January 27th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
Tamala logging camp

Out of bed + the usual routine: packing the bags.  A bit different this time, as we were doing it in a slightly different way, one big pack being left behind, the smaller one containing the presents + a change of clothes to come with us… it was still a chore.  The airport is just up the hill out of town, so that was an easy trip.  I paused on the way to post a couple of post-cards, + when I reached the airport I found Val waiting in the departure lounge, so I assumed the news was good.  Not so, however.  They didn’t yet know whether the flight to Bario would be leaving – they had to wait for the man in the control-tower to arrive to ask him! 

When he arrived, the word was that Bario airport was out of operation, had been for many days, + would be for some days yet.  So no flight.  Why the man at the desk, or the lady in the MAS office, hadn’t been able to give us the same information, when everybody seemed to know it, I have no idea.  We weren’t entirely disconsolate, having been warned from the very beginning that we might not be able to get there.  Our alternative plan was to head further up river by express boat, + visit some of the longhouses there.  Not quite as satisfactory, but with the advantage of being probably cheaper.  Except that we probably would not be able to walk around, + the cost of a few trips by longboat would soon mount up. 

We didn’t really know much about it, however, so it was a good thing, on our way back down the hill, that Val had the bright idea of asking for information at the office of the Dept of Agriculture.  They were not the right people to ask, but they took us to the people who were (I still don’t know the name of that dept.  Forestry perhaps?) + the man there was very helpful indeed, drawing a sketch map of the area, writing the name of the more important settlements + longhouses’ + suggesting a couple of routes.   One of these we decided to adopt, circumstances allowing.  This was to take the main express-boat up-river, + get off at the logging camp belonging to Sarawak Plywood.  They had a guest-house here, or, even better, we might be able to stay with the people there.  From there, we should be able to catch a ride in a Land Cruiser or logging truck across to Long Bedian, a longhouse on the banks of a large Eastern tributary of the main Baram river, + then could visit other long-houses along the river, + perhaps see the nomadic Punan people, located in that area, before returning to Marudi by express boat.

The boat left at 1 this afternoon, which was just about right, giving us time to re-orientate ourselves over a bottle of Coke (I admit I’ve become more of a Coke freak than ever just recently.  We played a game of chess while we sat, which was enjoyable – I hope I can maintain Val’s interest in playing the game.  And then to the boat.  We were welcomed by pop music on the video – apparently a standard fixture on these boats – which was of slightly better standard than the one yesterday… or was it the day before?  It was drowned out, however, immediately the engines fired, so it made no difference when they switched to showing episode after episode of some appalling Kung Fu series.  Ah well.

There were some interesting fellow-passengers aboard, tribal ladies who had stretched their ear-lobes by attaching weights to them.  The men do it too, tho’ to a lesser extent.  For them, an extra inch or so is the norm; for the ladies, the ears often reach 9 inches or more.  To me, it makes them look more like spaniels rather than enhancing their beauty, but such things are in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Kayan lady
… though some were embarrassed about their ear-lobes

We sat thro’ the journey in something like dazed torpor – we have agreed that these journeys are numbing, unpleasant experiences.  The conductor told us when we’d reached the camp, + off we hopped.  The boats don’t bother to tie up or anything – they just power up to the bank or landing-stage, pause there long enough for the people to jump off – in most cases, a second or 2 – and then throw the craft into a powerful reverse.

And so we found ourselves at the camp.  There was obviously no office to report to, so we had to play it by ear.  Fortunately we were approached, + then taken in hand by a succession of individuals of varying degrees of authority, + were taken from the saw-mill, the part by the river, to base camp, a couple of miles away, catching a ride with  a truck.  And we were then installed in the guest-house – not what we had hoped, but we could hardly complain.  At something of a loss now, I asked where the school was, + we wandered over there.  I thought I could at least with the headmaster.    This I did, but altho’ he was pleasant enough, and answered the questions I had to put, we did not develop a greater relationship than that.

So we wandered back to eat our dinner, to be served, we were told, at 6.  Chatted for a short while with the personnel officer – he seemed to think it unlikely we would be able to get land transport across to Long Bedian, + suggested we take a longboat a short way down the river to the next camp, from where there were regular Land Cruisers across.

Over dinner, we also chatted with 2 young fellows we’d seen playing badminton by the school.  They were young teachers, +  not in a very happy situation.  They had just qualified, + had recently been posted out here to the camp, from their homes in mainland Malaysia.  They had nothing in common with the local people – one was of Chinese extraction, one of Tamil – + were now cut off from all social, cultural + sporting ties, away from friends + families.  They had no choice in the matter, being under contract to the govt for 5 years, their only option being to buy themselves out, which would cut them off from their chosen profession, + cost them $25,000.  Just about the only thing they had to look forward to was a trip home during their long holiday – for which they would have to pay themselves – and the end of their contract or a transfer, whichever came first.  Their one consolation was that things could be worse.  A few of their colleagues had found themselves in remote longhouses, having to shower in the river, etc.  At least in terms of the material aspects of their accommodation, they weren’t too badly off.  They were housed + fed by the company – which was under no obligation to do so – + tho’ the rooms were barren, they were clean, + the food out of tins, but edible.  But, Man cannot live by bread (or rice, or spam) alone, + so far as these other necessaries of life were concerned, they weren’t doing too well.  Which makes one thankful – yet again – one was born in England.

So it appears we have an alternative means of travelling inland. And it does appear that we have managed to obtain some hospitality and accommodation simply by asking for it. I cannot imagine that that is a situation which will survive long, but for the time being it is serving us very well.

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