Sunday, December 6, 2009

Up in the Kelabit Highlands : Bario - Final Part

So on Saturday evening, we had a light dinner at 6:30 pm as Tine said sometimes the ceremony drags on very long with speeches and what-nots and dinner can be served as late as 10:00 pm.

Then at 7:00 pm, armed with torchlights and aided by the bright moonlight, we made our way toward Pa' Ramapuh Atas, which is about 45 minutes walk from our place.

Along the way many other villagers were on their way too; on foot, on motorbikes and on 4WDs. We walked a steady pace while chatting and could smell the sweet smells of ripe taraps and bambangan as we passed by the trees.

We reached the longhouse before 8:00 pm and were welcomed by one of the village elders, the other group of tourists (our friends from the morning trek) also arrived at the same time and we were ushered right to the front row facing the small stage.

On the stage were three sets of families who are holding this name-changing ceremony, on the occasion that they have become parents and grandparents; this a unique Kelabit tradition.

I didn't want to snap a picture of everything so here's just some that I managed.

The families.

The ceremony had already started so we missed the earlier bits, when we arrived they had some speeches, ngajat dances, performances of church/spiritual songs and lastly a traditional Kelabit song performed by very old ladies.

There are only few ladies with the elongated earlobes left in Bario. Most are the older ones, the younger ones actually get their long ears 'cut' these days. The headgear for the ladies are beautiful, as are the necklace for the men which I did not take a picture of, sadly.

Food-wise, first we were given a packet drink, as well as some biscuits and snacks as light refreshment while waiting for dinner. Then they served coffee and tea. Dinner was finally served at just after 9:00 pm, starting with a serving of of pork fat that must have dumbfounded us outsiders that one of the village elders (and an uncle to the families) took to the microphone to explain to us the significance of this food; apparently once you take one you had to finish it. Stephen told us that previously the pork fat was one-foot long! Man that is one very greasy chow.

That's Tai's hand reaching out for the fat.

Our friends from the Salt Spring trek in the morning were there, too. The one in yellow is Joseph, who explained to us about the pork fat. In very good English.

This was then followed with some tasty porridge, then rice wrapped in leaves was distributed; followed by a skewer of meat! We estimated that each skewer (one per person) was probably at least 500 gms of meat, so between the four of us we had 2 kgs to finish!

That's a lot of meat.

The skewer.

After the porridge I was already quite full, but I though I'd try at least one piece of meat which I managed to and after that no more. Stephen decided to pack the untouched food and bring it home, a good idea I must say so that it won't go to waste.

An hour later as dinner wound down, guests started leaving and we thought we'd make a move too. We went around thanking the hosts and bade them goodbye.

The walk home was very good as we get to burn off our calories, we were joined by another local who was very chatty and we found out later that he's the only Kelabit with a criminal record, way back in the 80's when he was convicted of manslaughter and served time in prison. He now lives in Pa' Lungan (4-5 hours walk!) so he will stay the night at a relative's place nearby and walk back home the next day. To them, this is normal; no big deal.

After all that walking and eating, I slept soundly that night. The next day, got up at 7:00 am to pack, have breakfast and get ready to leave.

A nice clear Sunday morning.

Stephen gave us a piece of wood and materials to leave our message. Time to show off your creativity!

Some are really good I must say - like this one from an Italian couple.

My thank you plaque :). Er, didn't get my creative juices flowing.

Waiting for our flight on Sunday morning. That's Stephen with the backpack. Both of them came to see us off at the airport.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Bario - there is no rush, no distractions, not even loud noises. Life is so simple, yet I think the villages deserve some development especially basic infrastructure.

Our flight left Bario on time with only 3 passengers (!); the rest probably will go on the later flight as ours has a brief stopover in Marudi.

Things that are good to know :

(i) Before departing Bario, you are required to pay RM10 as service charge to the MasWings agent who's the appointed ground handler. Many people don't know this unfortunately and causes confusion sometimes. Tine explained that this is applicable to everyone, not just visitors and it's a shame that we were not informed earlier by the airline.

(ii) Do not bring big $$ notes; try to bring smaller notes like RM10 as it is not easy to get small change here. I ended up borrowing from Tai.

(iii) It can be freezing cold at night, bring your socks. And a torchlight. And ear plugs, if you are a light sleeper. Alarm clock not needed, there's a wake-up call at about 5 am ;) every day.

(iv) Handphone signal is very good, at least for 019 and 013.

(v) Airport transfer is RM10 per way.

Oh, it didn't rain the whole time we were there; Stephen said we brought the sunshine with us!


  1. bear paws...ugh poor pooh. Would love to make the trip someday.

  2. LT - yeah, Pooh's paws :( I am sure you'll make it there someday. Hey, you've been awfully quiet?

  3. too lazy to write. :)

  4. Hey, really nice write up! Enjoyed reading your stories! :-)

    The guy in yellow shirt is not Joseph. His name is Gerawat a.k.a. Maran Tapan a.k.a. Udan Turun (he changed name twice), my uncle from Bario Asal. :-) He's got good English because he graduated from the States and used to work with Shell for many years. He's the husband of Janet, the lady with the long earlobes in the picture you took, who is my cousin. :-)

    It's sad to see the glimpse of that logging road though. I use to remember Bario as a lush green forest. I'm walking to Bario next week from Ba Kelalan. Stopovers in Pa Rupai (Kalimantan), camp in Long Rebpun (Sarawak), spend the night in Pa Lungan, and then spend Christmas in Bario! :-)))

  5. Hi Langkau Fiction :)

    Thanks, wow small world - they are your relatives! I remember he mentioned Joseph, maybe I misheard and yes he told us that his 'local' name is Gerawat (this drew chuckles from the audience) and that his father changed his name cos he had boils on his body when he was a kid.

    Walking to Bario from Ba Kelalan - what an adventure! Tiring yet definitely something worth doing. Merry Christmas and have a good rest once you reach Bario!

  6. WOW! You've been to Bario. I've always wanted to go there. Probably some day. Fingers crossed :-) And this write-up of yours makes me wanna go there more..