Today was a busy day. In the morning we walked Kuching's waterfront. It was a hot glorious day and we enjoyed seeing the little Sampan's that taxi along both sides of the river taking people from Jetty to Jetty on their daily routines. As soon as we happened upon the first jetty on our side of the river, we flagged a Sampan driver and negotiated a price for an hour float down the river.
It was amazing to see the contrast between one side of the river and the other. The city centre side boasted upscale hotels such as the Hotel Margherita named for the white Rajah Charles Brooke's wife and the Hilton as well as upscale highrises. The opposite side was houses on stilts which were roughly constructed with metal roofs and add on after add on likely as the family grew. Most had small fishing boats docked on the river with only 2 lone posts holding them in to accomodate the extreme rise and fall of the river during monsoon season.
There were large brightly painted fishing boats docked in front of highrises and other fishing boats that were abandoned and had sunk along the waterfront. The water was the colour of mud but we would often see a fishermen throwing his net into the water hoping for a days meal. I noticed that our little boat contained all the necessities of daily life including a bar of soap and a teapot and some things for fishing. The most prominent buildings on the north side of the river were the Astana,government state legislature building and Fort Margheita. After we got off the riverboat, we walked further along the promenade and had a quick stop at the Bazaar where Steve picked up his very own blow pipe for about $5 cdn.
Next we took a taxi complete with our guide (Wilson) to the Sememggoh Rehabilitation Center. We were excited because Samatra in Indonesia and the Island of Borneo in Malaysia are the only two exiting places where orangutans exist in the wild. There habitat is being severely threatened in Borneo as the whole area is being taken over by Palm Oil Plantations. Our guide had very good English and chattered away excitedly about all the names of the orangutans and what safeguards to take while we were in the sanctuary. He was very knowledgable. When we arrived we were told to follow a small path which was well forested. As we walked along Cameron whispered "Mom!" and just as he did I heard the rustling above and saw the red fur of my first wild orangutan. Soon we came to a clearing and we could see across the forest a short distance there was a feeding platform and there was a giant orangutan eating away from the various fruits that had been thrown onto the platform. This was the orangutan named Ritchie and he weighed well over 400 pounds. There were others in the tree above us but they were reluctant to cross over to the feeding station. I guess they were waiting for Ritchie to finish first because he was clearly the boss. We stood amongst about twenty other tourists and enjoyed watching the antics of the little ones as they arriived and picked up the food. They would often take a coconut up into a tree and begin slamming it againt the trunk with a loud echo in order to get the sweet coconut juice from within. We saw at least 7 orangutans which were all content to eat and play in the trees in front of us. We actually left before they did as we had watched for almost an hour. I think we were very lucky as many people we spoke to had difficulty getting to see even one on the days they had visited the centre. On the way out we stopped at the office and were shocked by pictures of poor rangers being treated on the floor for severe injuries from Ritchie. One ranger had lost his finger. /DSCF4209.jpg caption=DSCF4209]
We had also learned about the Longhouses where families lived and asked if it would be possible to see one. Our driver found a little roadside stand for us to get some food before we would head for the longhouse. The roadside stand had charcoal hot and they were barbequing skewers of chicken parts including skin and hearts. The boys were hungry so they dug in. They also bought some fried banana and peanut pancakes to tide them over before we headed off the Anna Rais Long House.
The drive was beautiful as we headed south (I think) toward higher hills and the mountains of Indonesia just across the border in the background. The driver explained that in July they clear the jungle, in August, they burn, and in September they plant. They grow rice for about four months during the year. He also pointed out the stands of pepper plants which grew high on the steep sides of hills where it is very dry.
We were about to meet members of the Iban tribe which was also the tribe our driver Wilson was from but from a different longhouse. He commented that he had enjoyed his life as a child growing up in a longhouse. He explained that all Ibans are called Dyaks. These were the famous head hunters in the 1800's. They believed that the more heads they collected at their longhouse the more in favour they would be with the spirits and it was a status symbol of your family wealth. The chief was pretty proud of those skulls. If a young suiter wanted to take a bride he better show up with a nice big skull for his future father in law if he wanted her hand in marriage. Luckily, the our man Wilson explained that because they had all converted to Christianity, they were no longer allowed to believe in such things. Also, lucky for us when we arrived at the longhouse, the chief actually had not buried all the skulls and still had a few (like 20) kept in his special place and we took our pictues with them. I wonder who those poor people were. The chief also happened to have a small cannon in the room date stamped 1763.
Upon arriving at the Longhouse, we were greeted with a nice glass of rice wine. Then we were led across a small bridge over a beautiful
river to the longhouse which had a bamboo floor and a row of inteconnected individual buildings all the doors opening onto the common open space which had a variety of uses from cooking to drying food to dancing and gathering for stories and games. The livestock was kept underneath the bamboo as the entire longhouse was built on stilts well above the ground. Except for kids and elderly people, most people were still out in the fields working although it was close to 6pm. Our man Wilson was able to explain how each family lived in a room of the long house and that when someone became married, they added another room to the longhouse. there could be as many as 50 families living in a longhouse. He was able to point out the many things that grew around the houses which included taragon, cinnamon,cocoa, pineapple, banana, lemongrass, sour sop, mango, bamboo, limes, durian fruit, jack fruit and the bettle leaves that the woman chewed all the time.
There was various types of fruit or vegetables in front of certain doors and some women were preparing mushrooms on the bamboo floor. Bamboo was also hollowed out and used as containers for many things. Baskets were weaved for carrying rice and other crops.
On our way out we met an older man who wanted to show us a top he had made out of a very heavy and hard wood. He would wrap some twine around the top of the top and throw it onto the mat and watch it spin. He wanted Cameron to try it. After many tries, he would laugh and laugh with his big toothless grin. It was nice to see that they didn't mind interacting with the tourists and showing us their way of life.
Anna Rais also has homestays and we met a mom and her young son who were stying there that night. She said that they had been guided to see a waterfall during the day time and her son had leeches on his feet. We looked at his poor bleeding toes and made note to selves not to be doing any hiking in the area. Even running shoes and socks won't save you. They can smell you and find a way into your shoes and you won't even know they are there until you see your socks are bleeding. Okay Okay! We didn't see any leeches on our canopy walk or when we went in to see the orangutans. I guess we were lucky.
In driving back to Kuching we notice the great statue of Cats as you enter the gates of the city. I guess Kuching means Cat in Malay. Kuching had a very strong Chinese influence as was evidenced in the food and architecture. Dinner was on the waterfront in an open air restaurant called the Charles Brooke Cafe and the ambiance was beautiful with orchids and furniture and plants that made you want to stay all night. The food was amazing!! We ordered te local dish called Laksa, wild Borneo Tom Yum soup and a Sarawak dish. We talked about the great day we'd had and how if we were to return again, we would make a point of visiting Bako National Park which is only 30 minutes away and close to the ocean. There it is possible to see the famous Probiscus Monkeys with their very large protruding noses, hornbilled birds and the barking deer. These not being found anywhere else in the world.