(From the Star Online)
By Tan Cheng Li
Forty-five kilometres. By car, we can easily cover that distance in under an hour. On foot, in the tropical rainforest, however, 45km becomes 100 times longer, and can take days to complete. This is what a group of us experienced during the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco-challenge in Sarawak last month.
For six days, we retraced the path of early highland settlers who travelled on foot through mountainous terrain, between the villages of Ba’ Kelalan and Bario.
Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi (FORMADAT), a grassroots initiative comprising communities from Bario, Ba’ Kelalan, Long Semadoh and Ulu Padas in Malaysia, as well as Krayan and Krayan Selatan in Kalimantan) thought up the event to promote eco-tourism and an appreciation of their culture and highland environment.
So, aside from experiencing diverse forest landscapes – we trekked through dipterocarp, riparian, heath and montane forests – we also got to relish the bucolic life in remote highland villages, taste jungle fare and see historical sites of the Lun Bawang and Kelabit people.
Our journey started in Miri, where we boarded a MasWing twin otter for the 45-minute flight to Lawas. Then, the five of us – two journalists, a Malaysian Nature Society member, a World Wide Fund for Nature communications officer (the NGO sponsored the trip) and a team leader from tour company Borneo Planet – squeezed into a four-wheel drive for the bumpy, five-hour ride to Ba’ Kelalan, the starting point of our trek.
Though long, the drive passed quickly as we took in passing views of forested mountains and villages nestled in valleys.
Lush rice fields fringed by rolling highlands make for the charming settlement of Ba’ Kelalan, home to some 1,000 people from the Lun Bawang tribe.
Beyond the mountains lies Kalimantan. As we took a stroll, friendly villagers greeted us and stopped for a chat. Sitting at 970m above sea level, days here are pleasant and nights, cool. It is no wonder visitors find their way back here, again and again. Read more