The end of the crossing, and back to the border

Where: I bask in the sun of Malinau; my fashion taste is conquered by the colourful Indonesian shirts; I reach Tarakan; I realise that the way back from there will not be straightforward either, and also that a smile can stand in for a valid visa sometimes.

[February 2016]

Malinau reminded me of a mixture of villages that I saw in Madagascar (its dusty roads), Ecuador (its street life), and the Malaysian side of Borneo (its people), all flavoured with a purely literary taste of Indochina. The roads were dusty and scorched by the sun. Rare ferries sailed the river, while the iron bridge above it was busy with motorbikes and cars. As the sun prepared to set, the traffic slowed down and everything, the town, the river, the hills around became soaked in a golden light. From the bridge I could see kids swimming and playing by the river bank in the evening calm.


Continue reading “The end of the crossing, and back to the border”

White waters and wild durians

Where: I reach Semamu, a village where locals see me like a walking stack of Rupiahs; I find a very expensive longboat passage (with complimentary wild durian) down tumultuous waters; I reach Malinau. [Late January 2016]

Down the river - 1
Down the river.

Continue reading “White waters and wild durians”

The waiting game


I hitched a ride on a motorbike to Long Umung, and from there I joined two kids, Boso and Inki, who were walking back to their home in Wa’ Yangun. Soon the sunny, hot plains were behind us and the forest welcomed us with its shade. The sounds of the forest, after a few days without hearing them, felt dense and mixed with the heavy, humid air, in a sort of strange synesthesia. We walked for four hours on a path so good that it reminded me of some European trails, only at times ruined by the passage of water buffalo and motorbikes that somebody managed to push up the steep slopes.
Wa’ Yangun was a little village in the hills, on the fringe of the virgin forest. It was a Lundayah village, like all the others on the Indonesian part of the Kelabit Highlands. Their language, I was told, was similar to that of the Kelabit, their neighbours on the Malaysian side of the border. Wa’ Yangun was the village of origin of Ali’s wife, and they gave me a letter of reference for Yusia Padan, Ali’s brother-in-law. Yusia was the local teacher, he did not speak any english, but after reading the letter he promptly offered me a bed in his house. Continue reading “The waiting game”

Cheeky guides and new friends


Buffalo and sledge
A man and his buffalo dragging a sledge loaded with rice, Lembudud, Indonesian Borneo, 2016.

I spent one night in Lembudud at some friends of Davy’s. It was as far as my guide had agreed to lead me, it was time to pay him. According to what we agreed in Pa’ Lungan I should have paid him 650 damn ringgit, namely the fare for four days of guiding plus some extra for food. In reality he had guided me for just about a eight-hour day. Even if his was an obvious scamming attempt, I still hesitated to renegotiate the terms we discussed in Pa’ Lungan; “after all we shook hands”, I thought, proving that sometimes it is a thin line between honesty and gullibility. Continue reading “Cheeky guides and new friends”

From Bario across the border

Summary of the previous episodes: I found my way from Miri to Bario across the forest by truck, boat and on foot. Not content, once in Bario I involved my new kelabit friends Julian and Philippe in a suffer-fest to reopen the trail to the mythical mountain of Batu Lawi. After that my body and mind were so worn out that I took a break and flew back to Miri to pull myself together and decide the next steps: give up or carry on? Go big or go home? Are you dying to find out what I chose? Read on and find out [spoiler alert: I carried on]. Continue reading “From Bario across the border”

Intermezzo (to bail or not to bail?)


When I undertook my crossing of Borneo, I set Bario as a minimum goal. I said to myself, “If I fail to walk across Borneo, I must at least reach the Kelabit highlands. I must at least reach Bario overland”. Looking forwards from Miri, from Marudi, from Long Lellang, there were so many uncertainties on my way that, in my mind, Bario became a destination rather than just a stage on my way towards the east coast. But then, in between of all the “there’s no way to Bario”, “The forest is too thick”, “there are no walking paths anymore”, “just go back to Miri and take an airplane” that people kept telling me along the way, there were also those that would say “boleh, boleh (‘it can be done’), go to this place, ask for this guy, he can find you a guide”. Once I embraced the unspoken bornean philosophy that eventually things always work out, once things started spinning in the right direction, the distance from Bario kept shortening at a steady pace. Continue reading “Intermezzo (to bail or not to bail?)”

An expedition to Batu Lawi

Batu Lawi

On my arrival to Bario I realized how much the forest had worn me out. For the first time in days my skin was dry and warmed by the sun, instead of wet in dew and perspiration and overheated by the walking. Walking around Bario’s few but tidy road, my feet could lay flat and stable instead of balancing on slippery roots and rock edges or sinking into mud. I told myself it was time for a rest, and yet, over few “rest” days I explored the surrounding of Bario, climbing Prayer Mountain and visiting some waterfalls hidden in the jungle that surrounds the village’s well-groomed rice fields. These leisurely activities allowed me to reload my batteries and keep my restlessness in check. But as energy came back, so did the longing for being on the road.
Only then I found out of Batu Lawi.

Continue reading “An expedition to Batu Lawi”

Out of the woods

1159379749987679140_2217334861I have not updated this blog in a while. At some point during the trip I simply got fed up of transcribing my notes on the 4” screen of my smartphone, and then having to hunt the rare, wobbly wifi spots on my way to upload my pieces on the internet. I was in the middle of the Bornean forests, after all. I carried on taking notes with the good old pen and paper, with the intention of working on them and publishing them online at a later time. Now that I am back in Europe, that time has come.

Continue reading “Out of the woods”