Riverfront, view of Astana fort
As I lay sweating on a matrass, with unseen bugs dropping on me or crawling over me, and confused roosters crowing loudly at random hours of the night, while less confused dogs kept howling and barking at intruders only they could see, I asked myself why I had thought it was a good idea to pay top dollar for this particular experience? Here I was in a semi-traditional longhouse, on a river close to Batang Ai National Park; with me were two Australians who were clearly just as delusional as me, since they too would, by the end of it, be paying a lot of money for what can only be described as self-inflicted torture. I had met Sarah and Tom in Kuching, where we had hatched this strange plan which involved, what we all silently knew would mean several bad nights of sleep and discomfort, and for this we were willing to part with a substantial amount of our funds.
And so, on this sleepless night, I reflected on this strange phenomenon where tourists pay for various forms of discomfort, pain and who knows what else. Why? How come it seems like a good idea to us to climb
Square Tower and Sarawak State Assembly Building
up a dangerous mountain, or dangle on a rock face, or jump out of a plane or into a canyon with only rubber band between us and certain death? Who said it was fun to hike through hot and humid jungles full of leeches, malaria mosquitos, hornets, poisonous snakes and spiders and all kind of other dangerous animals and plants? And why go to a 'traditional' tribal hut in the middle of nowhere, to spend the night with them in their house with its possibly leaky roof, open windows and doors, so whatever barn animals can wander around and all blood loving insects can have a taste of your blood, and with not even a fan to cool you off at night? And pay for this experience? The locals must think us mad! If they had the money we had, they would upgrade their hut in no time, and certainly not spend it on sleeping on a mat in a barn!
And yet, we seem to like this, or we make believe that we like it. Sometimes we say it is for the adrenaline rush, or it makes you feel alive, or maybe it is for the fresh air,
or for our health, to see something new perhaps, to experience a way of life we lost somewhere along the way. So many reasons, and all of them excuses. What is so cool about harking back to a time when we walked around in a loin cloth and froze to death in some mud hut? Why am I paying to go relive the discomforts of the past? For sure, it is in a new setting, in the tropics instead of at home in the moderate climes of Europe, but it is still a rather silly thing to spend my money on, when I think about it.
But look at me, I am in a longhouse in the jungle, with my legs sun-burnt from a boat ride that same afternoon, listening to a cacophony of noise coming from those damned roosters and dogs who don't care whether it is three in the morning, and I am trying to convince myself that this is the life! That it is just so fantastic to have this experience. Yes, so much better than a nice room with mosquito nets, a nice toilet and shower, for a quarter of the price. I look at
Entrance to Chinatown
Tom, he cut open his foot this afternoon on some sharp rocks in a jungle river we swam in, and at dinner a very satisfied and fat leech, he didn't even know was there, dropped off his thighs. I glance at Sarah, who was just stung by a hornet that happened to be snoozing on her matrass, as she coughs loudly trying to dislodge the fish bone which got stuck in her throat this afternoon, when we had the traditional barbeque. Indeed, what a fun we are all having.
The truth is, and I don't know why, even as I write up this blog and look back at it all, I would not change a thing. Even if I knew all that would occur, I would still do it. I really did enjoy it all, the discomfort, the heat, the bugs, even those rotten roosters and dogs that kept me awake. And I know that I will do it again, and again, and again. And to make matters even more difficult to understand, the top five experiences so far in Sarawak, were actually the ones I paid the least for. So it wasn't actually this particular longhouse in the
Kuching means cat in Malay, hence there are many cat monuments
jungle, fun though it was to lay in my own pool of perspiration.
No, probably at the top of the list was our unexpected invitation to a modern longhouse on our way to this one. A concrete monstrosity, which we were brought to by a friendly local as we were waiting for a van at a junction towards Lubok Antu, which would be our starting off point to the traditional longhouses further up the river. We were the first tourists that had ever visited their longhouse and before we knew it we were eating, drinking and dancing with the chief and his minions. An invitation which could have cost us nothing if we had been so inclined, but we weren't and we gave our host some money before we left.
And then there was the Chinese festival in Kuching which I ran into. With chariots, and dragon dances and men with skewers through their cheeks. Or the proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park. All of these experiences were either free of very cheap. The only other one on this list, which I did pay for, was the boat ride into Batang Ai National Park, as well as the
Totem pole outside Sarawak Museum
short hike through it, and the barbeque along the jungle river at the end of it, prepared by our boatmen. I didn't see any wildlife, except for leeches, but I got the feeling that very few people made it out to this park, in comparison to the other better known ones. It really seemed untouched, and at that moment in time, I was sure we were the only tourists in the park. The freshly caught fish, which our boatman cooked in bamboo and grilled over a little fire beside a crystal clear stream, was the perfect way to end the hike.
So, I paid a lot for something which I don't even consider to among the better experiences, and still, despite all that, I don't feel it was a waste of money. I wanted to see a longhouse in the jungle, and I got to see it, and I wanted it to be as traditional as possible and it was. And I wanted to spend the night there, and I did. If it had been comfortable and easy, it would not have been 'authentic' enough, obviously.
Which brings me back to my question, I suffer but why? Because
Frontage of the Sarawak Museum
suffering is 'authentic'!
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