Article
Challenge
Thanks!
Challenge us!
1



Sibu, seen by Benoît

That afternoon, I disembarked disoriented in Sibu. I was in Borneo, this great island shared between Indonesia and Malaysia. Early morning I had taken the ferry from the tidy Kuching, capital of Sarawak Malay region. Five hours later, I walked into the dirty streets of Sibu trying to find a hostel.

2



Duncan

There I met Duncan. This Aussie seemed as lost as I was, carrying his two bags and the sheepish face that tourists have when they arrive in the messy world of a third world city. He originally didn’t intend to stay that long in Borneo – only a week – but I eventually found in him a great companion for my idea of excursion: navigate the Batang Rejang.
A Tsingtao evening was enough to break the ice.

3



Batang Rejang

Batang, in Malay language, means River. The Batang Rejang originates in the Kelabit highlands meandering and running hundreds of kilometres, before forming a broad delta at its mouth in the South China Sea, at Sibu. These various villages blossoming along the shore were our goals. Song. Kapit. Belaga. It is an off-the-beaten-path project in the heart of equatorial jungle, on that major traditional trading axis to join the Christian tribes Iban and Orang Ulu.

4



Song

Two hours of rapid-boat (a long and sharp boat cutting through that quiet and muddy river) led us to Song. The shabby village doesn’t have any touristic highlight, but we fortunately met All-Blacks, a taxi driver that was overly proud of his résumé. He proposed us to drive us to a long-house.

5



Long-House

A long-house is a community house. They are big enough to welcome the whole families of the community. Some of them can even reach up to several hundred meters long! Each of them is laid out in the same manner, with a large corridor leading on one side to the families’ apartments and on the other to the outside. A lot of long-houses are located along the Batang Rejang. The waterway system serves as the fundamental, the traditional and the most practical mean of transportation in this land.

6



The community

We got welcomed by the women of an Iban community as men were working. One week later would occur Gawai, the annual Iban festival. Wine rice barrels were full and to welcome us properly and answer the presents we brought, they generously attacked those reserves. Instantly after we emptied a glass, someone felt the duty of filling it up.

Carried by those smiling old women, the atmosphere warmed up. They suddenly decided to bring traditional music instruments: the Engkerumong (a set of gongs of different sizes like a xylophone), the Tawak and the Bendai (bigger gongs) and the Ketebong (a kind of djembe). They danced the Ngajat, the traditional Iban dance, made with slow, soft and gracious movements of arms and legs, on the dry and rhythmic sound. Then the chief’s wife invited us to dance. We started shamelessly, one after the other, a bad imitation of Ngajat in front of the laughing public.

7



Kapit

Feeling a bit tipsy, we took the boat for Kapit. The pier was a chaotic scene of people rushing, bumping, pushing to board and disembark at the same time their goods and animals.
Out of this mess, we easily found a hotel from where we wandered around the town. Near the lake, behind a building, we suddenly heard harmonious chords of an electric guitar. We needed to see.
”Come, enter! You wanna beer?”. Local people are so welcoming... After presenting each others, time to play some songs! Duncan held the drums, one of those guys and me held guitars, one took the bass and the last one sang. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Sweet Child O’Mine. I loved that night!

8



On the road to Belaga

The next day, we headed back to the jetty. We took the rapid-boat to Belaga. This town is two hundred kilometres upstream, in the middle of nowhere. The Batang Rejang varies between flawless smooth surfaces – where the boat ripped freely through the water – and rapids surrounded by emerging rocks. At this season – the end of the dry season – the river is at some places nearly impassable. The weather fluctuates as well between showers and heavy sun.
https://youtu.be/nyvORnJdCok
On the way the boat stopped frequently, at each long-house, to receive or drop off goods and passengers.

9



Belaga

Six hours of travel after Kapit, we arrived in Belaga. It is a little town made of dirty concrete buildings. People stared at us like they never saw white people in their life. Children waved at us with large smiles, saying proudly “hello!”. They were so happy to speak the language of the white people! The town hadn’t seen tourists in a long time.
As the town is quite little, we quickly found a shelter. What better way to meet locals than to grab a beer with them?

10



In the jungle

Daniel was the local tourist manager. He looked honest and asked us to carry food supplies to an isolated village in the jungle.
Two hours of a winding slippery path in the jungle valleys led us there. Sweating, soaked, passing rivers on rotting planks, we made our way. But nature gave us back the effort we invested. We saw wild pigs, giant butterflies, hidden frogs, deers on the way under the song of birds and cicada.

11



The village

The village was a mix of creepy wooden shacks seemingly abandoned but from where one could hear chickens. Searching better, we finally found a gaunt old man. The man didn’t speak English and didn’t even try to communicate. The rest of the villagers were hunting in the jungle. We gave him the food and headed back to Belaga.

1



Sibu, seen by Benoît

That afternoon, I disembarked disoriented in Sibu. I was in Borneo, this great island shared between Indonesia and Malaysia. Early morning I had taken the ferry from the tidy Kuching, capital of Sarawak Malay region. Five hours later, I walked into the dirty streets of Sibu trying to find a hostel.



Duncan

There I met Duncan. This Aussie seemed as lost as I was, carrying his two bags and the sheepish face that tourists have when they arrive in the messy world of a third world city. He originally didn’t intend to stay that long in Borneo – only a week – but I eventually found in him a great companion for my idea of excursion: navigate the Batang Rejang.
A Tsingtao evening was enough to break the ice.



Batang Rejang

Batang, in Malay language, means River. The Batang Rejang originates in the Kelabit highlands meandering and running hundreds of kilometres, before forming a broad delta at its mouth in the South China Sea, at Sibu. These various villages blossoming along the shore were our goals. Song. Kapit. Belaga. It is an off-the-beaten-path project in the heart of equatorial jungle, on that major traditional trading axis to join the Christian tribes Iban and Orang Ulu.



Song

Two hours of rapid-boat (a long and sharp boat cutting through that quiet and muddy river) led us to Song. The shabby village doesn’t have any touristic highlight, but we fortunately met All-Blacks, a taxi driver that was overly proud of his résumé. He proposed us to drive us to a long-house.



Long-House

A long-house is a community house. They are big enough to welcome the whole families of the community. Some of them can even reach up to several hundred meters long! Each of them is laid out in the same manner, with a large corridor leading on one side to the families’ apartments and on the other to the outside. A lot of long-houses are located along the Batang Rejang. The waterway system serves as the fundamental, the traditional and the most practical mean of transportation in this land.



The community

We got welcomed by the women of an Iban community as men were working. One week later would occur Gawai, the annual Iban festival. Wine rice barrels were full and to welcome us properly and answer the presents we brought, they generously attacked those reserves. Instantly after we emptied a glass, someone felt the duty of filling it up.

Carried by those smiling old women, the atmosphere warmed up. They suddenly decided to bring traditional music instruments: the Engkerumong (a set of gongs of different sizes like a xylophone), the Tawak and the Bendai (bigger gongs) and the Ketebong (a kind of djembe). They danced the Ngajat, the traditional Iban dance, made with slow, soft and gracious movements of arms and legs, on the dry and rhythmic sound. Then the chief’s wife invited us to dance. We started shamelessly, one after the other, a bad imitation of Ngajat in front of the laughing public.



Kapit

Feeling a bit tipsy, we took the boat for Kapit. The pier was a chaotic scene of people rushing, bumping, pushing to board and disembark at the same time their goods and animals.
Out of this mess, we easily found a hotel from where we wandered around the town. Near the lake, behind a building, we suddenly heard harmonious chords of an electric guitar. We needed to see.
”Come, enter! You wanna beer?”. Local people are so welcoming... After presenting each others, time to play some songs! Duncan held the drums, one of those guys and me held guitars, one took the bass and the last one sang. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Sweet Child O’Mine. I loved that night!



On the road to Belaga

The next day, we headed back to the jetty. We took the rapid-boat to Belaga. This town is two hundred kilometres upstream, in the middle of nowhere. The Batang Rejang varies between flawless smooth surfaces – where the boat ripped freely through the water – and rapids surrounded by emerging rocks. At this season – the end of the dry season – the river is at some places nearly impassable. The weather fluctuates as well between showers and heavy sun.
https://youtu.be/nyvORnJdCok
On the way the boat stopped frequently, at each long-house, to receive or drop off goods and passengers.



Belaga

Six hours of travel after Kapit, we arrived in Belaga. It is a little town made of dirty concrete buildings. People stared at us like they never saw white people in their life. Children waved at us with large smiles, saying proudly “hello!”. They were so happy to speak the language of the white people! The town hadn’t seen tourists in a long time.
As the town is quite little, we quickly found a shelter. What better way to meet locals than to grab a beer with them?



In the jungle

Daniel was the local tourist manager. He looked honest and asked us to carry food supplies to an isolated village in the jungle.
Two hours of a winding slippery path in the jungle valleys led us there. Sweating, soaked, passing rivers on rotting planks, we made our way. But nature gave us back the effort we invested. We saw wild pigs, giant butterflies, hidden frogs, deers on the way under the song of birds and cicada.



The village

The village was a mix of creepy wooden shacks seemingly abandoned but from where one could hear chickens. Searching better, we finally found a gaunt old man. The man didn’t speak English and didn’t even try to communicate. The rest of the villagers were hunting in the jungle. We gave him the food and headed back to Belaga.

.