Friday, October 29, 2010

Tree ferns in the shade house



discovered a few more baby tree ferns (Cyathea species) in the shade house this morning. yippee! they grew on their own, must be from spores from the older tree. Sadly, the older plant is dying but its trunk has only reached a foot high and I don't know what's wrong with it. the leaf fronds just keep browning and drying up.


pictured here is one of the bigger ones, there's also a small one in the top left corner which i will have to carefully shift to a brighter spot.




tree ferns are large, beautiful ferns that can reach heights of several meters. they add a lot of beauty to a simple orchid shade house. i'll try my best to make sure every one them survive. if anyone knows why my big one is dying (new fronds brown and dry up within two or three weeks), please drop me a note!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ba’kelalan dream

I often get a little sentimental when a wonderful holiday draws to a close. The 6 days we spent in the Kelabit highlands were most memorable. I remember my time there as vividly as it was yesterday...


I hope I can get around to posting more photos taken during my trip. For now, here’s one taken on the flight back to Kuching…




As our little plane entered the Kuching airspace and began to descend, the sun too bade goodbye and slowly sunk out of sight in the west, bathing the eastern horizon in a surreal, warm glow. The bright white tops of the distant clouds too, slowly turned gray and dark from the bottom up like a stage curtain drawn at the end of a play, only upside down!


Bakelalan and Mt Murud had left lasting memories. As did Lambir, Niah and all the wonderful people we met.


Upon touch down, i knew it was time to wake up, the dream had come to an end. But i shall be lulled to sleep again soon, to dream with the beautiful Lunbawangs, the golden rice paddies, the fresh mountain air and all the natural beauty that made me appreciate just how lucky i am to live on this land, my home called Borneo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stir fried Arundina graminifolia (bamboo orchid)!

One of the most unusual dishes I had while visiting Pulong Tau National Park (Mount Murud) was stir-fried orchid flowers! Our guides collected young shoots and flowers of Arundina gaminifolia (bamboo orchid) that were growing abundantly along the logging tracks as we made our way to our first camp.



Bamboo orchid flowers collected by our guides. This would be one of the dishes at dinner!



The highland variety found here are much paler than the common lowland variety found in Kuching. The lip has much less purple and more pink with thick, white petals. Arundina graminifolia is an easily grown species which quickly colonizes open, disturbed areas with good drainage.



All cleaned and ready to be stir fried over a wood fire!



And here are the stir-fried flowers! They taste quite bitter, reminded me very much of bitter gourd leaves which I often take raw as a natural health food. Since I’m used to bitter gourd, I was able to eat a few spoonfuls of this. The locals take this flower to control high blood pressure. I suppose it could be good for controlling high blood sugar problems as well. You know what they say, most things that are good for you are often bitter.


Anyway, when I got back from Ba’kelalan, I was determined to try this dish with my own Arundina flowers. I have a few Arundina bushes of the lowland variety. This lowland variety found in Kuching have short lived flowers that last only a day but new ones bloom daily so the bushes are never ever out of flowers. Read on…



Here are some flowers I collected for my little “experiment” ha! These flowers have more purple and are more fragile (thinner, softer petals) compared to the highland variety we had for dinner in the highlands.



Into the frying pan for a quick stir fry with a bit of oil, garlic and salt obtained from the natural salt springs of Ba’kelalan.



Voila! the taste? let’s just say this will be my first and last attempt at recreating the dish we had in the highlands! LOL Perhaps it’s cause they are different varieties (or maybe we were just real hungry after a long trek in the mountains), but these left a really horrid bitter aftertaste that lingered even after I ate lots of sweet stuff to get rid of it. The flowers themselves aren’t that bitter when you first eat them, it’s the aftertaste that made me nauseous! So folks, don’t try this at home! hahaha

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ba’kalalan, bawang dotaga!


Ba’kalalan panorama. Click on picture for larger size


Bawang dotaga, “beautiful place” in the language of the Lunbawang, the people of Ba’kalalan. I suppose the name Lun Bawang also means beautiful people? And indeed they are! Beautiful, friendly and generous with smiles.


Prior to my recent visit to the Bakalalan, I had never been anywhere near the Sarawak highlands before. I had never even been to Miri except on a flight transit and that hardly counts! I spent 2 nights in Bakalalan and 3 nights in the mountains, hiking up Sarawak’s tallest mountain, Mount Murud (about 7900 ft above sea level).


On the first day in this beautiful highland village, we hiked up a small hill to get a bird’s eye view of some of the 9 villages that make up the Bakelalan community. Then, in the evening, I went for a walk and snapped some photos of the paddy fields. Kids at the nearby SK Ba’kalalan just got out from an evening class and greeted me in English, "Good Afternoon!" Some asked where I was going and some were taking photos of each other. Apparently, there was a photo workshop earlier at their school and a major photo company had sponsored some out-of-production cameras, given to the kids for free.


I was pleasantly surprised at how well they spoke English. Later found out their school is one of the best in the country, having won multiple awards including the Commonwealth good practice award.


This highland village sits at about 3000 feet above sea level and access is either by 4wd over dirt roads and logging trails or by plane. MasWings flies a 19 seater small twin otter, very much a flying bus for the local community, a few times a week from larger towns like Lawas and Miri.


The rice grown here is similar to the rice grown in Bario I was told. No fertilizers are used and the fields are fed with running mountain water throughout the year. I loved the rice so much I brought a couple of kilos back with me. There are also natural salt springs here and some villagers make their own salt, a laborious process which requires one to watch over the boiling spring water throughout the night. I got myself a kilo of this mineral rich salt. It should keep for a long time!


Ba'kalalan has left a lasting impression. It is such a beautiful, rustic place, one which I hope to visit again very soon.


More photos:


Approaching Bakalalan airport.



The small twin-otter plane that took me and my friends there…



Shortly after dropping off passengers, the plane left again loaded with rice and other farm goods. Some villagers took the opportunity of a near-empty flight to export their surplus produce to the city of Miri. Flights to another small town, Lawas is almost always full however.



Beautiful, green and gold rice fields greeted us first-timers and our hands never left our cameras!



Water buffaloes. We were told most farm work is done by hand, toiling, planting, harvesting etc. The buffaloes are probably for food (we had buffalo meat the last night we were there).



A bird’s eye view of this small highland village taken from a viewpoint not far from where we stayed.



Rice fields.



Unfortunately for the villagers, the notorious apple snail has invaded the village, eating rice plants and affecting harvests.



Beautiful scenery.



To be a kid again! Kids finding fun and joy in as simple a thing as a burst pipe.



Village kids returning from an evening class at school. These kids politely greeted me in English, “Good Afternoon!” they said. Some others asked where I was headed.



Friends taking photos of each other on a lazy afternoon…



Rolling down a slope! Fun!



hahaha, it was fun to photograph these kids having fun rolling down the slope without a care in the world. If I were to do that, I’d have rashes all over my body! :)



The Ba’kalalan apple. If I’m not mistaken, Bakalalan has the one and only apple farm in Sarawak. Harvests are made once or twice a year, with the next one coming up in about a month’s time (~ Nov 2010).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The broken tree tower, Lambir Hills NP

if you’re afraid of heights… stay grounded!


this tree tower is about 20-30 meters high. it was one of the highlight attractions i looked forward to visiting at the park. all the materials that i'd been reading prior to my visit talked about what a perfect place it was to spot birds and wildlife.



built around a tall Kapor tree (Drybalanops sp), the viewpoint at the top affords a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding valleys. However, when I got there it felt like i had all four tires punctured and deflated. the tower is in bad condition with lots of planks missing.


i thought the missing steps were the work of hooligans destroying public property (unfortunately a common problem in Malaysia)


there was no "no entry" sign, only a sign advising visitors not to climb it if they doubt their fitness or confidence. i was also not told anything about this tower and the state it is in at the info counter when i obtained the map and asked for advice.


the only sign here.


when i saw the missing planks, i thought it was cause hooligans had ripped them off! since it was one of the highlights and something i looked forward most to, i went up this tower slowly and carefully, testing each plank before putting my weight on it.


this flight of stairs has no bottom support.


the tower is quite steady except at the very top where it sways with the tree. there was a flight of stairs without any support whatsoever. it never crossed my mind it was off limits cos all i could think of then was how badly maintained it was, all the while thinking "what? i paid rm10 for this? i am so writing a complaint!!"


there is no sign the tree is dying, its crown is still green and healthy.


the tree swayed in the breeze and i quickly made my way down after a few quick snaps. i must say, my guardian angels were with me that day cos i am so thankful nothing bad happened.


missing planks at the top…


it was only after i met an MNS friend the day after that i was told the tower's no longer maintained cause the tree is supposedly dying (it looked pretty healthy and normal to me, healthy crown and all). some irresponsible person must have removed the no entry side if there was one.


it’s such a pity because the view is magnificent up there. i got some pretty nice shots but i really hope they take this thing apart and build a new one cos these towers are really great for spotting birds and getting a bird's eye view of the surroundings. a canopy walkway is also a good idea, take a page out of poring in sabah and mulu np.


also, i think the park needs to update its photocopied maps and website to reflect closed trails etc.


more photos:

the tower is built around a giant Kapor tree.



Acriopsis orchids growing on the stairs.




one of the giant branches of the tree.



view at the top.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hello again, Kuching!

Back from a really nice trip to the Sarawak highlands. here's a quick summary of our trip to miri, niah, bakalalan and gunung murud.


Lambir Hills National Park was nice, some beautiful waterfalls there! spent a night in the park and did the short but popular waterfalls trail. then got up very early the next day and went to batu niah to meet a friend for breakfast before driving to Niah National Park nearby. we spent the whole day there and left around 5pm. i was the only one who made it all the way to the last cave, the painted cave.


zipped back to miri in the evening and met another friend for dinner. then packed and left for bakalalan the next morning. we snapped photos from moment we got onto the small plane to moment we got off again, days later in miri! we felt like kids who'd never been to such a beautiful place!


kids in bakalalan speak english well, and their school puts all schools in kch and the rest of the country to shame. was told that they rose from bottom 10 or so (national ranking) to top 10 and they also won multiple awards including the commonwealth good practice award. it just shows u what a little determination and cooperation from all parties can do!


murud - i personally enjoyed this adventure very much. one of my friends had a hard time cos of leg pain but one of our guides came to his rescue by sorting out his ligaments the night before we returned back to bakalalan. otherwise we would have had to leave him behind for "kakak" to marry. :) kakak = inside term for a ghostly apparition seen at tg datu np.


on the way to murud, logging damage is extensive. u cannot point your camera at a spot and not have a logging trail in the frame. :(


joy bridge trek was the hardest n most challenging part for me cos the plank walk is almost completely destroyed so we had to walk on the ground next to the walkway. weather was bad when we reached the mountain so ground was wet and soggy and so very cold. our guides told us the people there have been waiting 3 years for the authorities to fulfill their promise to fix up the walkway or make a completely new one. they cannot do any fixing up themselves as they are prohibited from cutting any trees. ironic when all around on the way up u see logging activity.


i stripped off all my wet clothes and took a bath when i got to the church camp... at first it felt okay, then after applying soap etc and my body had started to cool down, it felt like i was hit with a giant hammer each time i poured the icy cold water onto myself! but i did it just so i can say i did it haha.


we didnt make it all the way to the top of murud cos of very bad weather conditions but that's okay. overall, it was a really fun trip for me and i look forward to flying out there again soon! oh and we met lots of nice people and got to know our fellow travelers too. for now, here are a handful of photos taken during our trip…



light shafts coming thru sink holes in the cave roof (Niah National Park).



golden rice paddies at Bakalalan.



beautiful Dendrochilum orchid at Mt. Murud.



wide logging track. these tracks crisscross the landscape on the way to Mt. Murud.



scenery along the way to Mt. Murud. lots of beautiful montane bird species. birders would have a fun time!

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