BLOG: The Kelabit Highlands experience

Bario Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 12 › view all entries

Checking in Miri for Bario involves weighing yourself as well as your baggage. The 50-minute flight took us over a couple of small airfields which have no other connections to the outside world. We fly over a high mountain range (covered with dense rainforest) before landing in a now sealed strip surrounded by rice paddies.

Bario is about 3700 ft above sea level, in a valley surrounded by high mountains.  There is a dirt track that goes around the valley with a couple of other tracks criss-crossing. People generally do treks lasting several days out of here but we didn't have time 'cos return flights out were full for alternate dates.

We saw the funniest sight ever ... a large unkempt man with a group of nomadic Penans (quite small) carrying large tanks of petrol on their backs. They had been walking for a day carting gas to Bario to sell because there's a shortage.

Petrol is carried in by a cargo Skyvan normally and because the aircraft had been chartered by the government for survey work, they had been running low/out.

The wild looking European ended up being a Swissair captain who was helping out. He said that the Penans carried more than he could with no food or water through the day (only smokes). The 6 year old carried a baby on her back for the whole duration.

For such an isolated place, we were surprised at how well-travelled people were.  Some people (including those with ear lobes down to their shoulders) have been to NZ, Stavanger, Sydney etc. Comments like

  • "that lady went to NZ and brought back plant seeds because flowers in NZ are so pretty ... see the plants in the garden now?".

  • "My daughter is a stewardess with Malaysia Airlines and she took me to Frankfurt and Auckland on her work trips".

About 1000 people live in the Bario area and we had to shake the hands of most people we met. The people are Kelabit and they've done amazingly well for themselves.

Grandpa and Grandma would speak no English and have ears to their shoulders (with weights) and Ma and Pa would be teachers or other professionals. The children would be lawyers, doctors, PhD in marine biology etc. Very outward and forward looking people compared to many ethnic people around the world who look backwards at injustices or opression.

They were so hospitable, inviting us into their longhouse, insisting that we eat with them in a "restaurant" (and then the restaurant refusing payment).


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photo by: gert-n-bert