On our first day, Ukau, Luat and I leave Long Sabai at 08:30, walk along Sungai Badat until we meet Sungai Tutoh, and set camp near its banks around 16:00. It is a breaking-in day for me.
My two guides were introduced to me as “my guide and my porter”, so I planned to put my pride aside and ask them to help me carry some of my luggage. But when I met them they were already carrying full rattan-woven backpacks, so I did not dare asking them for help. They would have probably agreed, and I would have felt weak and selfish, and rightly so. Ukau must be in his sixties and Luat in his late forties, and they both look as they have already carried their fair share of heavy loads in their lives. Now it is my turn. Moreover, if at thirty I still cannot pack a backpack for a multi-day hike properly, I deserve to bear the consequences of it.
Seeing my guides at work in the forest is awe-inspiring. Between Long Sabai and Bario there is nothing but primary forest. Yet they navigate effortlessly even if the path is far from obvious, often marked only by old earmarks on some tree trunks. On my side, I fully understand what Eric Hansen meant when he wrote that, at the beginning of his walk from Long Seridan to Bario, he felt as he had to learn how to walk again. It seems that I cannot walk for more than five steps without stumbling.
Ukau and Luat do not carry their blowpipes for show. For them, roaming the forest is obviously a pleasure but never a pastime, and they are always keeping an eye open for game. Just before reaching the campsite, Luat spots a babui (Penan for wild boar, or babi hutan in Malay), and they both go into hunting mode in an instant, their speared blowpipes ready for action.
The babui gets away, but it is not a big deal. I soon find out why my guides’ rattan-woven panniers are so full: they are carrying one iron pot each full of boiled rice, plus raw rice, plenty of salt, sugar, coffee, as well as stewed babui, and roasted and smoked kijang. I realize that all the food I am carrying, as well as the stove and the 1.2 litres of kerosene, will be just additional weight for me.
I sleep in my hammock, while Ukau and Luat build their own shelter. Six main poles serve as supporting stilts for an elevated platform. Luat sleeps directly on the horizontal woodpoles. Ukau uses two open-bottomed feed sacks tensed between two poles.
Two pieces of tarpaulin complete the hut, that they built in half hour with wood from the forest.
As I relax in my hammock and I check my feet, I notice that I have already put together blisters on three of my toes. Great start.