Sunday, July 05, 2015

Spicing up adventure travel in Sarawak

THE inaugural Heart of Borneo Eco Challenge is now open for registration.

It’s time to cross the following items off your bucket list — broaden horizons, leave the comfort of urbanity to explore, trek and hike in Borneo, walk the pilgrimage trail of the Lun Bawangs and the Kelabits, bird watching in the highlands, gain indigenous knowledge of the forests.

The Eco Challenge, typically lasting eight days and seven nights (July 24 to 31) from Ba Kelalan to Bario, will set adventure seekers and nature lovers on a trail, stretching over 100km through various terrains and weather conditions, ranging from 25 degrees Celsius in the day to below 10 degrees Celsius at night.

To keep all belongings dry, a backpack with raincover is highly recommended. For the safety and health of porters, participants are reminded to backpack the maximum 15kg each, and carry a daypack with their basic necessities such as medication, drinking water, mosquito repellent throughout their hike.

Getting to Ba Kelalan from Miri takes just one hour 35 minutes in a MasWings 19-seater Twin Otter. If you have never been in this plane before or have always wanted to be in one, you can cross this off your bucket list as well. The Twin Otter offers a very casual flight experience as the first thing you will notice is the free seating.

In Ba Kelalan, passengers are escorted off the tarmac into the quaint airport to collect their baggage and settle in. Ba Kelalan is a settlement comprising nine villages 910m above sea level. The largest village, and the village where the airport is located, is called Buduk Nur. Most of villagers are Lun Bawangs.

On the second day, hike from Buduk Nur to Pa’ Rebata shelter. Pa’ in Lun Ba-wang means river and the Pa’ Rebata shelter indicates it is next to the Rebata River. The journey takes about seven hours through heath forest, hills and logging tracks.

The start of the trail is fairly easy — through rolling hills and into the forest. As the trail steepens, participants will pass several historical sites – Natad Agong, a spot dedicated to Agong Bangau, the man who holds the record of felling the farthest tree (meranti) from the village for construction in the 80’s. Paths carved by his buffalo hauling a tree are still very much visible and the stump of the tree remains as a marker.

The sole surviving yoke for this purpose belongs to a family in Pa’ Lungan, Bario.

Gurkha landings

Natad Gurkha is a rest area, commemorating Gurkha landings in Ba Kelalan during Operation Claret (1964-66) at the time of Indonesia’s Confrontation (1963-1966).

It is said the actual landing site by the Gurkhas is further up the trail at what used to a helicopter landing area. A signage called Natad Belaban Atas was erected at the existing site. Natad means resting spot in Lun Bawang and Belaban refers to the type of trees once found in the area.

The big tree named after Natad Gurkha is visible from Buduk Nur and Ba Kelalan airport. It is highly significant for the locals who set up barricades against a logging conglomerate in 1992 to protect this particular tree and the remaining trees below as well as their water catchment area.

On the logging tracks, footprints of small mammals are highly visible. A participant from the initial recce team had a brief encounter with a barking deer. Sweat bees along the tracks are common but it is no cause for panic as they are harmless.

Upon reaching the shelter, a refreshing swim and cooling dip awaits at Pa’ Rebata.

On the third day, participants will begin their five-hour ascent on the logging tracks to Lepo Bunga shelter — or the Shelter of Flowers in Lun Bawang after the original one was used for flower and orchid research some 30 years ago.

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