Picnic with the Penan – An unforgettable week
Searching the internet for a nice and adventurous jungle trekking in Borneo, Malaysia we only found organised package tours into national parks. Some of them already fully booked, all of them working with permits and obligatory accommodations. Slowly the image of us spending our holiday completely planned in between hundreds of tourist walking on beaten tracks appeared. That was not why we wanted to go to Borneo, in our minds a rough and pure part of Malaysia with an abundance of wildlife and beautiful nature. Although surfing on the net and later on during our trip we found out that this was a bit naive thinking ‐Borneo is not that untouched, rough and pure‐ you can still get to very special places if you go 1 step further…
While questioning our destination and getting interested in Kalimantan, we ran into a travel blog that mentioned http://www.picnicwiththepenan.com. We immediately got enthusiastic and started an email conversation about when and how. The answers raised our enthusiasm but also made us uncertain. Where are we actually going? Is it safe? Is this a real organisation and not a tourist trap or so? We sent many emails with even more questions to email@example.com
And off we went…
After leaving our bags in the ‘Highlands’ hostel, we left Miri in the morning heading to Long Lellang by a small propeller plane. While flying the earth became more and more green and after 2 hours we landed on a small airstrip in the middle of the jungle. There was no way back now: the next plane was bound to leave in 2 days. Now we crossed our fingers that there would be somebody to pick us up. And there they were, our guide and two porters, all of them a bit shy but friendly from the first second.
Isaac, Haguy and Allen. After collecting all our bags & food we went to a wooden house nearby where we repacked our stuff. The handy rotan backpacks were filled with food and water and we packed our clothes etc. in our own backpacks. Around midday we left for the first part: a beautiful and rather easy walk through several primitive villages, amazing green jungle and a small and shallow river. After about three hours we arrived in a small village close to the river with about 10 beautiful wooden houses. The headman of the village welcomed us in his house and introduced us to his family: his sweet wife, 3 boys and their very old and quiet grandmother. After a cup of coffee and nice bath in the river we join the warm family life and shared our food with theirs.
Together we prepare a wonderful meal of rice, and green vegetables. For the first time we eat tapioca which soon became our favourite jungle vegetable! After dark we put our tired bodies to sleep on the wooden floor, hearing the quiet voices of our guide and the headman talking in their native language in the background together with the million noises from the jungle outside…
Amazingly we slept very well and after a good rice and vegetable breakfast we wave the family goodbye and head for our second heat. Isaac leads us via an indefinable path through the green and lush jungle that changes every hour in colour, plant species and height of bush and trees. The path got more slippery, really muddy every now and then, and we raved about the greatness of our jungle shoes. And there they where: the horrible Leeches! On our shoes, trousers, and shirts. But the socks & stockings did their work and at the end of the day we only discover 1 small bite. Isaac thought us how to remove them and had to pick them off his bare legs every half hour. Soon we stopped being preoccupied with them
and considered them to be part of our wonderful trip. The walk leads us through stunning nature and at the end of the day we stop at a lovely place close to a waterfall and river. Here Isaac shows his real Penan survival spirit and within 2 hours we have a complete camp made from what the jungle delivered: a fire, benches, a roof, plates from leaves, beautiful wooden cooking spoons and enough wood for the whole night. We hung our hammocks and prepared the dinner together during nightfall.
What a lovely evening: eating, talking, relaxing under the stars with the sound of the jungle as an overwhelming orchestra.
After a great night of sleep in hour hammocks and a good breakfast with fresh frogs (and not just their legs) we prepare ourselves for another beautiful but heavy hiking day. Again the route was beautiful, but rather straining this day.
Humidity went up to 100% in dense forest, we crossed knee deep rivers a least ten times, then, had to climb deep slippery river beds and entered hills. High up the hills the air was dry again and scenery majestic. We where soaked, and muddy but after 8 hours of strolling, we finally arrived at the rather cultivated village Long Sait.
Happy that we survived this day we rested. Though Isaac had another plan: we should move on to Long Kepang, 1 hour walking and nicer and better as he said. We collect our last energy and after 40 minutes walking and passing another 2 rivers we arrive in this again friendly village at dawn. Here we stayed at Sia’s house where we spent the evening playing guitar on the balcony.
The heavy rainfall of the last night seemed to be in our favour. The river was high enough to take us all the way to Long Spiegen without walking/carrying the boat. The boat ride was fantastic, exciting and beautiful. Around midday we arrived in Long Spiegen, Isaac’s hometown. Isaac apologized several times for his humble house but we loved it. Also we met his lovely wife and son. We spent the afternoon and evening collecting food, preparing food, hanging around the river, going to church and watching the women making beautiful and time consuming rotan baskets (that we decide to buy as souvenirs). Impressive was Isaac’s proud: the ‘tropical tree plantations’. Near the river he and other villagers planted hundreds of tropical hardwood trees, Maranti, that were grown to be replanted at logged sites, to prevent these sides to become palm oil plantations. Also this important project is part of the Picnic with the Penan project and increased our already so high respect for the people living in the jungle and the people who fuel the project from the city. This was definitely a day to remember and we pitied the fact that we already had to leave the next day. We could stay here forever…
After again a thrilling boat ride we arrived in Long Siut, a village that cooperates with ‘Samling’, the company that logs the woods. We were shocked about the mud, cars, lack of trees and the so‐called wealth that apparently came to them via the logging. Since here people own big 4WDs, a villager could bring us to Long Banga, the airport. The 3 hour drive made us sick, not only because of the bumpy ride but especially because we could see what Isaac all the time was talking about. Many many trucks loaded with big trees, the cut down and devastated forest and the muddy fish‐less rivers. After experiencing the pureness of the pristine jungle this was a real wake up call. Our consumption of hard wood and palm oil, causes this horrible demolishing of pure jungle and pure people.
Our tips for people wanting to visit;
- This is not a last minute trip option: because the guides live in remoteareas contacting them can take a while. Booking/planning in advance is therefore a must.
- We can imagine that a lot of questions will rise when planning your trip:don’t hesitate to email again and again if you want clarification. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the information letter & emailing information this is what we prepared.
We opted for a couple of days jungle trekking as our main interest was feeling and experiencing the jungle. The options were to fly to Long Banga or Long Lellang and trek to the other place (there are many more options). Flights leave Miri twice a week and vice versa so book and plan in advance via
Things to bring: organise before coming to Borneo:
•Dry bags: as the jungle is wet dry bags are a must if you want a set of dryclothes etc. Take more than 1, they are handy!
•Toiletries: Biodegradable soap, available in the outdoor stores, andmosquito repellent with at least 40% DEET.
•Medicine kit: take a good medicine/first aid kit.
•Mosquito net (and some rope to fix it): in some of the villages they willhave one but better to bring your own if you want to be mosquito free.
•Leech socks: don’t count on finding them in Malaysia, so buy them on theInternet. If you can’t: a good alternative is to bring stockings and long socks: put them both over your trousers and spray them with mosquito repellent. But you’ll never have a 100% guarantee on a leech free trip, even with official leech socks. I had one entering my trousers from the top. And at the end they are not so bad, they don’t hurt and you can pick them easily off. Remember that the Penan are walking the jungle bare feet!
•Clothes: bring a pair of synthetic hikingtrousers: light and easy to dry. Long sleeves shirts for the night and maybe a light rainjacket.
•Shoes: Whatever outdoor professionalsback home may tell you: don’t bother buying expensive jungle or hiking shoes! In Miri/Kuching/KK you can buy ‘kampung shoes’ (see picture) in local stores. Don’t look in the shopping centres but in the local street stores. They’ll cost about 10 ringgit (2,5 euro/dollar!) and are great for the slippery roads and walking through rivers. Tip: put the soles of your normal shoes in your Kampung shoes for a little more comfort.
•Backpack: bring a good size easy to wear backpack. There will be portersbut they will mostly carry the food (depending on where you go and how many porters you book, we had 2 porters and 1 guide for 3 persons). We left most of our stuff in the city and carried our big backpack bags since they were more comfortable than our small backpacks. They were far from full, so even more relaxed to carry.
Count on carrying your own luggage and maybe water, so pack light. If you don’t want to carry anything, book enough porters and don’t bring a backpack because the porters will bring their own backpack. You can pack your food in a box, that makes it easy to redistribute to the porters.
•Food: Bring some bar‐snacks (muesli bars/nut bars/etc.) if you like to eatsomething else than rice and vegetables. For example 1 to 2 per day, including your guide/porters. You can also buy them in Borneo of course.
Organise in Borneo (kuching/kk/miri)
•Shoes: as said above buy your kampong shoes in Borneo.
•Food: How much and what food tobring was a big concern for us in the days before the trekking when we stayed in Kuching. After all we ended up fine and found out that the jungle also has some lovely veggies available. But still, good shopping is important. Count on 3 meals a day in the villages on a resting day and 2 meals while trekking. Every meal consists of rice, 1‐2 types of veggies and only when available some meat/frog/fish.
• Rice: 150 grams per person per meal (al little more than the 125 grams at home, since you will eat less often and certainly more). You can also take noodles, but the Penan are more likely to eat rice. We took 5 kilos for 3 days of trekking with six persons.
•Veggies: eggplant, spinach,cucumber, tomato, other green veggies. Take veggies that can last for a while in a humid surrounding.
For example: 1 meal, 6 persons: 3 egg plants + 1 big bok choy.
•Further bring: garlic, oil, salt, sugar,instant coffee/tea/milo
•As well: lighter, cup, plate and spoon, knife.•
Drinking: during your trekking and in the villages water will always be boiled for the quests and is also provided to refill the bottles you want to carry. The water is fine for water. Just take enough bottles with you as a start and reuse them. When trekking you will have to bring enough water for the whole day, so you can only fill up in the morning.
We started with 3 big bottles, so 4.5 litres, of water each, which was more than enough.
An amazing trip with a message: that is how we remember our 5 days with the Penan. It was exciting, amazing, tiring, lovely, dirty, different and most of all touching because of the nature and the people. Just do it, enjoy it, experience it!
If you have any more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them if possible: email email@example.com
We realized that we wanted an off the beaten track experience an now we certainly had found one. With the little information we had and with the motto ‘no guts, no glory’ we decided to give it a go…