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Kelabit Highlands
We returned to Miri for one more night before taking a Twin Otter aircraft to Long Banga in the outskirts of the Kelabit Highlands. Here we arranged two guides to take us to Bario, 60 kilometres to the north. At first, the trek took us along an abandoned logging road, and later on a muddy rainforest track between longhouse villages. It was wonderful scenery and wonderful people everywhere!

182. Old women Two old women talking
In Long Banga, the village chief invited us to stay in his residence. With three floors it was one of the biggest houses in Long Banga. Unfortunately, the chief had to go to Miri with the returning flight, and we only met him briefly at the airport. However, his wife took good care of us, serving plenty of tasty food.
    The house also harboured some older relatives to the chief. We didn't understand what they were talking about, but they seemed to have a good time chitchatting in front of the kitchen fire.

185. Sunday service Nyawaku diberikan bagimu
Arranging guides and a car turned out to be a time-consuming activity. While we waited, we decided to join the church service, which there are four of on Sundays! The first one started at 5.30 in the morning and it went on for almost the whole day with just short breaks in-between.
    Although we didn't understand the language, the service was enjoyable with lots of singing and good variation. However, one service was enough, and luckily a truck turned up just in time for us to "miss" the next service.

194. Deforestation
We had to go to the nearby Penan-village Long Beruang to arrange with guides since none of the schoolboys in Long Banga where interested. The area we passed was logged a couple of years ago and it was not a pretty sight. The vegetation was low and impassable, dead trunks were pointing towards the sky like skeleton fingers.
    One big concern for the villagers was how to get wood for their houses. A typical house lasts about 15 years before it starts to rot due to the humidity, and now there are no trees to use for new ones.
    It took just a few minutes to arrange two guides in Long Beruang, but it required a lengthy discussion before we decided to go with the truck as long as it was possible along the old logging road. The other choice was to stay in the village for the night and then continue on foot on a trail the next morning.

198. Shelter Night sounds in Bario
When the truck could go no further, we were dropped off. The driver quickly tightened all loose bolts before turning around, trying to get back before dark. We picked up our backpacks and started walking. After half an hour, we came to a small waterfall. At the same time it started to rain and it was just minutes until it would be dark. The final chock hit us when the guides asked us to put up our tents. Now, the panic was near, since we didn't have any tents! Why didn't we stay in the village until the next morning, we asked ourselves.
    Luckily, our guides were more calm and used to the elements of nature. Within minutes they hade built a nice (!) shelter that kept us dry, and when the rain stopped after a couple hours it took only a few minutes before they had made a fire besides an old tree-trunk. Amazing!

204. Road block! Bird song
It felt good to be out in the forest, even if we were following an old logging road. Fortunately, the logging company went bankrupt before logging the surrounding areas.
    The road was in bad condition and we had to pass many fallen bridges on our way. It was, however, well worth the trouble, and we got magnificent views across the valleys and over the ridges. We even saw some wildlife along the road including, but not limited to, a couple of wild boars, some deers, a dead, but big, scorpion and even a beautiful, green snake. If it had bitten us we would have walked no further, our guides said.

206. Streams Streaming water
Up here the water was also a lot cleaner than in the lowlands. We passed stream after stream and waterfall after waterfall. It turned out that we had found really good guides, knowing every inch of the forest. After the initial misunderstanding about the tents, everything went just fine. At every meal, they found vegetables to spicy up the rice or even to make a soup!

238. Timber camp Humming bees
Our second day on the road was a short one. At noon, we stopped at an abandoned timber camp. It was full of small cottages and there was a big machine hall with rusty parts scattered all over it.
    Our guides went fishing, while we took the chance to wash some clothes and ourselves in the river. The sweat bees were driving us nuts, even after we had taken a swim. We didn't get rid of them until we lit a small fire. Our guides were lucky and turned up with some fish. We had a really good meal that evening.

240. Gibbons in the mist Gibbon monkeys
The next morning we had to wake up early. According to our guides, we should be able to make it to Ramudu before dark, so we left at dawn without breakfast and ahead of the guides.
    It was a perfect day for walking, cool and misty, and almost raining. The song of the gibbon monkeys were echoing in the valleys around us, and at a distance we could occasionally see a pair of hornbills circling in the sky before settling down in a tree. It was a day we will always remember.

250. Mud trail Walking in mud
Finally, the logging road ended. We celebrated it by cooking some rice before entering the muddy forest trail. It was a very different experience from the logging road. On the logging road, we almost always had a nice view of the surrounding area, but here one could not see very far and it was slippery and muddy, going up and down, over ridges and fallen trees.
    Then there were the leeches. We could see them crawling on the ground and as soon as we stopped we had to remove several from our shoes and trousers. However, we felt rather safe, our trousers were tight and we had good shoes. We didn't know how wrong we were!

256. Paddy fields Crickets at night
Just before Ramudu the first leech stroke. A tiger leech dropped down on Dimi's back, and it had a bite that she certainly felt! With "combined forces", we managed to get it off.
    The last part of that day's journey took us over the rice fields, or paddy fields as they are called here, surrounding Ramudu. We made it well before dark! These are the first guides we have had on all our journeys that could calculate time and distance according to our (slower) speed and not only according to their own maximum speed.

261. Leeches, leeches and more leeches
Glad, but tired, we started to take of our shoes before entering the longhouse. To our "surprise", we were covered with leeches! It was not a nice feeling. If there had been a chopper nearby, we would have called for it!
    Our guides had cut us small wooden sticks, resembling the blade of a knife. With them, it was quite easy to peel the leeches off. One just had to make sure to take off both ends at the same time, otherwise the first one would get stuck again before the other end got off.
    Now even more tired, but not as glad as before, we felt very welcome to the longhouse in Ramudu. The chief arranged a great meal, with rice (of course!), lots of different vegetables and even meat.

257. Rickety bridges Streaming water
The next day our guides solved the problem with the leeches. A pair of fresh tobacco leaves in the shoes was very effective at keeping them away. When we had to choose between the route with lots of tiger leeches (that usually drops on one's back) and the route where a large group of Englishmen had passed a couple of hours before, the choice was easy. We followed the Englishmen, trusting that they would have cleaned the track of all leeches.
    The area was full of small rivers and at each crossing, we had to get over a hanging bridge or balance on some logs. In Pa Main, where we spent the night, we catched up with the Englishmen. Most of them were cleaning leech bites, and we couldn't help smiling a bit for ourselves.

308. Blue skies Bird song
From Pa Main it was just one more day to Bario. Bario is the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands, with a little more than 1000 inhabitants. There is no road connecting Bario to the coastal region so everything has to be flown in. Despite that, there were actually six trucks going back and forth on the single road connecting Bario with the nearby villages.
    The area around Bario is dotted with rice fields, or paddy fields. The name to change according to the state of the rice plant.

301. Longhouse chief
We got an invitation to visit the biggest longhouse in Bario. The chief was a very old man with nice and heavy earrings. The longhouse measured around 110 meters in length and had room for 24 families. The kitchen area was rather dark. Partly due to limited number of windows, partly due to black soot from the kitchen fires that had coloured the walls.

313. Longhouse in Bario
In another longhouse a Swedish woman was living, wanting to write a book about the Kelabits. That longhouse was very different from the one we just visited. It was very big and spacious, and a lot lighter inside.
    Living in a longhouse doesn't mean that everybody live together. A typical longhouse consists of common kitchen building, like the one on this picture. In this building, every family has their own fireplace. In addition, every family has one or more private bedrooms. In this case, the bedrooms are located in another building. A longhouse usually also have a party room, about the same size as the kitchen area, but without fireplaces. It is used only when there is something to celebrate.
    After the dinner, our host picked out his blowpipe. It looked difficult, but it wasn't. One just had to exhale like blowing out candles in a cake, and the wooden arrow would easily penetrate a centimetre or more into the wall of the house. Aiming was a bit more difficult but we all managed to hit the tapioca on the wall.

321. Village of Bario Twin Otter aircraft
We stayed three nights in Bario at Plateau Lodge. It was located about a kilometre outside of Bario, but well worth the money. It was fresh and clean with a relaxing atmosphere. The owner and his wife served us all meals at almost no cost. As usual, the meals consisted of several dishes, with rice, pasta, vegetables, meat and pineapple.

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© 2001-2002  Photos Nicklas Nordborg and Dimitria Kallini  Texts and sounds Nicklas Nordborg