Words, I bet you never expected to hear from my mouth.
Author's Note: To save time and brain power (although, come to think of it, neither of them seem to be a real premium at the moment) I have decided to just transcribe from my journal for this entry. As a result, it's a bit long, self indulgent and romanticized. There's no drinking or getting into any sort of trouble, so for the readers looking for that sort of thing, this may not be the entry for you.
For some reason, I cannot get the photo insert feature to work here, but if you click on john7buck under author to the right, I think you can get directed to my photo gallery, of which I have downloaded several images.
Wow, where to begin? I truly feel like I've just experienced something truly special, like I was given a pass to witness a life that was not my own (I'm pretty sure I just lost half of my readers). Sure, lots of travelers catch glimpses of foreign cultures and experiences; that's kind of the point I think.
But for nearly the first time in all of my travels, barring the year I lived in Micronesia, I feel as though my experience here in Bario was more than just a "tour". It will take me a bit here to explain what I mean, but to set it up, even when I did a family homestay on Isla de Amantani (ha, lucky I'm using the same journal as my SA trip) on Lake Titicaca in Peru, it was all an elaborate set up to show Mr. and Mrs. Gringo this quaint "native life". Essentially, a boat load of tourists would stop off and spend the night with a local family. Around every corner they would try to sell you something and the people seemed bored and relatively put out by having to put on this song and dance for the tourists, day-in day-out. Now don't get me wrong, that was an amazing experience and one I cherish to this day. But to my point, I was a definite tourist among many others and I was clearly on a "tour". Not a bad thing.
For your sake, just edited out some more useless jibberish.
Without yammering on endlessly, oh wait, I just did; let me get to my experience here in Bario; or more expansively, the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, Borneo.
When I first arrived at the tiny Bario Airstrip, I was greeted by Nancy of the Nancy Harriss Homestay; as well as a woman from Reddish's Barview Lodge. Joanne in Miri had recommended Nancy, but as I was leaving the hostel, another guy in the stairway told me to ignore her and stay at Reddish's place instead. Lonley Planet was apparently in agreement, as Barview Lodge was the only place they spent any time reviewing. Regardless, when I arrived, Nancy seemed to be the more friendly of the two, so I agreed to go with her on blind judgement. It was the best decision I have made in a while.
Nancy then introduced me to her husband Harriss, who then drove me to their home. After settling in, Harriss put me on the back of their motorbike and toured me around the small town of Bario and the surroundings. As we were cruising around, we passed an Italian couple who were on my plane. They were just wandering around on their own and Harriss informed me that Reddish is rarely in Bario and his wife does not speak very good English. He then told me that for the next three days, Bario was hosting a "Spiritual Revival" and that none if the local guides would be available until it was finished. So those that were in town would either have to wait for the church marathon to end, or just fend for themselves on the limited trails near town that do not require a guide. Lucky for me, Nancy informed me that Harriss was too honest to put up with all of the church politics (and I later learned there were many), so he would serve as my guide during the week. Truth-be-told, after spending the week with him, I think he holds a blended belief of Christianity with the traditional beliefs of nature worship. Whatever the case, and whatever the God, someone was smiling on me in the events that lead to getting Harriss as my personal guide for the week. And I use the term guide rather loosely, as really what transpired was that I payed him a small fee to hang out with him and his buddies for the week. This was a very good thing in my eyes.
So on my first full day in Bario, because my arrival was unexpected and because Harriss had already promised his friend Robert that he'd go wild boar hunting, Harriss asked if I would like to join them; no charge. And here I should probably explain the pricing breakdown. I would pay 55 Ringgit for my food/accomodation on days that did not require a guide and RM 85 for those that did. On nights where I was sleeping in the jungle, it was still just RM 85, even though all of my stuff was still in my room in the house. Thus, for the entire eight days, I paid RM 660, roughly US$170 for food, accomodation and guide services. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
As far as I'm concerned, when I'm traveling, I live by one simple rule: if you have the chance to do something that you most probably will never have the chance to do again in your life, you f#@#ing do it! And so when Harriss asked if I wanted to go wild boar hunting; I thought hmmm. . .wild boar hunting in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo; absolutely yes, please take me!
But I'll let you in on a little secret. Wild boar hunting in the jungles of Borneo kind of sucks. Well, let me re-phrase that; wild boar hunting in the jungles of Borneo is incredibly arduous. But then, I would later come to realize that doing anything in the jungles of Borneo is incredibly arduous.
The day started out at a nice enough pace with picturesque strolling surrounded by rice paddy fields, but soon the jungle began tightening up and we were soon walking in a butter-soft mud drainage. I should add that because this was Harriss' day off, I had decided to be a ghostly observer as he and Robert did their thing and chatted in a Kelabit dialect that was just pleasing to listen to listen to. But soon the romance of the rolling fields and foreign conversations wore off and we were deep in the jungle fighting off innumerable obstacles and small creatures. It was at this point that I was introduced to my first leech. When I found one clinging to my boot, I thought "how tribal, I'm being leeched" and took several pictures not realizing that in the week ahead these bastards would show up for three digit photo appearances should I continue to find them amusing.
As we made our way through the jungle, I thought, "how nice, Harriss and Robert aren't taking it easy on me." In truth, they probably were a bit, but they thankfully did not have a nice "tour" in mind either. Though there are quite a few local trails (I use this term loosely too, I'd say they are more aptly, just the way) apparently wild boar are not big on getting their hike on. So with Harriss and Robert chopping away with machetes, we worked our way deeper into the jungle, all the while waiting for a group of dogs to catch the scent of the wild boar. Fortunately, Harriss and Robert are big fans of the nicotine and would take numerous smoke breaks where I could wipe some sweat away and gather my senses.
When the dogs finally caught the scent of the wild boar, all hell broke loose and it was a seeming mad dash though the jungle. This was clearly no tour as I stumbled my way after Harriss and Robert with vines bearing spikes custom-made to grab and tear at Salomon base layers with fancy ski area logos embroidered on them.
The dogs wailed in the distance and Harriss assured me they were barking in a new way that meant they had it cornered. This went on for hours though air thick and heavy and dripping with wet jungle heat.
Scoffing at the dogs' abilities, we finally settled in for lunch. It was at this point that I noticed Robert had taken off his shoes and he was bleeding profusely. Naive Westerner that I am, I offered up Band-Aids, Neosporin and hydrogen peroxide, thinking that his all rubber low-tops had torn the crap out of his feet. Harriss then, non-chalantly told me not to worry, it's just leeches. Well then, that doesn't sound much better but if it's not going to bother Robert, it wouldn't bother me. Later in the week as jungle travails would nag at me, I'd tell myself, "this wouldn't bother Robert, deal with it yankee!" There were many of these moments.
And it was as we were wrapping up lunch that I noticed some large blood stains emerging in the legs of my pants. Um Harriss, is this from leeches? Yes John, if you do not find and pull the leeches off before they have had their fill, they let go on their own leaving a non-colagulent on the wound. This caused me some distress at first and it ruined a pair of pants and a couple pairs of socks, but after a while you actually come to terms with them as a fairly harmeless jungle nuisance; compared to say our wood tick that will keep sucking until it explodes.
After lunch, there was another frantic pursuit of wild dog noises and more clumbsy jungle running on my part. In the end, there would be no wild boar to be had, but hey, this was hunting. You win some, you loose some. The minor victory I had to take away was that the lack of wild boar did not seem to be openly attributed to my presence, but more to the cursed lousy dogs!
On the way home, as the jungle once again opened up into rolling paddock with water buffalo grazing nearby, we laid down on the grass for a well deserved rest. Harriss and Robert chatted away in their Kelabit dialect as Harriss whittled a toy top for his son out of a tree he had chopped down with his machete. And the tired white kid in the base layer fleece and the bloody pants took a nap, all along enjoying a glimpse into a world that was not his own.