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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

To the River By Mary Margaret

The river called a small group of MNS members on Sunday, May 8, 2016 to venture out onto the upper reaches of the left branch of the Sungai (River) Sarawak.  It starts in the Penrissen Highlands and as it flows towards Kuching it becomes larger and larger. 
The starting point, Kampung Bengoh on the Sungai Abang, a shaded tributary of the Sungai Sarawak, foretold of what was to come.  We would experience the natural world and see man's positive interaction with it.
The fast-flowing Sungai Sarawak swept, us, the intrepid explorers along.  In reality all that we needed to do was to dip our paddles into the water to keep the kayaks going more or less straight.  This allowed us to immerse ourselves into the river, the trees, the sound of the water, the call of the birds and insects. We became one with the natural world.

This is the traditional homeland of the Bidayuh people; the mark of their hands is on the riverbank and incorporated into the natural world.  Towering durian trees (Durio sp.) rise above the bamboo clumps.  There are approximately 30 species of this tree (the number depends on the source) and this area produces durian with seeds covered with creamy white, yellow or red flesh.  The latter is less common and gets a better price at the market.

The emergent tapang (Koompassia excelsa), one the tallest trees in the rainforest and can reach a staggering 80 metres, dots the riverbank.  The fluffy umbrella-like crown and white bone-like trunk are easily seen distinguishing features.  It is fondly called the bee tree because honeybees, from the apidae family, build nests high up in the branches. This legally protected tree is highly valued by Sarawak's indigenous communities.    
The largest grass in the world, bamboo, is a perennial evergreen that is a member of family Poaceae family and Bambusoideaea subfamily.  This graceful plant, which shades many places along the river, has multiple uses.  

There was a rather extensive discussion about bamboo chicken, locally known as ayam pansoh.  Bamboo serves as the container to cook this delicious delicacy.  But this is only the beginning.  It is used for example to construct houses, weave baskets and mats, and serve as containers. Its fibrous routes stabilise riverbanks and bamboo shoots of some species are eaten.  It is a grass with an almost endless number of uses.  

At Kampung Danu the river changes.  It became faster and more challenging as we encountered rapids.  Some we flowed over and some we had to go around.  Limestone cliffs dramatically materialised and the river curved suddenly at the foot of theses starkly beautiful rock faces. The river provided us with a new perspective of the Penrissen Highlands. 
We paddled at the foot of majestic cliffs and looked upwards in wonder.  We smelled the guano of the bat droppings in hidden caves.  Our guides told us that they had visited caves and of a cave that connected villages.  The mystery continues. 
Unfortunately the adventure came to an end.  But we take with us calmness and memories. 
We would to extend our thanks Semadang Kayaking and the team for guiding our journey down the river. 


  1. A fun trip that I can feel after reading the journal. Was wondering the distance of the whole kayaking expedition and how many hour to complete.

  2. Hey there Joe Chew!
    It was indeed a splendid experience! The whole trip was about 4 hours including lunch and stops. It covers about 12km stretch. =)
    Hope it helps!