Travel Features > Up the Ulu

Day 6 - Long San to Akah River Camp Site
Tuesday 25th August 1998

We left Long San at 10 am, sent off with a traditional Kenyah goodbye, the ladies of the longhouse smearing soot on our faces and laughing out loud. Twenty minutes later we arrived at a mud trail which had been specially cut between two logging roads so that the Sarawak Safari could cut through to Mulu. As the road surface was dry it was easy to navigate. If it was wet it would have been a difficult and time-consuming operation to get all the vehicles through.

With the problem vehicle having to be towed up every hill, the rest of the convoy went ahead and made good progress. By lunchtime we arrived at our camp site on the Akah river. A logging camp was situated on one side of the river and a Kayan community on the other. The Kayan had moved from their original longhouse at Long Tebangan to this spot which they named Long Melarat.
Kayan lady on Akah River.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
Some of the men worked in the nearby logging camp. But today was a day off because we were arriving so the whole community waited at the roadside to welcome us. They were an unbelievably friendly bunch of people and it wasn't long before we were all asking each other questions. Many of the longhouse elders, both men and women, had elongated ears and many of the women had full arm tattoos. This roadside gathering was an anthropologist's or photojournalist's dream. In 5-10 years, scenes such as this will be very difficult to come across as many of the old traditions are no longer practised by the younger generation.

We spent a relaxing day by the river having a picnic lunch and swimming in the cool waters. Although the plan was to pitch camp by the river, most people choose to spend the night at the logging camp. I was all set to sleep at the timber camp but thankfully Roland persuaded me to join him and his brother Xavier and camp by the river. So, as the rest of the group tucked into barbecued wild boar and Johnnie Walker in the scruffy compound of the logging camp, three mad Englishmen went about setting up camp in the valley below.

We pitched camp by the river, close to a small wooden house inhabited by a an extended family. In my broken Malay I told the family not to worry if they heard noises by the river, it's not a hantu (ghost) but three mad white men trying to light a fire. They burst into laughter and then the man of the house came out to show us a small spring, the best of source of fresh water, and offer us some firewood from his compound. He then followed us to our camp site to check on our progress.

With the beers chilling in the river, the fire on the go and the hammocks all set up, it was time to prepare dinner. I am not a fan of instant noodles but that night I had one of the best meals ever, the taste of packet noodles with tinned mushrooms and luncheon meat was undoubtedly enhanced by the sense of achievement of setting up the camp and the beautiful surroundings of the riverside location. Stuffed full of food we hit the sack. After nearly falling out of my cheap hammock a couple of times, I decided that I wasn't tired and moved my blanket and mosquito net to a new spot near the campfire. As Roland and Xavier slept I spent the next couple of hours collecting firewood and building a huge fire. I sat around staring at the fire and the stars, sipping a warm can of Carlsberg, listening to the sounds of the forest, totally at peace with the world.

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