It’s nearly 8 a.m. when I wake up… I draw the curtain and take a look outside. It must’ve just stopped raining, since everything is either still dripping wet or well flooded out. Clouds hover the plateau magnificently against the sky. Time hasn’t vaulted more than it should and slowly, like an amateur’s film fade-out, the “real” world evaporates… I am in Bario, the breathtaking Kelabit Highlands that time forgot.
It is hard to explain to people who haven’t lived it, how great this place is, even in the wettest time of the year. I could go on and on with the memories I took with me from this wonderful place, when I first arrived in Bario just a little over a year ago, but it would take up pages if I did. I have felt the amazing energy that comes with letting go and making myself digitally “incompatible” and becoming part of what the Kelabit people represent… I could only offer my gratitude for the time I spent in the highlands and the way so many of the people here made me feel like family – my home away from home.
These moments have become increasingly rare and fleeting, because of my connectedness with technology. The messages are broken up between this “world” and the next where I am always connected, always interjected, always distracted, always inundated with information and requests… and I struggle to find meaning behind it all, but nothing seems to make sense. I’ve always believed that even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence; it’d been a good decision to come back to Bario. Aunty Bulan’s lips curve into a smile, “This place does that to people… even to us who’ve lived here all our lives,”
Uncle David’s home brewed pineapple wine “Ada Lagi” can warm the coldest of hands and soothe the hungriest of souls… but really, it’s the Labang family’s genuine hospitality and the Kelabit people’s belief in the grace of vulnerability, the healing powers of cultural values and arts, and amiability that keeps me coming back.
I grin as Uncle David pours another shot of his home brewed pineapple wine, prodding me to take a sip. “…it’s vegan, and it’s really delicious,” he winked.
* * *
July 22nd – August 2nd, 2015 – Excerpts from my journal when I was in Bario.
As we make our way into the heart of the forest, the sweet smell of wet grass and odour drawn out of fallen leaves soaking our nostrils.. sometimes the path threatens to get lost in a sea of undergrowth but so long as we push on ahead, the pseudo-path makes its appearance again. Now and again I catch a glimpse of the grey sky through the tree tops, but it doesn’t look as though it’s going to rain… August to September, I was told, tend to be the driest season but conditions can change fast, and therefore, it’s essential to have good footwear.
We continue to navigate our way forward deeper into the forest… tiny butterflies softly brushing against my cheeks, bees humming carelessly and hovering over my pink Chuck Taylors (lol so much for “good footwear,” I had blisters after a few days of hiking), before vanishing where sunlight fail. All around us the lush greeneries convert the golden late afternoon sunlight into themselves using photosynthesis, our feet precariously sloshing in ochre, no longer trying to avoid the water that oozed in rivulets down the narrow pseudo-path, our backs toward the foot of the hill, the micro-hydro plant checkpoint now out of sight 20 minutes behind us… feverish with excitement.
As we hike upstream, passing several small streams, I rearrange my thinking away from self-defeating thoughts and use gratitude as a weapon against self-hatred… almost unaware of the drizzle and the coming rainstorm.
The 2-tiered waterfall, though nothing more than a small stream raging over a wide ledge and drops about 10-20 feet into a pool below, stand majestic. Bario boasts two waterfalls in fairly close proximity to one another – Pa’ Ramapuh Waterfall and Pa Di’it Waterfall – and each one is special in its own way.
I stand still gazing at a faint, solitary streak of sunlight dancing and quivering where the whitewater falls, it gives me a queer feeling – a sweet, stinging sensation that refuse to leave me… a trick of the sunlight, maybe? But I don’t complain.
* * *
There is no pause in the torrent pouring down from the sky, soaking us like wet invisible hands touching us all over… so we run and slip and run again, as fast as we could through the rainstorm, giggling every time we step into a mud pool.
* * *
Golden sunlight filled the land but the air still held a hint of rain… I realize now that I am no longer enamoured with the past – I am no longer in love, but rather struggling to save a love I’m afraid to lose.
* * *
Nights in the Kelabit Highlands are cool with glacial breezes every now and then… moon hangs low in the starry sky as if it’s ready to burst and shower the earth with glitter and gold. Each family in a longhouse has their own fireplace, it’s functional, but it’s also a tangible source of comfort. Some nights at the fireplace are rowdy (but good-natured), others more restful… eitherway, all of our senses become absorbed in the experience and we’re always fully engaged in conversations and games of sorts. Plates of barbecued marinated pork sausages, boiled sweet potatoes, fritters with pineapples jam… we’re forevermore spoilt with all the good stuff that warms our bellies.
* * *
Up until half an hour ago, everything felt so real, but now it all seems imaginary… this place is too calm, too natural… this paradise, it’s too nurturing and complete, and I don’t deserve it. I gaze down as we fly over the plateau en route to Marudi… slowly I fall into a deep sleep and dream of the many remarkable instances within my small circle of old and new friends and when I wake, I’m already in Miri.