Borneo – Sibu to Mulu

Borneo Adventure 3

April 1, 2018

So, as you may recall, while in Kuching I met a local named Dicky. He took me around to the Sarawak Cultural Village, the Cat Museum, and even to meet his father, but he also told me he’d get me in touch with a friend of his in Sibu.

This turned out to be Raden. When I first wrote about my time in Borneo I had not yet met Raden. I met with him the day after I’d been to Kapit and only had time to spend a few hours with him, as I had to take a bus to Bintulu around 5pm. Still, it gave us plenty of time to chat and eat some local food and visit a nearby Chinese temple.

I learned that Raden was a commissioner of oaths and worked with though not for the provincial and federal governments. Every two months or so, he would join an expedition up the Rajang River to meet with local tribes and get them registered to the government’s rosters so that they could receive the benefits to which they were entitled (and, presumably, so someone else on the expedition might convince them to vote in the upcoming elections, I thought but did not say).

Given his work, Raden has an excellent understanding of where to find the various tribal villages and outposts and how to reach them. When I told him that my very brief time in Kapit had given me a decided taste for more, that I’d want to go farther up the Rajang, to Belaga and beyond, he simply nodded and said he could certainly help me. He even said he might know someone in Kapit who could act as a guide. More and more, I began to think that a second trip to Borneo may be required . . .

Also, Raden told me, rather offhandedly, that he knew the owner of the only international school in Sibu and said he could probably introduce me if I wanted. I said I would definitely like to meet them. Whether this would lead anywhere else is impossible to tell…and whether I would actually want to live in a place like Sibu is uncertain (I figure absolutely no one would visit me if I did), but it’s interesting to think about.

Anyway, meeting Dicky and Raden seemed to have opened up a few possible opportunities.

Soon, though, it was time to leave Sibu and the Rajang region. As I mentioned, I did so with some regret as I’d found that Sibu, and particularly Kapit, offered some great opportunity for further adventure and exploration. Luckily, I now had contacts in and around the city, and so hoped to return to venture farther up the Rajang River, to Belaga and, possibly, beyond. That, however, would have to wait a few months and, at that moment, I had to hop on a bus headed for Bintulu.

The bus took the Pan Borneo Highway, or as the locals call it, the Pain Borneo Highway. The thing has become a bit of a running joke, given that it has been years in the making and that promises to finally complete it always swell around election time…including right about now. Anyway, for the time being, it’s a rough two-lane that carves a generally straight but hopelessly bumpy route along the northern coast of Borneo, linking many important cities and towns along the way. My own experience was bone busting as I’d nabbed one of the last seats on the bus, meaning I was perched at the rear, where proper suspension feels more like a myth than an actual feature of the vehicle.

Still, after four hours of having my innards both shaken and stirred, I made it to Bintulu where I had wisely planned to spend a night. After taking it easy the following morning I was back on the bus from Bintulu to Miri. While the ride to Bintulu was jarring to say the least, it was also spectacularly scenic, with the jungle flanking both sides of the “highway”. The ride to Miri, though smoother, offered little as eye candy, with the entire route dotted with construction sites and their crews, these helmeted men often crouching under their trucks and tractors to escape the sun for a few minutes (or hours?).

I didn’t see much of Miri when I first arrived, the sun having set and most shops having closed, but I wandered around, grabbed some food, and then settled into what turned out to be a truly lovely hotel. I needed to rest as the following morning I would be flying to Gunung Mulu National Park and its promise of genuine adventure.

My flight to Mulu was at 9am and on a 70 seat prop plane. The flight took all of 30 minutes. Mulu’s airport is little more than a single strip a field at one end, a small cluster of buildings at the other, and jungle-clad mountains all around.

I walked out onto the tarmac and felt miles from anywhere.