Images by: Seth Peli of Seth Photography
The 45-minutes flight on MasWings twin otter plane from Miri provided a mesmerizing view of the long stretch of green terrain below with miles of lush tropical rainforest painting the landscape of Miri. Deeply lost in my own thoughts as I sat there gazing at the scenery below, I knew we were nearing our destination as the plane started to descend and stretches of paddy fields can be seen dotting the village of Ba’kelalan.
Coined as the Heart of the Borneo escapade, Ba’kelalan is situated about 3000 feet above sea level, and 4km from Kalimantan, Indonesia. The charming and rustic rural village of Ba’kelalan comprises of 9 other small villages and is home to about 1500 Lun Bawang people.
Three beautiful Lun Bawang girls, heads adorned with yellow strings of beads and dressed in their traditional black costume which set a startling contrast against the azure blue sky of Ba’kelalan greeted me as I stepped down from the small aircraft
The welcoming ceremony did not stop there. As I headed towards the Apple Lodge, which will be home for the next four days and also literally situated right next to the airport, I was greeted by the melodious voices of the people of Ba’kelalan, young and old, singing the tunes of “Ba’kelalan My Home Sweet Home”, a reflection of the harmonious culture in Ba’kelalan. Tapping my feet to the uplifting beat of the song, I felt myself feeling at home amidst the the sun shiny warmth of Ba’kelalan.
Apples and a bit of adventure
But apples aren’t the only main attractions in Ba’kelalan. To me, what defines Ba’kelalan is the endless warmth and genuine smiles of the people. Wherever you go, either taking a leisurely stroll along the paddy fields in the warmth of the evening sun, or sweating it out and hiking to Bukit Sarui to take in the wonderful sights of Ba’kelalan, you will always be greeted with a toothy smile and sometimes toothless grins (depending on the age) of the villagers, and if you’re lucky enough, after a few curious glances and smiles, you will have your own personal entourage of kids from various ages, showing you the sights and sounds of the village.
While the images of mud tracks and rivers are appealing, I very much preferred a less strenuous activity. Spending a whole day visiting 3 villages around Ba’kelalan, I took the opportunity to learn more about the people of Ba’kelalan and immerse myself in the Ba’kelalan culture and lifestyle. I was even lucky enough to witness a Lun Bawang marriage ceremony. There was relentless teasing from the crowds as the mock bride and grooms shyly took their designated place as husband and place at the front of the room. What is a wedding celebration without a traditional dance routine? All the guests and myself included was then dragged to dance along to one of their traditional dances done at every wedding ceremony. I could see from the smiling faces on everyone present that they were having fun and a little bit drowsy perhaps from the endless cups of rice coffee served to us at every village, but that’s Lun Bawang hospitality for you. Serving the guests the best of what they have to offer.
The thing that I love most about Ba’kelalan is the passion of its people. The passion that they have for the land they call home. I could hear it in their voice, see it in their expression what Ba’kelalan means to them. Over a steaming cup of tea on my last night in Ba’kelalan, Mutang and his band of brothers circled me and began narrating stories of Ba’kelalan from years gone passed down from generation to generation. It was a story of their people; their tribe. They began their story saying that hundreds of years ago, many tribes in Sarawak were head hunters. Tribal fights occurred because of revenge and the power over territory. When a warrior is victorious, a ritual dance would take place around the perimeter of a crocodile or “Buaya Ulong” erected from earth. The warriors would then be chanting incantations relaying the story of the fights and how they were victorious. It gave me the goose bumps, listening to his story while in my mind I was imagining a warrior, looking down at me from a hill, challenging me. I was shaken from my reverie when told that there are still a few sites of these Buaya Ulong intact around the village. I didn’t need to twist anyone’s arm when I asked to be taken to one of these sites the next morning. Mutang was very much eager to show me around, proud and very passionate of sharing the story of his people.
Rural golfing anyone?
My late night conversation with Mutang also led me to the discovery of a 9-hole natural golf course right there in rural Ba’kelalan. I challenge those golf enthusiasts to have a go at Ba’kelalan’s Highland golf course as it is made even more challenging with natural hazards such as rivers, paddy fields and jungles. Don’t expect a club house or buggies to be made available here, but you will find yourself loyal spectators in the form of buffaloes. Yes, buffaloes but fret not, these buffaloes will be herded away from the course if there are any players on the green. Granted, buffalo dungs will be scattered here and there and if your ball goes into the dung, the good thing is that you get to take a free lift! A plus point of playing on this natural gold course is that you will be able to take in the beautiful scenery of Ba’kelalan as you play. If you are interested and up for the challenge, a two weeks notice is needed by BJS in order for them to prepare the green and fairway.
Where rainbows end
No one is a stranger here in Ba’kelalan. I was constantly greeted and smiled at and not forgetting the centre of constant friendly bantering and teasing from Kading and Lisa, two locals who made sure that I had a comfortable stay there at the Apple Lodge. Ba’kelalan may not be able to offer a luxurious five star retreat, but what it does offer is a simple lodging with basic amenities.
A few days after, back in busy Kuala Lumpur, I thought of Ba’kelalan. I sent a text message to Freddie back in the village, telling him how much I miss the people that have now become my friends and family. His simple reply made me ache more to go back. He simply said “come home”. I found where my rainbow ends, and it’s in the land of warmth and sunshine – the land of Ba’kelalan.
Maswings flies to Ba’kelalan four (4) times a week.
Monday – Lawas
Wednesday – Miri
Thursday – Lawas