EXPLORING THE ULU – TO BARIO BY MOTORBIKE
By Garry Anderson
Two friends, Rick Cole and Ken Watt, and I recently realised a 10 year old ambition of ours – to reach Bario in the farthest depths of the Sarawak jungle.
We regularly make back-country trips to far flung villages, longhouses and places of interest by motorbike. The more remote the better, but Bario, a Kelabit village nestling on a highland plateau behind the Tama Abu Ranges and Gunung Murud (7950ft – the highest point in Sarawak) near the Kalimantan border, remained unknown to us, despite our previous attempts to reach it from several different directions.
At the beginning of July, armed with new information on a possible route tracking the Baram River to its source, the three of us set out from Miri. 100km inland the public road ended and we entered the logging areas where the roads are built and maintained by Timber companies.
A unique right-of-way system is used on timber roads which helps the fully laden logging trucks stay on the strongest part of the road. The side which you have to use is indicated by arrow markers and it changes from side to side with the topography. It can be a hair-raising experience to round a corner on the wrong side and come face to face with an empty logging truck thundering straight at you.
One and a half days and 420km later we reached the end of the road, literally. At Pa Bareng on Sg Dapur, everything bound for Bario must be unloaded and taken by boat 1-2 hours upriver. That is, anything that has managed to get that far!
Even though Bario is only accessible by air, boat and on foot, they have 4WD vehicles, bulldozers, excavators and tractors; all bought up by boat in pieces and reassembled.
We were lucky to find 3 small long boats at Pa Bareng loading bags of cement to ferry up to Bario (for a new Water Treatment Plant) and they were able to give us a ride on top of the cement – the bikes were left under a hut on the river bank.
The Kelabit people of the Sarawak high country are into long ears. Shoulder length ear lobes are achieved by wearing heavy earrings. The Kenyah people who live lower down river boast long lobes and ‘bowl’ haircuts plus unique hats.
The last truly nomadic people in Borneo are the Penans who wander from hunting area to wild sago plantation and carry what they need with them. Fixed abodes are not for them. We were humbled to meet one Penan man who had walked for two days from his jungle district near Pa Tik over the ranges to Bario to register his kids for school; people from Kalimantan walk a similar distance to Bario for basic supplies like salt and sugar.
Staple planted food in Bario is highland rice and ‘Ubi Kayu’, or tapioca, supplemented with jungle fare. We dined that night on rice, pakis, a ferny type vegetable, and heavily peppered Barking Deer. At 3500ft elevation there is no need for air-con in Bario, indeed the locals don jackets and hats at night when the cool sets in.
Next morning our boatmen showed us around the village and the local market before ferrying us back downriver to our bikes. We rode for 5 hours to our overnight stop at Long San, visiting the Kenyah village of Lio Matoh on the way for fuel.
A swim in the muddy Baram served as our shower that night and the Williams sisters were on the box playing the Wimbledon Final after dinner. Early next morning we began the long haul to Miri and then back to Brunei, thus completing a round trip of some 1200+ km – Job Done!
Kelabit lady – Bario Kenyah man serves fuel at Lio Matoh
Negotiating a freshly cleared landslide near the end of the road.
Note the size of the tree trunk on the left.
Rick, Ken and I with the Bario boatmen – at Pa Bareng
A typical, main logging road – fine in the dry, like ice in the wet. My riding buddies are approaching our first night’s lodgings – the only building for miles around was luckily a jungle “hotel”. The Baram river is to the left.
Jungle “hotel” at Long Metapa. “Rooms? Have! Food? Have, Drink? Astro? Have, have!”
Bukit Simang and Batu Tujuh
Morning mist and view from ‘lodge’ at Long Metapa
The boys reach Bario