Travel Features > Up the Ulu

Day 4 - Long Murum - Long San
(Sunday 23rd August 1998)

I was woken up at 5.30 am. After a light breakfast and thanking our hosts for their hospitality we were ferried across the river to our vehicles. We departed Long Murum at 7 am, an hour later we arrived at the construction site of the huge Bakun dam, now on hold thanks to the Asian economic meltdown.

The upriver logging roads wind their way around mountains and valleys and cross numerous bridges, either made of steel or constructed out of huge timber logs.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
With only a skeleton workforce left at the dam site, this frontier town of wooden shacks (bars and sundry shops etc.) scattered around the more permanent residential and office buildings, had a ghost town feel of a failed boom town that once was. A mechanical graveyard of trashed bulldozers, trucks, construction litter and assorted casualties of the tough environment sat at the roadside adjacent to the dam site, a metaphor for Bakun. We passed a number of closed shops and boarded-up bars that had sprung up to serve the international work force that temporarily made Bakun their home. Only a couple of restaurants and sundry stops remained in business. We made for these and after re-fuelling the vehicles with diesel and ourselves with bowls of noodles we left Bakun at 10 am.

We drove past the recently completed Bakun resettlement site which consisted of longhouses, schools, churches and clinics. Although Bakun Dam is now on hold the government intends to revive the project so the resettlement of the 9,500 people who currently live in the proposed flood zone is proceeding as planned. The people of Long Murum, where we had stayed the night before would shortly be moving to a longhouse in this area.

The logging roads passed through some fantastic rainforest scenery.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
Half an hour from Bakun we stopped again for another meal at a restaurant on the fringes of the resettlement area and a refreshing bath in a jungle stream. Although this stop was unnecessary and added another 2 hour delay, I was past caring. I took the opportunity to wash the grime from my body and load up on food. The next stage of the journey was on a dry and dusty logging road. This was good news, as the road was easy to navigate. If it had rained the night before the road would have been transformed into a slippery layer of mud. The mountain and rainforest scenery in this stretch was some of the best we had seen and I saw a Rhinoceros Hornbill gliding across the sky a short distance away from the road.


Although the road was ideal for making good progress we continued to stop
Scenes such as these were common, with the convoy often driving in the clouds and looking down on forested valleys.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
frequently thanks to the convoy's invalid vehicle. This old Land Rover, which had been having problems from the start, was becoming a major liability. The organisers stuck rigidly to the convoy rule of staying together. In theory this makes sense for obvious safety reasons but flexibility and common sense are required on an event such as this. The participants of the Sarawak Safari could be divided into two groups. The largest group were the die hard off-roaders who came to enjoy the adventure of driving through the rugged terrain. The second group consisted of people that came for the whole journey - the combination of the 4x4 experience and the chance of seeing upriver Sarawak and longhouse life. The delays and poor origination meant that neither group was getting the most out of the trip. I also felt that it was not fair to tell a longhouse community that we would arrive at 6 pm and then arrive 8 hours or more later. Common sense suggested that one or two vehicles should stay with the problem car and the rest of the convoy should proceed so that they arrive at the various overnight longhouse stops on time and don't keep the whole community waiting around.

By 3 pm we had travelled a mere 50 km in 8 hours, thanks to frequent stops and breakdowns. The Land Rover's bonnet was up again and this time it looked like we were in for a long wait. Although previously everyone accepted fate and patiently waited around at the roadside this time something had to me done. The organisers decided that two vehicles should go on ahead to inform the community at Long San that the convoy would be very late. Luckily, I was in one of the chosen vehicles.

Without the convoy we made good progress, clearing the mud road before dark and reaching a good gravel logging road which led to the upriver logging-cum-frontier town of Lapok, on the banks of the Tinjar River. We reached Lapok at 8.00 pm and had a meal of instant noodles and stale ice-cream before continuing.

Riverside at Long San.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
Driving in the dark with the road winding its way around the Dulit mountain at heights of 2,000 feet we made steady progress on the well-maintained road. After passing through an oil palm plantation we eventually arrived at Long San at 1.30 am. The whole longhouse community had waited for us from 6 pm until mid-night. Long San, a Kenyah longhouse, is quite a big settlement with a large school. Although the schoolchildren were in bed there was still a large crowd waiting. The community had also been told to cook for 150 people. Although it was not my fault that we were late and the convoy would not arrive until the next day, I felt terrible. We relayed the bad news that the convoy would not arrive until the next morning and went to bed.

(The rest of the convoy made slow progress. They reached Lapok at 1 am and pitched camp on the street, sleeping in shop doorways.)

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