February 4th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Chinese dancers in Marudi

An impossibly early start to the day – the Land Cruiser across to Baram left at 6.00, so it was in a dazed state that, on being roused from our bed, we hurriedly gathered our things + struggled up the dirt track in the dark to the place the Land Cruiser leaves from.  We were more or less the last ones on, but somehow we squeezed ourselves inside – it was overloaded by about 6 people – + we were off.  Actually, we could have done with being woken 20 mins earlier, since we hate having to leave in such a rush, being sure we’ve left something behind.  This was a Land Cruiser with a proper passenger chassis, but still wasn’t a very comfortable journey, being so cramped, + travelling, as usual, on a mud-clogged + deeply rutted dirt track.  Our driver was capable, however, + we made it in one piece, + only just in time – as soon as we arrived at the Timber Camp, the express launch could be seen a few hundred yards down the river, + approaching fast.  We hurriedly scrambled down the bank to a suitable spot for stepping aboard, + I then rushed inside to find us a seat.  It was only when Val arrived, breathless, + asked for money that I realised that in the rush I had forgotten to pay for the Land Cruiser – $7 each.  She took the money + hurried back to the front of the boat but it was too late – we had left again.  We gave the money to one of the teachers from the village (one of 3 extraordinarily pretty girls who had travelled with us on the Land Cruiser), + she promised to give it to the right people for us.  The launch ride was another 3-hour nightmare = blasting engines + blasted kung fu – the only thing I really have to say about it is that we were delighted when it was over.

 The Marudi we saw on our return was a very different place from the one we had left – most of the shops were shut, even the restaurants – the aftermath of the Chinese New Year.  In the end, we fouind a place to have a cup of coffee, + allow our shattered nerve-ends to heal, + then we headed back to the Grand Hotel to collect our bag + check in once again.  In the afternoon, we sat in the lobby + I read one of the English language newspapers, while Val was being taught the rules of Chinese chess by one of the hotel employees.  My eyes lit up, I must confess, when a young guy came in, sat down next to me, + started thumbing thro’ some copies of Newsweek that he’d obviously just collected from his post-box.  When the football was switched on at 3.00 he put them aside, + as I’d already seen the game (Spurs v Fulham again) I took the opportunity of asking him whether I could look at one.  He was very nice, + offered me all 3, the 3 editions up to as recently as Jan 30th.  So I was soon lost in the events of the world (particularly of course, this being Newsweek, those pertaining to the USA.)  Not much seems to be happening in the world at the moment, or at any rate more of the same, but there were a couple of particularly good feature articles, especially one about British rock music invading America (again.)  Occasionally, I chatted briefly with my benefactor.  His name was Lehan, + he was a teacher at an Iban village up-river, up a different tributary of the Baram, + he gave us a tentative invitation to go back with them when they returned to school after the New Year holiday, either tomorrow or Monday.  It was at least an idea to entertain, + I was feeling a little more disposed to a trip up-river again now that I was showered + feeling more relaxed, but I gave no definite reply straight away.

While I was buried in Newsweek, the rest of the afternoon seemed to slip away, + I was amazed to discover it was 7.30 when Lihan asked me if I wasn’t tired of reading.  I wasn’t, actually, since I was only half-way thro’ the 3rd edition, but was happy to accept Lihan’s inmvitation to join him + his fellow teachers (he turned out to be the headmaster) for a meal.  It was a pleasant social occasion, lubricated by large bottles of Heineken.  We weren’t allowed to pay for our share, either.  During the meal, after discussing the matter with Val, we accepted Lihan’s invitation to visit the school + longhouse.  It meant a 6 hour-long boat journey, pus, if no boat could be found coming back in a few days, a 3 hour trek across the jungle to Long Lama to the Baram to catch the express, but it gave us the chance to see Iban people.

Yet another example of us falling on our feet; straight after one longhouse adventure, we are immediately invited to another one. And with such pleasant and amenable company, it would have been foolish to turn it down.

  1. Pamela Blair

    This is what I call serendipity–when you are free enough to accept what is right in front of you, and things open up in unexpected ways. I love that feeling. I was on a train in Tunisia once and met a young woman, ten years younger than I, who invited me to the tiny village where she was employed as a social worker. I took her up on her invitation and stayed ten days. It’s chance connections like that that make me love traveling without a definite destination or time restriction. I’m so impressed with this part of your journey. You’re quite the adventurers!

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