Travel Features > Up the Ulu

Day 3 - Kapit to Long Murum
(Saturday 22nd August 1998)

Having been told to meet in the hotel lobby at 6.30 am, I crawled out of bed at a ridiculously early hour and went in search of breakfast. Kapit was starting to wake up and I quickly found a coffee shop and a bowl of noodles. At 6.30 I sat in the hotel lobby, alone. Thirty minutes later a couple of people emerged but by this time it was quite clear that we would not be leaving anyway near on time. A few die-hard party-goers were suffering from an overdose of tuak the night before and were in no mood to get up. One guy was dead to the world and another had opted to sleep in the bath tub rather than his bed. This strategic move allowed him to vomit at will without the need to crawl from the bed to the bathroom. It took an hour so to wake the living dead. We finally left Kapit around 8.30 am. After a short bus ride, some waiting around and a short longboat ride we arrived at a logging camp on the Balleh River where the vehicles had been unloaded the night before.

The driver of this logging truck had to slide his vehicle into the ditch to avoid hitting the lead vehicle or going off a cliff.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
At 10 am we set off for the first off-road stage of the expedition, which turned out to be one very long day. The initial buzz of finally starting the journey soon wore off as the convoy ground to a halt every hour or so for frequent stops for a cigarette, a pee or a chat. Further down the track these stops became longer as one vehicle was cursed with a number of mechanical problems. Thankfully the rainforest scenery of the Hose Mountains lived up to exceptions so time passed by quickly. Day quickly became night but we still had a considerable distance left to cover.

Around 10 pm we came to a river crossing. A bridge had collapsed and the logging company's road crew had yet to complete a new one. This meant driving across the remains of the old bridge that was now covered by a few meters of mud. The lead vehicle boldly gave its all in an attempt to cross but was soon bogged down in the mud. The logging company's road and bridge work crew came to the rescue and bulldozed a path. Even then most cars had to be winched out and some had to be dragged out by a bulldozer. It took an hour to clear the river crossing, the convoy's first experience of a real off-road obstacle, and another 4 hours to reach our destination.

Kayan lady at Long Murum.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
We arrived at the river crossing point for Long Murum, a Kayan Longhouse, around 2.30 in the morning, 9 hours behind schedule. Everyone was knackered. Wilfred Gomez, the event director, announced that we would leave the next day at the previously scheduled time of 4.30 am. This didn't go down too well. I tried to speak to Gomez, talk some sense, and explain that the drivers needed more rest. 'This is nothing, in the Trans-Borneo we travelled non-stop for 36 hours. 4WD is an endurance test,' was his reply. Too tired to argue and aware of my virgin off-roader status, and thoroughly fed up the situation I lay down in the mud to ponder life. Meanwhile, the Kuching contingent of off-roaders took up an appeal with the event director.

Eventually after a heated debate, a decision was made to cross the river to the longhouse, stay there and leave at 6.00 am the next morning. We were ferried across the river in a longboat and despite our late arrival received a fantastic welcome from the longhouse community who had stayed up to great us. After a mandatory welcome glass of tuak and the introductions and warm greetings were over, a spread of food was laid out before us. The food and warmth of the Kayan community at Long Murum gave everyone a boost of energy and despite being exhausted most of the Sarawak Safari crew stayed up for some longhouse-style entertainment of traditional dances, conversation and naturally the odd glass of tuak. I crashed at 4 am. 16 hours on the road and the odd biscuit for lunch followed by a hearty meal of chicken, fish and jungle vegetables and some soothing rice wine resulted in me sleeping soundly.

Downing a welcoming glass of tuak at Long Murum.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998

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