By Cynthia Lobato
Back in April, I was invited to go along with a friend and her group to Kampung Semban, a Bidayuh village 12km from the site of the Bengoh Dam.
I knew it was hilly terrain but, since I have done several hiking trips, decided to join them. I have always wanted to see this village, which is famous because of the seven ladies with rings
around their feet and hands. This is now unique in Sarawak.
At 9.30am, the driver fetched me from my house and we drove to the highlands and stopped at the Bengoh Dam.
First we had to walk through scrub on a well maintained path through lalang grass and rubber trees.
The trail also led us through a bamboo forest and an open field, which made it a bit hot since the humidity was around 100 percent.
I had also never crossed a river on a bamboo bridge and thought this was really cool.While I heard it cracking and felt it swaying, I decided to stop in the middle, take my camera out for a picture
and put the camera back while still holding firm with one hand on the handrail so as not to fall into the river or drop my camera.
We crossed three bamboo bridges and one was clearly the longest and highest. on this bridge but since we had to continue, there was no time to play around.
I was glad that there were many resting places and I noticed that there were a lot of porters carrying everything on their backs to villages above the dam since there is no other transport.
Their loads were pretty heavy and I guess some had more than 30kg on their backs. The youngest porter I met was only 16 and very strong and fit.
I heard from a friend that these bamboo bridges need repairing every eight months since the bamboo becomes brittle over time and can break.
Many people cross these with loads that include furniture, televisions and whatever villagers uphill need.
Friends of Semban made nice T-shirts to sell in Kuching to raise money for the repair of these bridges and for school necessities.
Lunch was at the first waterfall near Kampung Bojong and it is a bit sad to know that soon this place will be history when they close the dam and the land is flooded.
After lunch it got tough, since we had to climb the staircase to heaven and it seemed to have no end — it went on and on.
When you think you’re almost there, there are still more stairs to climb and it costs a lot of energy and sweat.
At 6pm, I finally reached the kampung just before the rain. Our host Sagen Aden, the headman, and his wife Kipin welcomed us and we
stayed three days. The food was very tasty. They served pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo) the first day and all the veggies were from his garden — no pesticides.
It was a beautiful evening under the stars while we had dinner outside. It was cool and there were no mosquitoes or noise.
The next morning, we missed the sunrise since it was very cloudy after the rain but the group went to a waterfall a two-hour walk
from the village on a steep and slippery path. I decided to stay behind and Sagen took me around the village.
I saw one of the ladies with the rings, probably in her 80s, in the early morning with a basketful of wood for cooking. She was very fit and walked fast. People grow most of their food there and get fresh eggs from chickens that roam freely.
They also grow chewing tobacco and it was probably time to dry it since it had just been harvested. First the ladies sliced tleaves into small pieces and then dried them in the sun before they kept them in
their storage room. It was very nice walking around the village and I had a good time.
We went to see a bamboo musician and his wife was one of the ladies with rings and their grandson one of the porters.
Early the next morning after breakfast, we started walking back and the mountains were spectacular.
Since I walked by myself, I could take pictures and enjoy the quietness and it was less tough going down until we came to the village near the first waterfall.
An old man was making his own parang. Life is so peaceful in those villages. There are no cars and pollution, only the clucking of chickens. It was hot that day and the last part walking in the open
was difficult. Suddenly the sky darkened and just before I reached the last steep hill, it started raining. I was soaked when I reached the
cars. I was glad I did this trip although it was steeper
than I expected, but it was worth meeting all these wonderful people at Semban and seeing the area before it is flooded and gone forever.
CAREFULLY: Villagers walk on a Semban trail bamboo
NEVER-ENDING: The staircase to heaven goes on and on.