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Thread: Heart of Borneo: The Upper Baram River

  1. #1
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    Default Heart of Borneo: The Upper Baram River

    One often reads about the Heart of Borneo but few go there. This road and canoe trip took us past where the guide books end to the last remaining animist people and longhouses in the northern interior of Sarawak. Our leader, my boss Chris, was an old Baram hand who first went there before the advent of development. Coming along for the ride was Willie Kajan, a well-known guide and veteran of Robin Hanbury-Tenisons’ Mulu Expedition, the largest RGS expedition ever mounted.

    We gathered in our 4WDs in Miri and left early. The first 100 or so kilometers were back country public roads. But at Lapok, a timber town on the Baram river where the logs are graded and loaded onto barges for the down river journey to Miri, we left civilization behind.




    We were now on timber company logging roads.


    This means that the highway code does not apply. The fully laden timber lorries need the easiest gradient whether this is on the right or the left. The gradients are indicated by red chevrons to point you to the correct side of the road which can change from bend to bend.

    In the wet season you can see the signs and where you are going. But wet means slick clay and if you lose traction, well - you can see yourself sliding to the edge - so maybe its not good to see where you are heading! The catch is that not all are in place and that in the dry season the dust is so fine that you cannot see anything if you are following another vehicle! So defensive driving means keeping your distance

    The faint-hearted fly to Long San in the middle Baram to minimize time on the road and take 4WDs from there but then one does not see the extent of logging and experience the Baram up close

    The road is not all devastation and is the lifeline for many communities. Children go to school in Hiluxs standing on the goods tray at the back. Goods from the coast come inland the same way.





    Some people just walk along it for miles like a Kayan couple whom we stopped to talk to and a hunter with his pig tied up in bark fibre waiting for his ride back








    They declined a lift

    The scenery is mile after mile of high hills. Kalulong is an ancient volcano over 5000 feet shaped like two inward curving horns. Foolishly, I did not take a photo on the inbound trip when the peak could be seen so I only got one on the return when it was covered by cloud.

    Kalulong Volcano




    The bridge across the Baram marks the halfway mark. If you have time you can body-surf mild rapids for a kilometer to Long San and get picked up by your car or canoe there.




    After the bridge we continued to see stunning scenery. The three peaks of Batu Semman look like the back of a sleeping stegosaurus




    We reached the longhouse at Long Semiyan by late afternoon and changed to native canoes. leaving at twilight.










    It was magical. For two hours we canoed the Baram downriver at night flanked by millions of fireflies twinkling in the tree line against a star filled midnight blue sky.

    We arrived in the dark at the Kenyah long house of Long Moh, the last longhouse on the Baram to follow the old ways.

    You would have thought a 12 hour journey deserved a rest but the Orang Ulu start to party when visitors arrive and that means food, local brew and dancing till late.








    A ngajat is a warrior’s sword dance and under lamplight it is very impressive. His light sabre was pretty cool.





    There were more gentle welcomes. The healer-bard greeted us and toasted our long journey across the waters.



    The women preparing the meal.




    Next morning we walked down “Main Street” and looked around the community nursing hangovers of varying intensity.


    Mercifully, no one struck the 20 foot long war drum on the verandah.








    The difference in water quality between the Baram and its unlogged tributary at Long Moh is quite notable café au lait against deep green






    We went to the ladangs to plant hill rice led by a “piper”








    The fields had already been prepared by slash and burn which despite appearances is not wasteful like logging.




    That evening the party continued with more formal dancing preceding the merriment.

    The next day we went for a picnic on tributary stream.




    The Kenyah are the voyageurs of Borneo and displayed their expertise jumping out of the boats travelling up rapids to harvest some plant from the surrounding jungle and then re-joining the still moving boat at the next bend arms full of plants, bamboo shoots and other forest produce. They have been known to take quick shots at boar or deer from the long boats to the surprise of passengers!

    A green stick BBQ frame was built in a couple of minutes and a fire built in the same time to roast jungle fowl. Bamboo tubes were filled with the delicious hill rice and shrimp boiled away in another container.




    While waiting for the first course, we tried our hand at cast net fishing while one of our group who was a Canadian fly fishing guide tried his hand fly fishing the jungle rivers. Watching his fly rod and line move was truly magical.




    In the evening we visited a spirit house on a tributary river where were shown the artifacts. No ceremonies were planned and it was good to just talk and not be subjected to a fake ‘cultural show. Just being there many miles from the nearest road or settlement was far more evocative. The old ways were alive in the heart of the jungle.




    We left the next morning to return to Long San with a side trip to the old Long Akah trading post now a ghost town . Our canoes passed an old Baram ferry stranded like a Borneo African Queen. We spent some hours visiting the ghost town, the Brooke fort and old airfield before returning to Miri.








  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    Surrey
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    Default

    Fascinating stuff, many thanks for taking the time to share it.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  3. #3
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    wow!!! BOD that looks absolutely fantastic. What a great adventure.





    bry

  4. #4
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    A most exellent adventure

    thanks for sharing
    Cheers
    Tim.
    Cheers
    Tim


    Paddles a Prospector

  5. #5
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    Excellent blogg, thanks for sharing.
    Tony.

  6. #6
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    Another canoeing culture too!
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

  7. #7
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    Default I'll second that...

    Quote Originally Posted by bigbry View Post
    wow!!! BOD that looks absolutely fantastic. What a great adventure.

    bry
    I'll second that "Wow"!

    Ben
    One year olds want four meals a day: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Paper...
    Two year olds want whatever is most dangerous to get to... (Then to throw it on the floor.)

  8. #8
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    fantastic, inspirational thanks for sharing.
    wilf
    Bacon sarnie anyone ?

  9. #9
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    wow wow wow

    "Pedal five hundred miles on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature" - Pierre Trudeau

  10. #10

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    Awesome.......

  11. #11
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    Superb. Fascinating to read and see.
    John

  12. #12
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    Sep 2007
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    great to see a blogg from a very different part of the world. thanks!

  13. #13
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    May 2007
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    Always interesting to see places you've not seen before, (and maybe never will again).

    TGB
    May the gentleness of morning, greet your silent passage through endless waters...

    May all your winds be gentle. And for ww - May it rain the night before.

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