Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ba Kelalan exposure trip summary

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15.3.2010 - Hitting the road
15.3.2010 - The rugged tracks
15.3.2010 - Passing the night
16.3.2010 - Salt spring
16.3.2010 - Apple farm
16.3.2010 - Bethel prayer house
16.3.2010 - SK Ba Kelalan
16.3.2010 - Telling the story
17.3.2010 - The final morning
17.3.2010 - Leaving Ba Kelalan

Saturday, March 20, 2010

15.3.2010 - Hitting the road

Ba'kelalan is a group of nine villages in the Bario Highlands of Sarawak, Malaysia about 3000 feet above sea level and 4 km from the border with Indonesian Kalimantan. The villagers belong to the Lun Bawang tribe. The villages are Buduk Nur, Long Langai, Long Lemumut, Long Ritan, Long Rusu, Pa Tawing, Buduk Bui, Buduk Aru and Long Rangat.
The name Ba’Kelalan is derived from the Kelalan River and Ba’ which means wet lands in the Lun Bawang language. Its population is about 1500 but as many as 8000 call it home. In the cool mountain climate, temperate fruits such as apples, mandarin oranges and vanilla are grown. The area also produces rice, and mountain salt is obtained from the nearby hills. The people in Ba'Kelalan are Christian, members of the Sidang Injil Borneo, and rice production has doubled since the prohibition of alcohol. (gulp)

We departed KK early to beat the morning traffic jam. Also to reach Ba Kelalan with some daylight to spare. I woke up at 4.30 am, Pst Jubilie came to fetch me at 5.00 am, and after some delay, our rented van drove out of KK by 6.00 am. The skies were just brightening.

Everybody was excited for the trip. Haze was pretty bad along the way. It has not rained in KK for months. Of course, political talk was part of the topic. We reached some agreement on who to vote out next election. Hehehe...

At the Sindumin border checkpoint. We had to get down the van to fill up a form, or have our passports stamped. The counters for exiting Sabah and entering Sarawak were located side by side, making the process quite effortless.

Arrive in Lawas by 9.00am, with lots of time to spare. Here's our first taste of Sarawakian specialty... the Kon Lo Mee. Food wasn't too great, but price was cheap, RM 2.80 only! Tell me again, why are things in KK are so expensive?

After breakfast, we had to spend some time waiting for the 4WD driver to get our stuffs packed onto the truck (wondered what took him so long). Getting away from the scorching heat, the ice creams were great relief.

15.3.2010 - The rugged tracks

After the long wait, we were finally getting somewhere. 12 of us packed into a single Hilux (yes you read this correctly). The Fear Factor sticker on the Hilux gave some clue of what to expect along the way.

It started well as we waved goodbye to Lawas.

As the Hilux turned into the logging track heading to Ba Kelalan, the back passengers transformed into a team of surgeons (some may want to call it Satria Baja Hitam). Terpaksalah. Otherwise we'll be eating dust.

Had a stopover for lunch at Merarap (I think that's the name).

The little restaurant out of nowhere served really delicious food. Or was it because we were famished after 2 hours of bumpy ride a.k.a. free massage.

The super-friendly Pst Jubilie quickly made friend with the local pastor who looked like a character from the Pirates of the Caribbean. And he got a pair of shades as a welcoming gift.

Pee break along the way.

Our taste of Borneo Safari off-road adventure.


Skidding down slippery mud is no fun.

15.3.2010 - Buduk Aru bible school

The STP Buduk Aru bible school was located about half an hour before Buduk Nur. We made a brief stop here. The place was quiet because the students were on holiday.

The ladies' hostel was in construction when I came in 2005. Now it's beautifully done. The building was funded by Korean churches. Due to the inaccessibility of Ba Kelalan, the transportation of building materials cost more than the materials themselves, as I was informed.

We met one of the teachers in Buduk Aru. He happened to be Pst Jubilie's ex-student.

The classroom block in the background.

It was great to come to the end of the bumpy ride, and to check in to Apple Lodge.

15.3.2010 - Passing the night

Dinner tasted especially good after a tiring day. We were served with hill rice, and the best nasi bungkus that I ever had.

We walked to the nearby church after dinner.

The majestic church could easily fit 2000 people, I think. It housed an International Revival Meeting every alternate year.

Folks catching up with some reading and reflecting before bed time.

16.3.2010 - Morning in Ba Kelalan

We woke up early to join the morning prayer group, which starts 5.30 am EVERY morning. Somebody did some knock-knock on a wood as a call to prayer... something like the azan. The church's Pst Nelson shared a short message, then outlined several prayer items to be prayed for. Among them were... missionaries and pastors from Ba Kelalan, the country's political landscape, Islamisation and fanaticism, strengthening of faith among Christian youths, success of the children, and for the nations of Nepal and Arab Saudi. I thought that folks living in such secluded highlands were out of touch with the world. I was so very wrong.

Pst Jubilie was given the honour of guest pastor to close the prayers.

Getting to know the elders and intercessors.

The majestic church of Ba Kelalan basking in the first light of daybreak.

Peace and tranquility is what life in Ba Kelalan is all about.

Even the dogs were at peace. Hahaha...

My bedroom. First class. Impressed?

Shirley Lees wrote about the transformation that took place among the Lun Bawangs of Ba Kelalan in the 1920s in her book Drunk Before Dawn. She described "the Lun Bawangs were the ‘most despised people of Borneo and they were dying out’. They were often ‘drunk 100 days out of every 365 days... even small children would take part. In fact only the dogs were sober’". The Brooke administration deemed them hopeless and planned to leave them to rot into extinction. Then the early missionaries from Australia taught them about the Christian faith, and transformed the tribe into model citizens. The impact of that revival is still evident till this day.

Having a nice breakfast of toast and coffee before we set off for the day.

Cikgu Sang Sigar, the local assistant headmaster and community leader gave us a briefing about Ba Kelalan and our itinerary for the day.

16.3.2010 - Salt spring

Village kids greeted us on the way. Peace yo! Shalom!

The salt spring was an amazing gift for the highland tribes. You wonder how did salt water reach to a highland so far away from the sea. The Lun Bawangs believe it was by divine provision. The huge metal containers were filled with salty water from the 'well', simmered over wood fire till the water evaporated, and only the salt crystals were left behind. A painstaking task indeed. We bought Ba Kelalan salt back for souvenir. There were selling for RM12 per kg.

The 'well' of salty water.

Yeh yeh... we tapau some salt water home. Holy water from holy grounds, anyone?

Many thanks to Cikgu Sang Sigar who shortened the trip by driving us right close to the salt spring. That saved us almost an hour of walking.

It was a wonderful 4WD adventure on its own, crossing rivers and narrow gates, swerving around trees and bushes (maybe he did that on purpose to give us some extra thrills).

A smiley farmer with his buffalo.

16.3.2010 - Apple farm

We passed by the airport on the way back from the salt spring. The apple farm was located just beside the airport.

This was perhaps the only airport in the country where one could walk freely on the tarmac.

Getting over the airport fence.

APPLES! The fruits won't be ripe till May. So if you want to get a bite of crunchy apples right off the trees, go in May, when Pak Tagal, the owner of Apple Lodge would organise the annual Apple Fest.

Playing with DOF on my new camera.

Would you believe that ice-creams grew on trees? Cikgu Sang Sigar climbed the tree and brought us some ice-cream beans to try out. He brought the seeds from Australia and planted them around Ba Kelalan.

The nasi bungkus in Ba Kelalan was the best that I've ever eaten. Soft, delicate, and fragrant. Matches perfectly with a plate of fried bunga kantan.