Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bewitching Ba'kelalan

Recently, I went on an unconventional vacation with my sister in law, Hilda to a quaint little rural village in Sarawak called Ba'kelalan. Where? It is about a 40min flight south of Lawas, close to the Kalimantan border in the beautiful bewitching land of Borneo. Most people mistook that we were there for a mission trip or some kind of social work... because well, who would go to a place with nothing for a vacation? Vacations are supposed to be about self-pampering and why would you go where there is no phone or internet connection, wonky electricity supply, no hot baths, and terrible road conditions? There is a remarkable reason why everybody should go on these vacations. It gives you a different perspective of your life, outside your cushy city comforts. It was an eye-opening adventure for both of us city-girls.

Helpful and kind people

We had to layover one night in Miri to catch the connecting flight to Ba'kelalan. When we arrived in Miri nearing midnight, we bumped into a mutual friend, Calvin at the airport picking up his guest. As we walked out into the darkness to find our hotel, we sort of got disoriented and did not know how to get there. Calvin, who was still waiting for his guest, helped to drop us off at our hotel, Miritrail Inn. There was no receptionist there except for a number to call. When I called them ... Alas! The place was full and they disregarded our booking. He then hung up on me and switched the phone off as I was unable to call him back after that. We were left stranded without a place to sleep and decided to sleep at the airport. The night shift guard, Mr Bujang told us it was not a 24hour airport and they are locking up. We told him we had nowhere to go. He then offered to drive us to another hotel nearby, YS Inn, turns out it was full as well. We wanted to give up hope and told Mr Bujang we will just sleep outside the airport  but he refused to give up. He said that outside the airport is full of mosquitoes and it will not be pleasant. He drove us even further out to look for another hotel. Hallelujah! There was a vacant room! Thanks to the kindness of a total stranger, we had a place to sleep. We thanked him profusely and offered to host him whenever he goes to KL and exchanged phone numbers.

Journey to the village
The next day, we boarded our little MASWing plane and had to transit in Lawas enroute to Ba'kelalan. We could see the vast green mountains and plains below us.
 These little chickies were travelling with us in the plane

Upon arrival in Ba'kelalan, our friendly host, Carolyn and her husband Paulus was there to pick us up. We arrived at the same time as 2 of her other guests, Rick and Sham, who were teachers from an international school. We boarded Paulus's 4-wheel pick-up truck, and made our way through the rough terrains. This road was built several years ago by the army, not a very good job I must say. The worst road in KL cannot even compare to the bumpiness of this journey. Both Hilda and I got car-sick by the time we arrived at Carolyn and Paulus's home.
The holey road
Our abode, the home of Carolyn, Paullus, and Aunty Rose

Kampung Long Rusu
Mini-adventures in the mountains
Even from the very first day, we had the opportunity to experience the simple and natural life out in the village. Rick, Sham and myself followed Aunty Rose out to the riverbank to pick while Paku-Pakis for our dinner. Hilda was too sick from the car-ride to join us. Dinner was wonderful, we had our harvest stir fried.

The next day, we went on walks around Ba'kelalan. We went to the salt springs where they harvest the mountain spring salt-water to manufacture their own salt. It is said to be rich in minerals and is not just sodium like our mass produced table salts, therefore is healthier. The village people claims it to be tastier too and would never use regular table salt in their cooking. I bought 1 kg for only RM20, a very nominal price considering how much effort goes into its production.
Boiling the salt water with natural wood, takes up to 24 hours to get the salt crystals. A lot of work for RM20/kg of salt

The salt springs
If you think the grass is professionally cut, think again. The nice short uniformly cut grass is naturally cut, by the buffaloes in the village. The buffaloes are pretty good gardeners, I must say.

We also hiked up a small mountain to get to the viewpoint. There are several viewpoints in Bakelalan and there was a new trail which was only a week old but we were a little less adventurous so we chose the tried and test trail. The view from the top was no less magnificent.

The view from the top

Appreciate the little things
In the city, we have grown to take the little things for granted. Warm showers, phone reception, internet, electricity, and many many more. Here, we showered in icy cold water in the morning, which is a superb wake-up catalyst. There is 1 water-heater in the house, it is considered a luxury in the kampung.

I remember sharing an anecdote about my cat, Orked who hates fish and refused her Omega Oil supplement. The kids here do not even get such supplements. And the dogs here? They live free as a bird, eating organic food, and have never bathed. Yet they do not smell bad and have beautiful coats. Nature is a great caregiver.
Kampung dogs, hardy and resourceful... They have 12 of them.
Most of the people in the village are farmers. There are not many vocations available here and people are content to be able to work, provide for their families and live a simple life.
The paddy fields of Bakelalan

Peace be upon you
Carolyn's father in law told us, in the city there is no day or night but in the village, there is a clear day and a clear night to differentiate when we work and when we rest. Indeed it peaceful in the village. Even in a foreign place, in a foreign bed, I slept much better than I did at home. I suppose we do not realize the implication of all the light and noise in the city until we have experienced real peace and darkness.

Sometimes the beauty of nature is best appreciated, not captured. The sheer darkness of the village really brought out the beauty of the starry sky. They shone like diamonds in the sky. I tried capturing it with my phone camera... lo and behold, nothingness. I ended up just staring up at the sky and appreciating it using my eyes instead of my electronics.
I rest my case 

Everyone knows everyone
Every time we walked around the village, if we bump into any locals, they would stop to get to know us and offer us a free ride. Simply because, everyone knows everyone here and they really take the effort to know even the new people that arrive here. The safety and the trust level here is truly unheard of in the city. Everyone is hospitable and helpful. Such a wonderful culture!

We can already feel that warmth of human connection within the home we were staying in. Aunty Rose, Carolyn and Paulus are always humble, down-to-earth, helpful and hospitable too. They made us feel like family.  
Aunty Rose flanked by Hilda and I

The lovely couple who hosted us, Paulus and Carolyn
Right before we left the Ba'kelalan, at the airport, we met a man from Kuala Lumpur, Andy, whom like our host, is married to a local in Ba'kelalan and commutes to and fro every month. He said, "To appreciate the city, you need a place like Ba'kelalan and to appreciate the Ba'kelalan, you need a place like the city."

Indeed. Experiencing both worlds does magnify your gratitude and helps you appreciate everything in life more. Would I come back again? Most definitely!