Sunday, May 01, 2016

A dream trip to Bario

THE many exciting stories about Bario have piqued my interest in visiting the famous Highlands of Sarawak, and on April 3, my dream of journeying to the exotic Kelabit heartland came true.

Assigned to cover a working visit to the jewel of the Land of the Hornbills by the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, I boarded an MASwings Twin Otter from Miri as early as 8.30am.

There are only three daily flights to Bario — by way of Lawas to Miri that offers a unique experience to anyone who has never flown in a plane smaller than a commercial airliner before — no air stewards or hostesses or toilet.

Flying over the rainforest at low altitude presented a panorama of breathtaking landscapes and scenery viewable through the light air-craft’s window. I took out my camera and snapped away, all while waiting in keen anticipation for the Twin Otter to touch down at Bario Airport — at 9.20am — on my first trip to this fable-like village of hospitable people set against a hauntingly picturesque mountainous backdrop.

Nestled in natural greenery, reaching up to 1,000 meters above sea level and tucked away the northeast part of Sarawak close to the international border with Kalimantan, it is no wonder this pristine wind-swept land is known as Bario which literally means ‘The Valley Of The Wind’ in Kelabit language. The average temperature here is 20 Celsius all year round.

The locals rolled out the red carpet to welcome the visitors who included media representatives and Agriculture Ministry officials. There were warm and sincere smiles all round and, of course refreshing drinks to quench our thirst after the menu-less flight.

I also managed to sample the popular local food at the airport — instant noodles and a traditional delicacy known as ‘senapeh’ or Bario glutinous rice.

After pampering ourselves with food and drinks, we hopped onto a  pickup truck (luggage and all) and headed for the Bario mountain salt processing facility at Main Keramut, Kampung Pa’Umor.

As I entered the place, I felt a scorching heat emanating, apparently, from to the steel drums, containing salt water collected from the nearby salt well and used as part of the salt-making process.

It was a fascinating experience for me — my first encounter with the traditional method of making salt. I was given to understand the water in the steel drums takes about five days to completely evaporate and morph into wet salt crystals.

Once formed, the crystals are packed in bamboo tubes and placed over a fire to continue the drying process. The salt will eventually harden into tubes which are then wrapped in palm leaves (tied with strings) before being consumed or sold.

Bario salt has a high content of minerals (natural iron, potassium, and magnesium) and is a much sought after Highlands product. Tubes of Bario salt are available for sale here at RM20 each. You can also get them in the nearby areas, including shops and markets in Miri.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A dream trip to Bario