The direct flights from Miri to Bario in the Kelabit Highlands had similarly been booked out and so Roberto and I had elected to make a foray inland for an earlier connection out of a small upriver town called Marudi. It made for a more convoluted itinerary yet could be considered a bonus in allowing further distractions. In order to get there it was just an hours bus ride up to Kuala Baram tantalisingly just short of the Brunei border, from where an express boat would do the rest. Further frustration compounded my sorry parting from Sine in discovering that there wasnt a bus within hours up to the mouth of the Baram River though, seemingly making the boat connection impossible that day. My luck seemed to turn though when the bus drivers put us onto a car driver who would take us the 26Ks for a surprisingly humble fee, and it was an amazing quirk in that after failing to stock up with fruit for the trip as Roberto had wished, we arrived at the ferry pier to discover a bag of Rambutans, Roberto's favourite, plunked in the boot alongside our bags. The driver gave them away for only 1 Ringgit which was another steal, and then favour amazed us all over again in immediately boarding a boat just as it powered up to move away from the pier. The superfast trip up the relentlessly winding Baram betrayed more logging barges and longhouses, and a sense of real adventure pervaded us sat upon the roof of the nigh on empty Komet streaking into the unknown, until Marudi materialised remarkably reminiscent of Kapit.
It was in this venture that habitually up front Roberto had struck up conversation with Jessinta, a local indiginous girl who was coming to holiday at her parents home, and the invitation to tag along was quick in coming. Ethnically of the Kenyah people, she looked remarkably Chinese like so many in Sarawak, as did Nelson her brother who came to pick us up. Thrust along on another superconvenient procession, we headed straight for the local museum which was housed in another Brooke dynasty fort, this one named Fort Hose after the long term Resident here who was a naturalist. Though limited to a local history of the peoples of the Baram River area, it was an unexpectedly superb presentation highlighted by many fascinating old black and white photos of the different tribes in their traditional dress. Established in 1901, Fort Hose had typically been constructed in order to oversee policing of the troublesome Baram, and a peace treaty was finally signed between the local warring groups in 1909.
It was from there that Roberto and I unexpectedly found ourselves guests for the night with a local family then, well educated English speakers with a modern conventional terraced house. A hundred years before they would have taken our heads as trophies. Munchies proffered included produce which father Richard a powerplant worker had grown from his plot, a rare indulgence in sweetcorn and finally a chance to sample that most infamous of Asian "delicacies", the Durian. Resembling a spiky green coconut similar to the Jackfruit, the fleshy slimy tubers within resembled perhaps very short bananas but had a very different texture. Comprised mainly of large inedible seeds, they notoriously smelled very strongly of sweaty feet, a trait which often saw them banned from hotels and public transport. The pong was supposedly redeemed by their flavour, but the slithery skin failed both in taste and texture to find any favour in me, it would be one local wonder to avoid in future I decided.
Joined by younger brother Christopher, we kids were then given further tourist treatment in searching out a local longhouse, a Catholic community where they had gone as kids to sing Christmas carols. A passing pagan community was tellingly ignored. Typically stilt elevated with a covered verandah modernised with lino and window curtains, it measured hundreds of feet long with its many periodic doors belying the number of families co-habiting. An invitation to enter one was duly forthcoming and so a lamplit gloomy 2 room dwelling devoid of furniture was revealed, the walls still adorned with the functional paraphenalia of life in rural Sarawak, such as fishing gear, machetes, paddy hats et al. It just so happened that the "Tuan Kampung" (village headman) then arrived from a provisioning trip in Miri, and so we helped him uplift jerry cans of kerosene and rattan to be used for weaving before sitting round a lamp on the floor to share tea and a very small local fruit Lansat, like a small segmented lychee with a smooth mottled green skin. Their rustic lifestyle had been further illustrated in catching the denuded wifey next door Mandi-ing herself on the back porch and a similarly long block of doors opposite the track out back was a procession of outdoor toilets. These people were Iban, downriver people, with their own language and traditions and so it was a little tricky trying to make conversation even with the aid of our Kenyah friends.
We headed back to Marudi for an unusual dinner of a whole baked Sultan Fish, tasty but with needle like bones, rice of course, pork, and a brown Durian gelatinous looking jelly which tellingly no-one touched. Grace was said in a house replete with idols and pictures of Popes past and present, the service modified to include thanks for our frequention and good wishes for our onward journey. Part of my adoption into Kenyah culture blessed me with a local appellation after a renowned ancestral warrior, I was now officialy to be referred to as Balan of the Kenyah! Jessinta later related through photos on her laptop her interesting work as a fieldwork assistant, helping visiting naturalists to research local wildlife. It was an irony noted by Roberto that every specimen they caught, perhaps as yet unknown species, would be killed for "preservation". She now wanted a more settled and secure future though and so had just commenced teacher training.