Living with the Village People

 

No, not those village people.

Last week a girl I’d met at the lodge told me about a tour she was doing – a 5.5 hour trek up a mountain and two nights living in a Bidayuh village. There was one space left, so I signed up, although with more than a touch of trepidation as I’d never hiked in my life and Cambridge isn’t really known for its steep ascents. I was pretty confident I was going to die.

The actual hike up the mountain wasn’t as harrowing as I’d thought. But it was still bloody hard work – I didn’t know you could sweat from your shins. The views were incredible and there was excitement with the thin bamboo poles acting as bridges high above the rivers – a little scary, but we all made it in one piece.

During the couple of days we spent there, we got up to climb above the village to watch the sun rise over the clouds below us.

Sunrise

My photos really don’t portray quite how stunning it was. We then hiked to a waterfall and spent the day swimming, God, it was glorious. We actually got goosebumps because we were cold.

We also got to meet some of the prominent village ladies, who wear traditional dress and arm/leg rings to show their beauty. They showed us how to do their traditional dancing, which basically involved shuffling round in a circle with our arms held out.

The Bidayuh people living in the village are soon to be relocated, as a dam being built at the bottom of the mountain will flood, meaning access to the village will be impossible. That sounds awful, right? For generations this tribe has lived in the same village, hunting and growing crops up on the mountainside and their deceased relatives are buried nearby. And now they’re forced to leave and live in a completely new environment.

But when you speak to the people, they’re mostly glad for the change. Anything that want or need has to be carried up the mountain. On our way back down we saw a guy lugging a wooden TV unit up past us. If someone gets sick, or injured, they have to be carried down the mountain. The flying doctors only come for pregnant women about to pop, so if you break your leg or cut open your head you have a 4 hour hike, then a 45 minute drive before you can get to a hospital.

Plus, I imagine they won’t have nosey tourists coming to stay in their village and take photos of their children. That must be a bonus too, although they were too polite to say so.

What did you do this weekend?

I saw some orang-utans, kayaked down the Sarawak river, went in some caves, swam in the Sarawak river, swam in the sea, prepped for tomorrow’s 5.5 hour hike up a mountain to live in a Bidayuh village.

If I knew how to write ‘In your face’ in Malay, I would. But I’m not quite up to that level yet.

Apologies for short post, off to dinner soon where I’m going to eat ostrich meat stuffed with mozzarella. YEAH.

Expect a more detailed post when I’m recovering from the harrowing hiking over the next few days.

The adventure starts here (I hope).

I’m now in Kuching, Borneo after spending a couple of days in the quite-strange Kuala Lumpur. I stayed in Chinatown, which is famous for its night markets and great street food. Chinatown’s very similar to other places in S.E Asia I’ve visited, so I felt fairly comftortable there, practising my ‘no thank you’ and polite yet assertive smile. Mostly though, I slept. And watched TV in my rather lovely upgraded hotel room. I just didn’t feel excited about KL. It was merely a stopover before the real trip began.

When I finally headed away from the dingy but  charming area surrounding my hotel into central KL on my last day there, I was in for a shock. Even though I’d read about KL’s massive shopping malls and seen the skyscrapers in the distance, I wasn’t prepared for the LRT being so like the Parisian Metro system, and then coming out of the station straight into one of the glorious malls which make Westfield look like a shed. I was in absolute backpacker mode, in my Cambodian baggy knee length purple pyjama trousers and an old shirt with paint on it. I felt so self conscious next to all the chic ladies with their Chanel handbags that I nipped into Topshop (yeah I know), and bought a maxi skirt to swap them over with.

Now looking like the other tourists (baaaaa), I took a quick glance at the Petronas Towers, had a massage that involved severe pain, my knuckles being cracked and the woman attempting to sodomise me through a towel, and then I was back to prepare for my flight to Kuching.  

So, here I am. 

I’m going kayaking tomorrow morning, so maybe I’ll feel like I’ve actually got going then. Because so far it’s felt like prep for the real thing.

A high maintenance girl going feral… sort of

I’ve been described as ‘high-maintenance’ on more than one occasion. This might be because I like to drink champagne whenever possible (and in large quantities), or because I like massages and spend an inordinate proportion of my salary on them. But, probably – because it’s one of the things people first notice about one another, it’s because I like to wear pretty dresses and pearls. So my choice to spend my 6 week sabbatical (thanks Red Gate), in the Bornean jungle doing some trekking seems to have surprised a few people.

Some of my friends have delighted in seeing the unflattering and eminently practical clothes I’ve bought to hike in. I’ve even got a pair of trousers (elasticated waistband, obviously), which zip off into shorts. My housemate displayed true glee when I modelled them for her, one leg on, one off. Trying on hiking shoes last weekend, I wished someone was there to see me striding round the shop in the bulky, sludge-coloured shoes and pretty fit & flare dress.

The people who find all this just SO hard to imagine have never met Horsey Hannah.

Horsey Hannah went to Tesco in her riding gear (7 year-old muddy boots, old jeans with holes in and my boyfriend’s old XL t-shirt), and no make up and didn’t have her hair cut for over a year because her horse ate all her money. (Not literally, I just spent it all on hay. It’s a metaphor).

So as someone who’s known me all my life, I’m not at all surprised that I’m relishing the thought of getting sweaty, muddy and sunburnt. It’s how I spent most of my childhood. Only this time I’ll be getting my sandwich snatched from me by orang-utans, not Shetland ponies.

I have grown up a bit though. I’m not going to totally slum it. I’ve got 5 different sun screens, 2 of which are for my hair. And I got my eyelashes tinted so that even though I’m not wearing mascara, the photos on Facebook won’t be completely shocking.

But for the most part, I’m leaving fashion-lover Hannah behind and embracing the Hannah who wanted to be George in the Famous Five and who liked playing with frogs and snails. Let’s hope I can extend that affection to cockroaches…

It is going to pain me not having an array of pashminas and jewellery to choose from each day though.

The other day, one of my colleagues jokingly asked if I was going to wear pearls in the jungle. Now there’s an idea…