Batu Lawi - Ba'Kelalan 2003

All pictures of the trip

I had to go back to Batu Lawi and Gunung Murud. After all, I didn't see the nepenthes veitchii last time, and I still wanted to find more n. reinwardtiana on Murud. So my eldest son and I set of again.
Bareo - Pa'Ukat - first camp.
An uneventful flight from Miri via Marudi, getting to know the guide and the porters (and we had Tony again who was with us on Murud last year) and walking away from Pa'Ukat, a small village just beyond Bareo. We pass the ricefields, enter the forest and the first leeches bite......
first camp - second camp
After a bad night with rain we leave and the guide is gone by himself. After one hour we hear a shot and our guide sits on the path with a bucking deer. The meat is cut and packed and we now have extra proviand. Soon we hit he cliff and look for the pilosa.
The seed pods are old and empty. We also find a couple of tentaculata and don't find back last year's lowii. We continue and at 14.00 hrs we pass last year's camp, which apparently isn't good enough this time. We continue past pilosa and steno,the path is blocked by a fallen tree and we (or better our guide and porters) hack a new path, and see, there is an exploratory logging road....
One or two river crossings (with barely water) and we find the first n. veitchii. This is where we set camp. At 16.25 hrs it doesn't rain, it pours, and we do get seriously wet. Half an hour and we can set up the tents, light a fire and get something warm to drink.

Looking for n. veitchii.
The sun shines, and my son decides to take a lazy day and try to get our stuff dry. I leave with the guide and a porter and we start along the logging road. Pretty quick there are n. veitchii, but no "climbers". We find large clumps in the trees, but none show the clasping behaviour that I found years ago. I see a couple of n. pilosa, two n. stenophyla (or n. fallax) and then, after a couple of hours we hit the Lembang River and a 12 meter wide logging road. It seems the road runs from Lawas to Bareo, but is not actively logged yet. In any case, a depressing view.
We track back with side entries in the forest (which by the way is National Park, nice to see a National Park Logging Road.......) and almost at the end we look at a fallen tree. There is a nepenthes with a single pitcher at the top, and maybe a young plant next to it. From the looks of it this could be n. fusca, altough it doesn't resemble the plants I saw in Sabah. It does resemble the picture of the upper pitchers in Clarke, and the young plant could well present the lower pitchers.
Now I start thinking about the "n. spec B' from Gunung Murud, and could it be that this is a n. veitchii x n. fusca cross?
In any case: one large plant, one small, one tree; in a circle of 100 meter: everything flattened, and no more trace of this elusive n. fusca "Batu Lawi". I search around but without results. We track back to the camp and it pours again

Sliding back

We wake at 06.30 and prepare for the trek back to Pa'Ukat. After another night of rain everything is wet, either by rain or by condensation. We leave the campsite and the logging road is OK to walk on. The rivers are swollen, and where days ago we had 30 cm water now we see more than 1.3 meter. There are two ways to cross a stream: if you are lucky you find a tree and you stay dry, otherways you just cross..... we cross many times. The large boulders close to the cliff are wet and covered with moss, thus very slippery. Soaking wet and assaulted by leeches we continure.  Hornbills pass by, and this is normally a lucky sign. Down from the cliff is more sliding than walking, and at moment we have decided: we will bypass Gunung Murud.
There is no end at the descend, but suddenly, as if walking through a wall we leave the forest and are in the mids of the rice-fields of Pa'Ukat. Now we know it is only one more hour and we are at the longhouse. At 16.45 we are finally down, time to unpack everything and spread the sleeping bags, tents and clothes in the sun. Of course after 15 minutes it pours.....

Having decided to give Murud a miss (feeling sorry nevertheless, but safety goes first) we re-schedule over Pa'Lungan, Long Repong, Kalimantan and Ba'Kelalan.
Guess what, in the morning it pours.... We wait till 10.00 hrs and final;y leave. The road is uneventful, going up and down and up and down. The buffalo highway is wet and slippery, the forest is hot and humid. We arrive at he krangas forest with n. stenophylla and n. reinwardtiana. There are two forms of n. reinwardtiana: red and green, and they intermingle.  Despite differences of only 300 meter in elevation the walk is not that easy. A buffalo with full sledge passes us on his way to Bareo.
The story of the Batu Ritung lodge owner of Pa'Lungan.
He is from Chinese descent, and his great-great grandfather immigrated from Indonesia (which didn't exist then, it was just Netherlands Indies). He keeps his family treasures, large bronze vessels and gongs from a gamelan on the first floor of the lodge, together with small items that document a family life. Pa'Lungan has less than 100 inhabitants, and is ageing fast. The young go to school in Bareo, which is a 3 hour walk one way, so they come home one weekend in two. Then they go further away, get an education and don't come back. The girls marry in the cities and also stay away. The farmers who don't find a wife marry across the border in Kalimantan. To work the rice-fields the village has to rely on contract labour from Kalimantan. There are 40 acres of fields, and the surplus of the village is 5 ton/year. (at a sales price of 2 ringit per kilo, bring us at 10000 ringit for the whole village, just the cost price of one marriage, or the price of one feast for a name change which has to happen after a male successor followed by a male grand-child). His father is in his 80ies, alone and walks the fiels wondering what will happen with the ancestral lands. So much for the charms of natural living.
Pa'Lungan - Long Repong.
For once it doesn't rain in the morning. Sunny with large clouds, and we are happy to take the road to Long Repong. Surprise: the rivers which were difficult to scale last year have been equipped with tree-trunks, and we cross in a breeze. The first part or the trip is flat, and we make good speed. We sight a couple of eagles and a black gibbon.  Then all of the sudden the path goes up, a climb I totally forgot. It is a long steady climb, and at 12.15 we are at the top, close to the location of a helipad from the 1962 war with Indonesia. The war caused people to leave Long Repung, then a village (even the father from our guide left for Pa'Lungan), and what remains is a shelter for hunters both sides of teh border. From the top it goes down, crossing a couple of streams. A small patch of krangas has the usual steno and reinwardtiana  (sorry nepenthes lovers, this is it, no more new species here).  Then we get at the last real river, swollen and two meter above last year's level. A very large tree, which was two meter above level last year is now partly submerged, but we cross this one on our socks (gives better grip...). Of course, once we are in the shelter it rains....
The road to Kalimantan.
We take the same path as last year, direction Murud. We see the summit covered in clouds, and I feel sorry that we will not go up. As yesterday we take our shares of streams, either over trees or just across through the water. A groupt of monkeys passes obverhead. Then we slowly go up from 1000 meter to 1270 meter and there we are: a small stone 10 meter from the path, the only sign of the border with Kalimantan. What we think is a large butterfly becomes a bat in plain daylight.... And then the most incredible buffalo highway: all the way down over slippery clay for more than one hour, hard on the knees and steep, gouged by the sleds. People cut trees for houses (we are now close to the village, only one more hour...original commantary from our guide, talk about distances) and the couple of houses from Pa'Rupai appear. Friendly hallo's and it is appaent that no many strangers take this hike. Twenty minutes later we are in Long Medan, and what I expected to be the size of Pa'Ukat is large.
Long Medan is large. Three churches one or two schools, many shops, small motor bikes and busy. There is continuous traffic to Ba'Kelalan, that is much closer than the next city in Kalimantan. People go and sell rice, buy petrol, import stuff by car via Lawas, the walk, drive bikes and buffalo's over the border and are busy. The lodge we are staying has choosen this time for reconstruction. So we wait till the stairs are ready, then till the linoleum is put on the floor and then the room is ready. These are relatives of relatives of our porters, and we geteven hot water to wash, luxus pure.
In the evening, we get hit by civilisation: the lodge sports a karaoke installation and our guide and porters sing at full voice the latest Malaysian songs....
Last walk. This is easy. A wide road (not surfaced) meanders up and down to Sarawak. We pass a police post, say hallo, get checked and are back in Sarawak. There are many people on the road, having gone to Ba'Kelalan to sell their rice. One spot of n. reinwardtiana and this will be it I think. Uneventful walk, relaxing to the village. We see that the airport runway is ruined (last year is was nice and new, now it is undulating).
Next day: waiting to take a 4x4 to Lawas. Our driver doesn't want to ride alone, having gotten stuck 7 times last night and taking 10 hours for the 150 kilometer. So we wait. A buffalo bull escapes in the village, and for half an hour Ba'Kelalan is Pamplona. Bull charges from buffalo's are very very impressive. Twelve and we leave alone. Twelve fifteen and we are stuck. This will happen at least six more times in the next 10 kilometers. We pull the truck, we get pulled by another one and we struggle. Once the car sits, chassis on the mud and wheels free. Three hours and 30 kilometer. It rains and the road becomes liquid mud, slippery to the point where we are all over the road, almost but just not plunging in the abyss or hitting the trees on the other side. Surprise:  a lonely patch of n. pilosa  hangs on the side of the road. It rains so hard and he driver is working with all his skill to hold the car on the road that I do not ask for a stop. After hours we hit the main logging road (the one that I crossed on Batu Lawi...) and we can drive a bit faster. Just before LAwas we get into a thunderstorm and nobody knows how the driver sees the road in pitch darkness. Then we are there: Lawas, seven and a half hour for the 150 kilometer. The tour is over.
"Please write in Malay to the head of the village well in advance if you need guides and porters. He might be able to organise this, depending on the season and if people are not working in the rice fields." (free after Briggs, Mountains of Malaysia) "Jean, do you have an email address so I can contact you and stay in touch? There is an internet caffee in Bareo and my friend has an account there." (original comment from our guide)
Lots of thanks here: to my son for coming along and keeping me company (yes I might go back, see epilogue), to our guide Katuwan and the porters Tony and Sylvester, to our driver Anthony without who we would still be in Ba'Kelalan. Borneo Advanture in Kuching organised for us with assistance from Thomas of the Miri Office.
Looking back I think this was my last nepenthes trip. Why? Difficult to say. I lost the whow-feeling when seeing another plant, and oh no I will not take another picture. What else bothered me? The ongoing islamisation and the youth gangs on the Kuching Waterfront? The leeches? The strain of walking up and down the mountains? The horror of the logging roads and the disappearance of the forest? Maybe all of it together. This is it, it has grown over the distance of the tour, and if I can't get enthusiastic then there is no more point in going. Real men don't walk through the forest, they drive their Harley to the next party and have a good time.
On the other hand I was happy to be friendly received in the longhouses and the villages, talking and living with the people. I felt welcome. And also there are some limestone cliffs there with paphiopedilums. I think I will have to go back and check them out :-)