Perched in the Bungo range, 50kms from Kuching is the idyllic Bidayuh (Land Dayak) village of Kampung Semban. The remoteness and difficult terrain of this area has safe guarded the traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants, villagers here live a simple agrarian life mainly growing hill paddy, fruits and vegetables. This community is also famed for the last remaining group of elderly ladies who still practice the wearing of brass coils on their arms and legs similar to the Karen and Padang Tribes of Indo-China.
This moderately difficult trek was to take us past the Bengoh Dam, fruit orchards, rice fields and through established secondary forests with sweeping views of the breathtaking landscape at higher levels.
The Muslim communities in Malaysia decided to build the Bengoh Dam to make money, the energy created by the damn is to be sold Japan. RIDICULOUS.
Hundreds of villages have to be re-located. A little rumor I heard was there was a gang called the Head Bandits, they weren't happy about this damn being built and destroying their homes. So one day when an official came to inform them of the governments decision to kick em out and build the Dam. Next thing you know he disappeared; vanished into thin air, until his head turned up on a stick and his body had evaporated. How's that for a traveler tale heh? Head Bandits revenge.
So the story begins when I am woken up by Emma "Hey mate wake up, you have overslept its 7:45pm" "Nah mate we leave at 9:00am not 8:00am" I say. "Noone told me that message." States Emma. "Ah s*** I forgot to tell you." I remember.
Thanks for my lack of message passing Yoast, Anuk, John and Emma are up and ready to go, Dave, Franny, Oli and me are still inbed. Nick is sitting there sheepishly saying "No Camilla I said IF you get the message around to everyone, then we leave at 9am."
So I am partly to blame but I did get the message around to the majority of the group…. but thanks Nick for supporting me and not passing all the blame to me. NOT.
We set off to meet Taya (pronounced Tyre) who will be our guide for the day. We exchange stories in the mini bus and funny jokes. I think Emma topped every one with 2 stories that I have continued to tell to people because they are wicked;
1) The story about the pet snake sleeping next to its owner.
2) Story about the guy who took an acid trip to see the gremlins.
As we are nearing our destinations and telling stories the views around us are astounding, big mountains covered in jungle foliage, the roads are winding round the bases of the mountains and becoming thinner. The old mini bus climbs up a hill to a gravely car park. We unload our bags and look around and then we see the full nastiness of the dam.
Taya walks down the hill to greet us. He is a small Malay guy, has a mullet hair cut and is about 45 years old. He has a fit physic and an old smiley face full of laughs. Our trekking began with a "pre-trek" photograph without an ounce of sweat to be seen glistening on our foreheads, we say goodbye to Nick (after waiting 10mins for him to run to a local shop because he forgot the bog roll.) and we our on our way.
Here is factual information from my memory banks on what happened throughout the rest of the day :
*The Bamboo Bridges where made by bamboo trussed together by little strips of wire and rope. These are usually executed over a very wide river with a mighty drop and the bridge bounced when you walked across it. Some bamboo had dried out and started cracking when you jumped/walked on it. Taya told us that the bridges only took half a day to make, with half a village. I was absolutely bricking it when I crossed the first one, had to have a little chat with myself to will my legs to keep moving; legs shaking, body sweating that type of thing.
* Just the different surroundings and actually BEING IN THE JUNGLE, being surrounded by palm trees and massive insects.
* Taya had come to pick us up but he brought a friend to carry all the supplies and he was walking ahead but he was at the 1st rest stop when we got there. His backpack consisted of a large wicker basket with cloth as straps, one for each arm and one for his head. Franny who quite tall anyway gets up and starts trying to put on the guys backpack. It was one of the most hilarious things EVER! Her body was straining under the weight of the backpack that was way too small for her anyway, the strap created for her head was pulling her forehead back making her look under even more strain and just slightly demented. Everyone was in fits of laughter. Taya also fashioned us bamboo sticks into pipes to play tunes with so we were definitely amused on this pit stop.
*Just being covered in sweat from the first hour.
*The beautiful waterfall that we couldn't go swimming in because the locals dump dead chickens and glass.
*Crossing over the waterfall and Taya makes me a bamboo shooter/spit pipe and teaches us to spit mud pellets through it that was wicked.
*Stopping for lunch in the rain with the company of chickens. Now these weren't no ordinary chickens, they were smaller than the average chicken and seemed to have what looked like little human athletic legs with claws at the end. The f***ers could run.
*The views were amazing! It was wicked to see the vast views of the jungle and it was wicked to see how far we were climbing upwards.
* More sweating and being soaked by it entirely.
*At the second rest stop. After 5 hours of trekking upwards we stop at a shack that looks a little like a bus stop on the side of the mountain. But the view at this particular rest stop was just once in a lifetime, it had the Jungle Mountains but with clouds nestling at the top of them, stunned into silence. Lots of locals from neighboring villages were at the high-suspended bus stop resting waiting for their energy supply to return before the final hurdle upwards.
*"Noooooo Dave! For [email protected]&K sake, we NEVER want to hear your pseudo-jokes! Just exasperating and generally so annoyed but too tired, sopping in sweat, so happy that its quite funny that Dave can annoy us and the amazing views clearly don't interest him.
So the last leg of our journey after the rest stop it took an hour to get to Taya's village, and we got to see his garden along the way, it was huge! It was like a field in its own right. He grew peppercorns, banana trees, pineapples and sugarcane, other stuff too. Taya cuts off a branch and we get to try raw sugarcane that tastes like sugar water. Then Taya takes us to his shed at the end of his garden and points to the blue water butt and says "This will be your shower." and then pointing to the hut "This is where you will sleep." Taya is already is suppressing a laugh, Emma is amazed at getting back to basics and the rest of us aren't so sure. Taya is now laughing and we all catch on that he's lying, if Emma would have had her way we would be staying in the garden shed. We cross another couple of waterfalls and streams and all with bright yellow butterflies floating around. We arrived at the village at around 5pm and we are tired and hungry. That night we eat, play cards and go to bed early.
We get up have breakfast get changed and then go around the village for a wonder. We see all the villagers going about their daily business then we pass a hut full of 10 men getting drunk at 10am. This was because it rained in the morning the guys couldn't work so that meant it was time for some rice wine and a laugh. They were a friendly bunch and one guy just had Apollo tattooed on his arm and what appeared to be his date of birth which acclaimed he was born in 1692, so that was pretty funny. There was around 30-40 houses/huts in Taya's village and the huts were all raised on stilts a little, but I think that was due to them living on a steep hill. We saw some of the older ladies spreading out peppercorns with a rake on a wicker mat to dry them out in the sun. Little toddlers being washed in basins and lots of little cats chasing the chickens which are always roaming freely.
After looking at all the huts in the village we realize we are lucky to be in Taya's house because it is like a penthouse! He has a kitchen, living room, upstairs is 3 bedrooms and a balcony. Next to the kitchen is a storeroom with a little room going off it where they burn wood in a sort of oven. He has 10 big sacks of rice from his farm and a big round steel pool thing that is also full of rice. There were 2 bathrooms. We had a big china pot/bowl of water to wash in with a little pan to throw water over ourselves, so it was really getting back to basics. Then I only discovered the second bathroom that was hidden behind the kitchen and it had a shower! They were holding out on us!
For midday we set off to see the big tree that grows near by, it was massive and had a massive bees nest at the top of it. Just wondered how a tree can grow so tall when its already that high up in the mountains. We had lunch at Taya's house and it was presented with a bamboo leaf rolled around rice accompanied by spinach mixed with anchovies, chicken wings, pine-apple pieces just to die for. As we are eating there are massive dark clouds looming our way.
After lunch we are ready and set for our afternoon trek in the jungle to a stunning waterfall, and we hear the mighty cracks of thunder begin. Then it starts raining like the tropical rainforest downpour that it is. Taya cuts off some banana leaf's for those who don't have hats or hoods which was cute. We endured all of the below and loved every minute of it:
- - Wet feet (might aswel of gone bareffoot)
- Paths that no longer existed and were engulfed with water.
- Taya's rice farm that was massive and had already been harvested.
- Footpaths on mountain ledges that were slipping away
- A snake attack, which only turned out to be a bees nest and we had to divert our path.
- Falling over a lot and just slipping and yelping.
The waterfall was incredible because of the amount of power and speed the water had from the downpour that was happening, you could feel the strength from the tumbling water. Taya let us climb onto a bigger rock with a tree on it, three minutes later the original rocks we were sitting on are swallowed up by the rushing water. It was time for us to move to safer ground, the waterfall was amazing and Taya hadn't ever seen it that powerful before. Also I nearly forgot to mention the death defying bamboo bridges that were 10x more dangerous when there is a tropical downpour, the water is twice as powerful and the bridge has no grip on it what so ever. So as you can imagine it left a dangerous combination. Every time we crossed a bridge Taya would say "You fall in you die!" Ha Haaa! If this happened in England I'm pretty sure they would make you sign wagers and stuff.
That night we buy 4 crates of beer that is all the alcohol the village shop has to offer. We eat another lovely meal and all the locals start to trickle into Taya's hut ready for the nights presentation. The older female generation of the village put on their traditional clothes and copper anklets, bracelets and necklaces and dance their traditional dance to the native instruments played by the village men. After their performance we were persuaded to join in. After a while we teach them some traditional Weston dance moves and before you know it everyone is dancing and the drink is following and it turned into a wicked night of fun. I even tried the ladies habit, which I can only compare to chewing tobacco, but I believe it was slug powder wrapped in a leaf and after chewing for 10 seconds it turned your mouth, teeth and lips bright red. After 5mins or so you spit it out into the can and Fran and me managed to get it all over our face and hands. We go to bed when Taya's generator runs out and there is no more electric or light.
In the morning we wake up at the crack of dawn and climb or scramble to the highest point on the mountain in the dark just in time to watch the sun slowly rise up from the mountains and see all the clouds nestled in the valley below….. hence the Village in the clouds… because it really is above the clouds.
So it is the end of the trip and we descend back down the beaten track. Even though we are hung-over the climb down is much quicker; I think this is due to no picture opportunities as all our cameras are dead. We say our goodbyes and give our thanks to Taya for his hospitality and a wicked time. We all bundle on the bus and back to the hostel for a bloody good shower!