Rainforest Kayak ~ Kuching: Sarawak Borneo

bengoh village. the villagers' sampans moored at the put-in point

T’was 7.00a.m. and we were scrambling around, looking for any attire suitable for the trip. We arrived in Kuching 3days earlier for the Rainforest Music Festival (which was amazing – the atmosphere, the music, the friendliness of the people made it a fantastic long weekend trip!) and hadnt planned on extra-curricular activities. As we stayed on for the last performance the night before, the 6.45am roll call was a little hard to take. Bleary-eyed, we grabbed whatever we could but left with no suitable shoes, no swim attire, no shorts for a few of us. Francis and Beverly came to pick us up at our hotel. Spotting them was not a problem at all. They had kayaks strapped to the top of their cars! We squeezed in and hoped for the best. There were oars wedged in between us and knapsacks squeezed in under our feet. Just as well we're of Asian sizes, pre-fastfood era (i'd like to think).
After a few physical adjustments and tuck ins, we were off! Francis (how can he be all so chirpy and chatty in the morning?) was giving us the full interrogation of 'what we do, who we are' and at the same time slipping us the WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY form for us to fill and leave our fate to the heavens. We made a short detour to a small village on the way for Teng Lei to buy a few pairs of slippers for the trip and some snacks. We definitely were not prepared! Although we go on trips and write articles of our experiences and travels and we advise fellow travellers what to do and bring etc...that doesn't mean that when we're on holiday, we follow our own regiment. When we're on holiday, it's leave it to come-what-may. It feels good not be in control?!
It was july and the rain had been intermittent that month so the rivers were a little shallow. Francis decided to take us on an alternative tributary than the one he normally goes on. It was the Sungai Sarawak Kiri instead of Kanan. But no matter, he said… the river flow was a little gentler and the scenery was just as beautiful. We were on holiday.. no need to cause a scene and we agreed to it wholeheartedly. After all, this was definitely an impromptu adventure trip. We traveled out of kuching town and headed towards the direction of semengoh orangutan centre. 1hour or so later, we turned off into a village called Bengoh and down a narrow dirt road. Stopping at the end of the road, Francis hopped out and immediately got us working on carrying our own kayaks down to the river. These Linear Polyethylene (according to Francis, it's 'a fancy name for tupperware PLASTIC!') 2 seater kayaks are pretty light handling, only as long as your partner in front carries her share of the weight!

Once at the edge of the water, we were told the term was ‘put-in’, that is – putting the kayak onto water. We were also advised put all priceless belongings into the waterproof tote bags provided in case of any turnovers, and water mishaps.

the shadow of a dolomite overhang in the foreground. background is the limestone cliff

The water was freezing!! 5 sets of chattering teeth in unison and the sudden urgency for a latrine, sort of dampened our enthusiasm somewhat. After the before shot of our before-and-after-photo shoot, we each squelched into our seats. I had the good fortune to buddy up with Francis who is the pioneer of river kayaking in kuching plus open sea kayaking with the dolphins. He was seemingly most obliging as I had an almost free energy-spent kayak trip down sg. Sarawak Kiri for the entire 3 hours we were on water. Francis was the ‘motor’ sitting as comfortable behind me as a duck on water. Recognising I had work to do (sometimes it makes work and travel so much easier!), he took over the task and maneuvered the kayak adroitly down river – explaining intermittently about the terrain and what to expect round the next bend. I bet if I was there on a leisurely trip, I would definitely have been on the other end of the pole and hard labour would have been the reward! (knowing Francis!).

fig trees line the riverbank. Birds and monkeys love this fruit

Every one of us was paired off with an experienced buddy ie Beverly, Azmi and Miriam. Jamie and Jackie however, decided that they were not going to be babied on this trip and were taken to learning the hard way. It was easy kayaking. The main attraction here is its beauty, the serenity of the river and the gob smacking backdrop of dolomite hills. One cannot help but wonder how long the ‘abrasive’ action of flowing water would have taken to carve into such hard surfaces, creating little tunnels and overhangs? These old rivers and tributaries were lifelines of the natives, presumably the Bidayuh people, living and working on these lands. Before logging trails blazed through the endless virgin rainforest in this region, the only means of travel was by river..nature’s highway. The natives still use the river as their water source, food source and also for transportation. Along the way we met up with a few young lads with torchlights and homemade spear gun. They were poking around underwater, homing in on catfishes with beams from their torchlights. A little further down were younger lads doing back somersaults, double flips and bombs from the top of boulders into the water.

spearing catfish for dinner

After our short rest to stretch our legs on a sandy bend, we were back on and revving to go. Soon we got to a band of rapids and everyone went through without a problem except for Aida and Miriam. Little did we realise that a little tip to the side will overturn the kayak and off they went over… no major catastrophe, back on safely and off we went again. What a joyous day out! The perfect day spent in Kuching – out in the open, drifting down a clear, clean tranquil river, making new friends, sealing old friendships ~ just taking some time out to do something out of the ordinary. Life is such beauty.