Somewhere in Asia travel blog

Where we've gone

A stream on the way


Drinking water out of a growing bamboo - a survival tactic

Comes with straws

The remains of a nomadic Penan shelter - markings on the tree...

A cooking fire

An old man's stone - carried into the area from elsewhere

Andrew chopping down a palm tree

Peeling off the layers to get at the yummy centre - a...

Enjoying the yummy centre

First signs of logging

Welcome to Pa Mada

Four girlfriends from our Longhouse

Drying cinnamon bark

An old Kelabit woman

Sitting with our hosts


Flowers in the field

A view of Pa Mada from a hill top

Pa Mada longhouse

Lunch is served - curried pineapple and wild boar

A rice padi basket

A traditional Kelabit basket - very strong, and still used for carrying...

A parang with a curved, staghorn hilt and a wooden scabbard, worn...

A grandmother with her grandson

Two local girls

A hearth with a sitting stool

Pa mada headman and our host

Exfoliating mud bath

A cool dip in the water

Andrew, our last minute guide (rice-planting season keeps locals busy) came to pick us up early, as we had a long day ahead of us. Before heading into the jungle, we walked up the road past Kampung Baru. Upon entering the jungle track, we noticed being followed by a few dogs and men going hunting. We proceeded to cross the river over a shaky, loosely maintained suspension bridge while one of the dogs (a young puppy) had difficulty with the idea. After a long session of yelping and crying the little one chose to swim across instead. The two hunters showed a lot of patience, and waited for him on the other side while encouraging him to go for it the entire time. I never saw a happier dog, as he emerged, all wet over the steep bank on our side of the river.

We walked through beautiful jungle, crossing creeks, and followed ridgelines until we ended up in the old settlement of Pa Main. Some time ago Pa Main was completely dismantled and became Kampung Baru. We walked through the old fields that are the only remaining sign of Pa Main. We stopped later on during the day for a snack, and Andrew recognized the bark of a Barking deer. He grabbed a leaf from a plant and asked us to follow him off the trail into the jungle. He folded the leaf and began to blow on it creating a sound, not unlike that of the Barking deer. All of a sudden the deer answered Andrews calls, and we all got excited. However, he must have caught our scent, as his calls became increasingly more distant, eventually fading away completely.

We arrived in Pa Mada in the afternoon. It is situated within a beautiful valley surrounded by lush mountains. Unfortunately, the logging roads have reached all these villages except Bario. What we saw will probably be completely different within a year as the road had only made it to the river at the village, and now was beginning to cross over. We believe that the promises from the logging companies will disappear with the forests. The logging roads will not be maintained after the logging companies finish annihilating the forests and the monsoon rains will wash them all away.

We stayed in the headman's (Encik) place at the longhouse. Encik's wife is Andrew's cousin, and her name is Sinah. Tea/coffee and crackers are always served when guests show up at a home in these villages. Life in a longhouse starts very early in the morning, cooking the rice and making warm liquids. People sit on the floor or small stools around the hearth. Some will have a kitchen table. The number of families is counted by the number of doors. These days many doors are empty with many people moving to the cities or other villages.

Encik and Sinah made us a wonderful dinner which included wild boar. After dinner, everyone in the village congregated in the longhouse's common area to see us. The four children were extremely happy to see us, and it didn't take long for them to show their excitement. When the camera came out the squeals began. After some time they played a game that even the adults didn't understand, and we could not figure out even after joining in. The hearth next door also had a group of Australians that are traveling through Asia filming different kinds of foods. Reddish, their guide and our host in Bario, found some wood worms - a seldom enjoyed local delicacy. When fried they are a little chewy with a squirt of juice in the middle, just imagine biting into a candy with a soft middle . I guess the strangest item eaten by us on the trip so far. During the course of the evening Sinah brings out a "kabo" (traditional necklace) that the Kelabit women and men wear. She gives it to me and says that I am now her brother, and that we will always be welcome in her family's home. It seems a little difficult to understand what this really means, but I do know that if we go back to Pa Mada we will have no problem staying with Encik and Sinah.

We woke up with the roosters at Pa Mada, and shared the morning with Encik and Sinah. Sinah's mother was sitting by the hearth on her little stool, and at one point told us the story behind her many names in Kelabit. It is a Kelabit tradition for women to change their names with the birth of each of their children, during a ceremony called "irau mekaa ngadan". We could tell she was proud of each and every one of them. Sometime between breakfast and lunch, we took a walk around the settlement along with Andrew, and 3 of the 4 little girls from the night before. Two of the girls walked along side us barefoot, and all three left without letting anyone know what they were up to (unbeknownst to us). They giggled and hopped along, saying cute little phrases to each other. When we asked Andrew to translate, he laughed and said they were not real words. They followed us around until one of their grandmothers came out to find them. They happily hopped back towards the longhouse, probably eager to tell the fourth little girl what she missed out on.

The entire valley is green and very beautiful, as long as you are no where near the newly built logging roads. There are several mud pools and small clear water pools throughout the valley bottom. More often then not, the many wild water buffalo alternate between the two - their daily spa routine, and a way to keep the pesky flies off them. Andrew pointed out the wild cinnamon trees and tumor growths on trees known by locals to cure high blood pressure, among other things. Needless to say, we were sad to leave. Encik and Sinah urged us to return.

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