From the Air
Bario valley is surrounded by mountains and jungle. It has no roads.
Bario is a valley in interior Sarawak, close to the border with Indonesian Kalimantan and accessible only by plane. The first European to go into the valley arrived by parachute during WWII. Missionaries followed in 1946. Today the population is Christian and well-educated. The community participates in the e-Bario
project. This project, run by Bario community leaders and researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (with infrastructure contributions from Telekom Malaysia), has provided computers and telephone lines. The villagers now have access to globally available information and are able to communicate with families and friends outside the Bario valley. One local told me, "when our parents went down to the coast for shopping they went on foot and the journey took two months". I wondered what they would have made of the instant communications provided by this initiative to overcome the digital divide.
The flight from Miri, on the coast, took one hour in an 18-seat twin otter and afforded good views of the meandering Sungai Baram and jungle mountains. The plane went up to cruising height and then held its altitude steady as the ground came closer and closer towards us. Suddenly we were over a ridge and out of the
Inside a Twin Otter
A senior Kelabit couple returning home from Miri. Notice his haircut and long ears, her beaded cap.
cloud. At the head of a cleared valley I spotted school buildings and a football pitch. Then there were roofs of houses and longhouses, tracks that joined them and the glassy surfaces of padifields. We landed 3,280ft above sea level.
I was met at the airport by one of our group, the other two having gone off on a two-day trek. I walked along muddy roads past a mix of secondary jungle and gardens to the simple guesthouse where they’d found us beds. We were made most welcome and fed on a grand collection of fresh local food. There was jungle produce for lunch: bamboo shoots, fried fern shoots, local pineapples. There were fried whole fishes and chicken or eggs for every meal. The condiments used were just local salt and palm oil: no spices at all. The fragrant local rice was well-complemented.
It was the rainy season and walking was the only way to get around; we were ankle deep in clay much of the time. There are no surfaced roads in the valley and the few four-wheel drive vehicles and motor bikes don’t carry registration plates; buffalos are much used. Even moving around the centre of
Bario rice is famous in SE Asia. Many different varieties are grown.
the community took a lot of leg power, longhouses and hamlets being spread out away from each other. It was lovely strolling around and watching the rice grow. The two that trekked overnight stayed with a family in a village which was the last stop before the Indonesian border; their host had carried all his roofing iron and glass louvres from the airport. We calculated this would have taken him over twenty trips: four-hours each way.
Bario is worth a visit. It is a clearing in the jungle where traditional life meets modern life in a variety of interesting intersections but where commercialism has scarcely arrived.
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