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Water buffalo and sled at Pa Umur

Pa Lungan

Rose, who ran the general store in town, talked with us while we waited the next day for Joshua to pick us up. She drives a taxi in Miri on the weekends in order to buy goods for her store. Joshua arrived and we set out. It was bright and sunny. Joshua carried a straight-backed woven Kelabit basket on his back and a rifle over his shoulder. The gun, bought by his father in 1928, still worked. We walked along the road as far as Pa Ukat, a small village by a pond. Here the road ended. Water buffaloes were hitched to sleds to carry goods along the muddy track to Pa Lungan. We followed the trail through the jungle, over hills and through sandy, kerangas forest. Along the way we met Nabun Aram and Supang Galih, who run the guesthouse in Pa Lungan. Nabun was passionate about plants, especially pitcher plants. Supang was an excellent cook. Along the trail she kept an eye out for edible plants, gathering wild ginger or bamboo shoots. Nabun pointed out pitcher plants as we passed.

Joshua with the group On the trail

The Batu Ritung lodge in Pa Lungan, raised on posts above a small pond, was surrounded by gardens. A luxurious, peaceful silence pervaded the place. Nabun had a large collection of orchids, many from the surrounding forest. He explained how he would accompany the villagers on hunting trips, but would quickly fall behind, distracted by an unknown kind of flowering orchid high in the crook of a tree. Nabun was in fact an outsider, a Chinese from Kuching, who had married Supang, a high-caste Kelabit. He had learned enough Kelabit language and culture to be accepted, even respected, in the highlands. The two had returned to their home village to retire, with the lodge as a way to stay in contact with the outside world. Supang's father, a Kelabit leader, had fought with distinction during World War II. Nabun and Supang also grew the best rice in the area, so good that others used it for seed. We certainly agreed over dinner, with a mountain of the delicate, light rice accompanied by wild boar in honey sauce and vegetables cooked in forest ginger, not to mention a special treat, Bario pineapple cooked in red curry sauce. Joshua told us that if we didn't finish our rice, it would rain the next day! After dinner, Nabun and Joshua talked about local customs. Kelabits change their names whenever something significant happens. When a couple has their first child, they change their name. When the first grandchild is born, they change names again. Visitors who make an impression or stay for a long time are given Kelabit names. To announce the name change, a big party is thrown, with all of the important local people invited.

Leech protection Batu Ritung Lodge: Joshua, Nabun, Vera, Anne and Supang

Early in the morning we were woken by the church bell, followed by singing. We prepared ourselves for leeches on the trail by putting on knee-length panty hose, wrapping tobacco leaves around our ankles and tucking our pants into our socks. The forest around Pa Lungan was mostly second growth, but soon we started to see larger trees. After climbing a pass we entered the territory of the new national park. “NP” and “No hunting” signs had been recently put up along the trail. Giant trees towered above us. Some of them oozed with hardened sap, a valuable forest product called “damar” that was formerly used to start fires and seal boats. Joshua hacked off a piece with his machete to use that evening to start our fire. The leeches were out in force. Anne stopped frequently to inspect her shoes. During lunch, Joshua took off his “Bario rebocks” and pulled leeches off of his calves and feet, leaving bloody spots on his socks. These shoes were ideal for jungle travel: cheap, made of plastic, with a hard, cleated sole, they could be turned inside out to dry quickly. The cleats could be cut off and used to start a fire. Anne took off her shoes and counted ten leeches inside. Four were feeding around an open scab on her foot. Instead of pulling them off, I used the Swiss Army knife scissors to cut the leeches in two. Once the body was severed, the sucking mouth released immediately and the leech fell to the ground, dead. The panty hose seemed to stop most of the leeches from getting to my skin, although a few burrowed through Anne's pair.

Dinner Vera with homemade rice wine