By Mary Margaret
ON a recent visit to Long Semado, my husband and I decided we were up for a ‘walk’ to Long Pa Sia, the nearest village in Sabah.
In the past, this was a relatively common undertaking to keep in touch and visit relatives. The trail, although substantially changed, is still used by the people living in the area as well as tourists (if accompanied by a guide and porters), although most decide to arrive at Long Pa Sia via a paved road by car.
In theory the ‘walk’ should have taken eight hours and it was with this in mind that we started off through the ripening paddy fields with our guide Upai and his brother-in-law Sylvester.
LOGGING TRACK: One of the logging tracks that we scrambled along.The latter set the pace or - as described by Upai — was the driver. I was assured that this was the standard speed and I gulped as I attempted in vain to keep up.
Occasionally, I sighted Sylvester, a student, in the far distance as he raced along the paddy field bunds and the Trusan River, which we crossed countless times before actually hitting the forest.
Harvest came early to Long Semado and the golden heads of rice nodded to all those who passed by. Each field is rather small and is protected by a large bund to control the flow of water into the fields and to prevent the drowning of the precious crop.
At intervals, Upai — a farmer — stopped to check the ripening heads in his fields. He seemed happy with the progress of the ripening grain and started harvesting the day after our return.
Upai, who is named after a Lun Bawang folk hero, Upai Semaring, lived up to his namesake. He walked without tiring, all the while carrying a huge load. Upai Semaring, carved Batu Narita on the edge of the Trusan River valley where the bulk of the rice is grown.
The clearly marked trail climbs upwards through predominantly secondary forest, which over 50 years ago was cleared for farming. Gradually secondary forest evolved into a logging track. Many types of grass and ferns overshadow the track and, in places, sun-loving shrubs were sprouting.
A brief lunch stop, a crossing of a small mountain stream and we entered old, moss covered montane forest — moist and cool. The walk was pleasant and in the distance there was the laughing call of the Crested Hornbill, which could have been laughing at us as we had another six hours to go.
The next part was somewhat less pleasant as we had to scramble along a logging track that was through forest that had been logged twice. A sense of desolation prevailed especially where the soil had been swept away by heavy rain leaving bare rock.In places the logging track had been washed away or had almost washed away. We skirted the edges on ledges that were less than a foot wide. Remains of log bridges had survived the torrential tropical rain and all that was left in several places was a single log, on which we balanced like acrobats.
Upai and Sylvester walked quickly and confidentially. I used my walking stick to maintain my balance.
Despite the destruction beauty persists.
Carnivorous pitcher plants digest insects and other small creatures that fall into the pot, providing the much-needed nitrogen that is lacking in the desolate environment.
In spite of the logging, animal life was apparent. Footprints of wild boar and small barking deer were visible in the dried mud. There were mud pools and trample ground, where the wild boar had wallowed and rooted.
Eventually we entered the remaining primary forest outside of our destination — Long Pa Sia. The cool shade was welcomed, as was its lushness. The trail flowed down the hill in the valley, in which Long Pa Sia sat along the Sia (Red) River.
We walked by buffalo runs and paddy fields and finally crossed the Pa Sia. Nine hours after setting out from Punan Trusan (Long Semado) we were there.
Tired? Yes. Sore feet? Yes.
Were we glad that we walked rather than going by road? Yes! We saw, we felt and we experienced the Byhighs, the lows, and the power of nature.