Shopping in the jungle supermarket (Kelabit Highlands, Borneo, Malaysia)


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Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Bario
June 5th 2009
Published: June 21st 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

(Day 427 on the road) I am back from a great week spent in the jungle around the Kelabit Highlands, and it was a very nice week indeed! The Highlands are only reachable by air, and to that end we had to take a small Twin Otter 21-seater plane to reach there from the coastal town of Miri.

The flight was great, it went over the greatest expanse of jungle one can imagine (which was albeit crisscrossed by quite a few logging roads). The plane itself was half empty and the feeling on the small craft very intimate. The door to the cockpit was open during the entire flight, so we could also observe the two pilots flying our plane and chat to them during the flight.

The main town the Kelabit Highlands is sleepy Bario, a small village that relies on the daily flight from Miri for all its supplies, thus making even basic items quite expensive to buy. We found a lovely homestay where we were the only customers and spent a few quiet days relaxing on the wooden veranda and exploring the surroundings.

On one of our walks around we stumbled across a remote Penan settlement. The Penan are one of the last few remaining nomadic tribes in Borneo, and they take whatever they need for their life from the forest (food, medicine, wood for their huts). Their livelihood however is severely threatened by the ongoing massive logging of the primary rain forest in Malaysia. In fact, Malaysia has the highest rate of logging in the tropical world, and has to date destroyed about half of its forest, with no sign of slowing down.

Then came the highlight of our days in the Kelabit Highlands: We trekked for about five hours to the tiny and very remote village of Punan Bah, where we stayed at an absolutely amazing homestay. The lovely owner-couple took us in as if we were their own children and really made us feel part of their lives. Later we found out that this very homestay has actually featured in the UK magazine Wanderlust; here is their great article on Punan Bah if you are interested.

The by far best experience of the three days we stayed there was our "shopping" in the jungle supermarket with the owner of the homestay, Nabun. As getting supplies to this remote place is extremely difficult and expensive (flight from Miri to Bario, then Ox-cart from Bario to the village), the people here get the vast majority of their food straight from the jungle. So Nabun took us on his daily four hour food-gathering expedition into the jungle. Nabun was fantastic, he seemed to know everything about all the plants, fruits and vegetables growing here, and before long we had collected a wide range of food for our dinner, which included wild ginger, guavas, mushrooms, river fern and quite a few things more. You can probably imagine how tasty our dinner was that night, with virtually all food on the table handpicked by us in the morning.

The next day was no disappointment either. I started the day with a few hours of fishing in one of the rice paddies and actually made a catch, albeit a pretty small fish. It was my first time ever of angling, and it was nice, but I guess it will not become my next great hobby. We also had a go at a traditional blowpipe, which is still used today by the Kelabit people to hunt and kill small animals. However, my aim wasn't too good I must admit, and I am less than convinced that I could use the blowpipe to catch myself some nice game for dinner. Our last night was rounded off with some villagers dropping by and dancing a few of their traditional songs, and I made a complete fool of myself when I was asked to dance for them. It was good fun, and my performance created more than one laugh from the gathered audience.

But with all good things, our time in Punan Bah, and indeed the Kelabit Highlands, had to come to an end. So we had to trek back to Bario to catch our flight back to Miri the next morning. What a shame!

Next stop: Gunung Mulu National Park (Borneo, Malaysia). Also have a look at my pictures at .


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