Kuching, SARAWAK: Cross the following items off your bucket list – broaden horizons, leave the comfort of urbanity to explore, trek and hike in Borneo, walk the pilgrimage trail of the Lun Bawang and Kelabit peoples, bird watching in the highlands, gain indigenous knowledge of the forests – as the inaugural Heart of Borneo Eco Challenge is now open for registration.
The Eco Challenge which typically lasts for eight days and seven nights from Ba’ Kelalan to Bario will set adventure seekers and nature lovers on a trail that stretches more than 100km through various terrains and weather conditions ranging from 25 degree Celsius in the day to below 10 degree Celsius at night.
To keep all belongings dry, a backpack with raincover is highly recommended. In support of the safety and health of porters, participants are reminded to adhere to the maximum weight of 15kg per backpack, and to carry a daypack with their basic necessities such as medication, drinking water, mosquito repellent throughout their hike.
Getting to Ba’ Kelalan from Miri takes just 1 hour 35 minutes in a MasWings 19-seater Twin Otter. If you have never been in a Twin Otter before, or have always wanted to be in a Twin Otter, you can cross this off your bucket list as well. The Twin Otter offers a very casual flight experience as the first thing you will notice is the free seating.
In Ba’ Kelalan, passengers are escorted off the tarmac into the quaint airport where they wait to collect their baggage and settle in. Ba’ Kelalan is a settlement made up of nine villages located 910m above sea level. The largest village and the village in which the airport is located in, is called Buduk Nur. The majority of villagers are Lun Bawang.
One the second day, hike from Buduk Nur to Pa’ Rebata shelter (Pa’ in Lun Bawang means river and the Pa’ Rebata shelter indicates that it is next to the Rebata River). The journey takes approximately seven hours through heath forest, hills and logging tracks.
The start of the trail is fairly easy through rolling hills and into the forest. As the trail steepens, participants will pass several historical sites – Natad Agong, a spot dedicated to Agong Bangau, the man who holds the record for the furthest tree felled from the village for construction in the 80s. Paths carved by his buffalo hauling a tree are still very much visible and the stump of the meranti tree remains as a marker.
The sole surviving yoke for this purpose, belongs to a family in Pa’ Lungan, Bario; Natad Gurkha, a rest area commemorating Gurkha landings in Ba’ Kelalan during Operation Claret (1964-66) in the midst of the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation (1963-1966). It is said that the actual landing site by the Gurkhas is further up the trail as that is the former helicopter landing area. The existing site which has the erected signage is called Natad Belaban Atas (Natad means resting spot in Lun Bawang and Belaban refers to the type of tree which used to be available in that area); the big tree after Natad Gurkha is visible from Buduk Nur and Ba’ Kelalan airport. It is highly significant for the people of Ba’ Kelalan as it is where the community set up barricades against a logging conglomerate in 1992 to protect this tree, the remaining trees below, and their water catchment area.
On the logging tracks, footprints of small mammals are highly visible. A participant from the initial recce team had a brief encounter with a barking deer. Sweat bees along the tracks are common, but it is no cause for panic as they are harmless. Upon reaching the shelter, a refreshing swim and cooling dip awaits at Pa’ Rebata.
On the third day, participants will begin their five-hour ascent on the logging tracks to Lepo Bunga shelter (meaning “the Shelter of Flowers” in Lun Bawang, after the original shelter was used for flower and orchid research some 30 years ago). They can take comfort in the new infrastructure, which is equipped with a kitchen, toilets and water tanks. At an elevation of approximately 1,600m above sea level, it gets pretty chilly. When the recce team were at Lepo Bunga, they spotted a hornbill and various endemic birds in the evening. Lepo Bunga marks the end of the logging tracks.
This is part one of a three part article highlighting the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge, an adventure event that relives history, culture and stewardship of nature initiated by the people living in the Maligan and Kelabit highlands. Participants in this event will experience jungle walk across the old world Borneo forest, villages and historical sites where ancestors of the people in the highlands of Borneo used as migratory routes since thousands of years ago.
To be continued.