Monday, November 30, 2009

Up in the Kelabit Highlands : Bario - Part 1

Up in the highlands, it certainly felt like I was worlds away, in another place, where time probably would wait for you.

Last weekend I flew to Bario on MasWings via Miri - AND I was amused to find out that you have to be weighed in together with your luggage when you check-in, as we will be onboard a Twin Otter aircraft that fits only 19 passengers.

For the first ten minutes I must admit that being slightly claustrophobic, I was kind of nervous in that tiny plane. It seemed that everything functioned 'mechanically' - seated in the first row I could see whatever the pilot and first officer were fiddling with. The commander of the flight was Captain Mendoza, a friendly and smiling man ("Come on board, everyone ... it's all business class")

Captain Mendoza. Upon landing they enjoyed hot nescafe and instant noodles at the canteen ;)

Approaching Bario airstrip, ready to land.


Align Center
Nervous passengers? The guy on the right certainly was.

Unloading the luggage.

Bario means wind.

The place I stayed at is called JungleBluesDream, run by Stephen and Tine. It has I think about 5 rooms, and also doubles up as Stephen's art gallery.

Meet Stephen.

And Tine :)

The story of Stephen and Tine. Viking Girl meets Kelabit warrior :)

Can I just say that I LOVE my room. Simple yet comfortable. Warm quilt. The painted wall was lovely.
Look - isn't this lovely to look at? Love the details.

And I did something uncharacteristic, that is, I unpacked all my clothes immediately. I've never done that, ever.

It's always the most simplest of food that gives you most pleasure. Our meals were all tasty and yummy, in generous portions. Plenty of local vegetables, which I enjoyed very much. Tine's pumpkin soup is out of this world. As is Stephen's pumpkin puff. Oh and they bake their own bread too for breakfast :) Despite the long walks and treks I actually think I put on some weight.

Pumpkin puffs and bread.

Local veg and corn.

During the day it's really quiet all around. Gen-sets are usually only switched on from 1830-2130 hrs, after that it's lights out. The first afternoon, I caught up with another guest (Tai, geophysicist-turned-school teacher) and went for walk around Bario.

There are no roads in Bario. What is deemed as roads are rough, bumpy stretches of dirtroads that turn muddy when it rains. The only vehicles you see here are twin-cabs, which also serve as taxis especially for visitors. Most locals use motorbikes as well, even kids. The 'road' network is quiet good though. Using Stephen's hand drawn maps we could navigate the village easily.

They do have a 'town centre', three rows of small shops and eating places. Things are understandably pricey here - a can of Coke is RM3, a gallon of fuel is RM20. I wanted to buy some Bario rice but not much was available. There is also a basic Klinik Kesihatan and an Immigration Office; the new Klinik Kesihatan project looks like it's been abandoned, don't think it can be ready by January by the looks of it.

Oh and they have a police station too - but we were told that the two police officers have nothing much to do since it's such a quiet peaceful place, so they have 'setup' an alternative office at one of the coffeeshops. Haha :p

View of World Challenge View Point, behind SMK Bario.

We climbed and climbed and were rewarded with this gorgeous 360 view of the valley.

Wind turbines at a distance.

Carved signages like these are common. Nice.

In front of Idris Jala's family house, just down the road from JungleBlues. His parents were away that weekend, otherwise we were told that they welcome visitors anytime.

JungleBlues Dream is located in the village of Ulung Palang, up on a small hill. The longhouse has two other families; and is clean, spacious and airy. Stephen's creative works is all around, he's quite well known overseas and has buyers mostly from Europe. I saw a few newspaper articles on his works too, which are mostly modern interpretations of the Orang Ulu motifs and patterns, and some of nature. I wish I can own one original piece from him. Oh and I found out that his brother had designed parts of the Sarawak Cultural Village...artistic family.

Dining Area.

Wall near 2nd main door, Ground Floor.

Wall near entrance, 1st floor.

Living/reading/lepak area, 1st floor.

At the dining area.

1st Floor, where the guestrooms are located.

My favourite - in my room.

It felt good to be surrounded with creativity in the middle of nowhere :)

To be continued.


  1. Hey cool! Ulung Palang is my house and Stephen is my cousin. I'm walking to Bario from Ba Kelalan next week, 2-3 days' walk.

  2. Hi LF!

    That's so cool - small world indeed :)