Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Suai-Nyalau Walk

Most of us gathered again for a continuation of the December Long Walk April 24-26th with the aim to complete the 25km Suai-Nyalau section we skipped back in December.

Though not all the original walkers were present, we had with us the main crew : Patricia, Ali, Rabani, Sara and Nazeri. New on the walk this time around were : Anura, CY, Clare and Rosie. Also with us were Faye and Steve, both joining us for the overnite trip but skipping the 25km walk part of the trip. Missing from the original team were : Radhika, Maye, Zeanna and Roslee.

It was great fun assembling the participants from Kuala Lumpur (CY), KK (Rabani, Ali, Pat) and Miri (the rest) in Bekenu. With different schedules, timing and lunchtimes we finally met in the middle of Bekenu roundabout 1300 hrs. A quick lunch, dash for petrol, fresh chickens and other supplies later saw us zipping along the Miri-Bintulu Coastal Highway (dubbed Highway of Terror by some uninformed and prone to dramatics reporter) in four cars towards Suai Bridge.

Almost an hour's wait at the convenience store below the bridge later we were introduced to Ramli Thomas, son of Pak Yusof Gayu, the elder Iban chap we met in Kpg Suai four months earlier. Ramli had the same gait as his father, the same frame and ardour but didn't inherit much of his dad's cheery, affable disposition. Perhaps that only will develops later towards old age, 14 children and after having lived through two wives.

Ramli quickly shred our well-planned routes and timing to bits almost as soon as we presented our maps to him.

Sg Telong: big river, infested with crocodiles, bridges have all but collapsed ages ago. There were also three rivers that looked tiny on a google map: big rivers, many crocodiles, no bridges including an extra river we didn't see on the map. Changing our route away from the coast would mean walking an extra 3 hours inland in the midst of plantation burning. It didn't help our spirit that at lunchtime we were related a story by a guy who went fishing on one of those rivers of many crocodiles whose eye-eye distance spans more than a foot across. It'd be nice to meet such a crocodile on tv but on in person.

All this even before we even begin loading our packs and gear into our intended boats to Suai!

However, Ramli was quick to re-built up our confidence with "Don't worry, crocodiles do not disturb people!". "We swim across those rivers all the time!" "You only need a tin can to make some loud noises before swimming across!" and the best of all "Just bring a long staff and stab the water once in a while!" Rebuilt our confidence he did in a way but not by much.

We collectively decided on a safer method befitting our collective adventurous spirit of the day : we'll cross all the rivers by boat! We decided not to test the ferocity of these crocodiles. Best leave that to the kampong folks and experts only. Folks used to living with crocodiles as their neighbours have built a healthy respect for the animal ... phrase such as "they don't disturb kampong people" and "they know us" are commonly heard during conversations revolving around crocodiles. Of course getting first hand evidence to negate or prove this only comes about when it's a little too late for a change of heart.

We hopped on the boats and continued our journey to Kampung Kuala Suai after thanking Ramli for all his timely advise, and assurances of warm reception by the villagers. He provided us Riza (Ramli's own son) and Zakaria (Pak Yusof's son) as his envoy to take us to the village. The Tuai Kampong was away on business, it was Ramli's prerogative to ensure our visit was a memorable one.

The mighty Suai was quiet when our boats journeyed along it. Several kingfishers, egrets (Little Egrets and Great Egrets), large monitor lizards and a couple of juvenile crocodiles were all that was sighted along the way. We did notice huge tracks of cleared forests as a result of alleged illegal logging as well as clearing of large tracks of land for oil palm plantation. Weeks before the whole of Suai and Niah was enveloped in a thick smoke coming from massive land clearing efforts in the area.

Burning up of Suai, this took place a week before our journey.

Kpg Kuala Suai at low tide.

Early morning at the estuary of Sg Suai.

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