only shop). Tomorrow owner of the hotel (and of the shop) will drive me with his car (Long San’s one and only) to where the road ends. From there it is 14 km of march through the forest to Long Lellang. I should be able to find a guide, with a tad of luck. The area is populated by Penan people, that even other bornean tribes regard as forest experts.
By the way, yes, there’s internet in Long San, as there was in Long Miri. Most villages have open WiFi, to compensate the lack of phone signal.

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