On the way to Belaga

In the meantime we have travelled the majority of stretches by bus and decide to use the boats on the Rejang River to explore the interior of Sarawak. To reach the Sungei Rejang we first drive to Sibu where we arrange boat tickets to Kapit, climb a beautiful Chinese pagoda and are the attraction of the evening when we gather our dinner at the night market and try different dishes. Especially the desserts are in abundance and are delicious.

The following morning we leave our hotel early for a walk through Sibu and to be at the pier on time. When we arrive at around half past twelve we get the first glimpse of the ‘flying coffins’, the flying coffins that supply the express service between the various villages along the river. The boats have a super streamlined shape and a huge engine, easily reaching speeds of 60 km per hour. The air conditioning blows an icy air through the entire boat and on the video screen ten year old WWA-Wrestling videos are played which apparently is very hot in this part of Malaysia. In the coming days we would watch the  a lot of wrestling.

The ride from Sibu to Kapit takes about three hours and if we want to leave our flying coffin in Kapit people immediately start boarding and chickens, fridges, car tires are loaded from the roof of the boat while another group of men immediately starts loading the vessel with boxes again. Balancing on the narrow walkway around the boat we spot our backpacks and soaked in the sweat we leave the pier looking for a place to spend the night.

The first three hotels all seem to be full and we get the impression that they actually find it difficult to have guests around who do not speak Malay. The Gawai festival  has ended and so far we have not seen a tourist since we left Kuching. After a bit of searching we settle for a room in a slightly more expensive hotel, but there is air conditioning and a large bathroom with hot water. So it’s time to do our laundry!

In order to travel farther upstream, we need a permit from the local government. The residence office appears to have moved out of town and is too far away to walk. At the market square we jump into a mini-van that brings a number of passengers home before we arrive at the residence office. Nice sight-seeing around Kapit, which cannot be reached by car and has only a few paved roads. The permits are arranged quickly, just like a ride back to Kapit. Nobody can tell us where and when we can buy tickets for the boat to Belaga, so we head to the pier early next morning. While tickets are already being sold for a number of other destinations, there is still no one to see for Belaga. An hour later we are lucky and we get two tickets and we still have enough time for a mee-hoohn soup for breakfast. Both in Sibu and Kapit there is not much to see and do and the life of the locals on and around the river and the journey to it is the biggest attraction, but definitely an enjoyable one.

The boat to Belaga is not as busy and packed as during our previous trip. We quickly decide to follow the example of a few locals and leave our seats to climb on the roof of the boat. Enjoying a breath of fresh air while the rainforest and a single longhouse pass. On the roof of the boat one of the consequences of Borneo’s deforestation is painfully visible. The water in the river has been browned in recent years due to the erosion of the surrounding country. Age-old rainforest is taking place at a bizarre pace for palm-oil plantations and is being cut down for the timber industry. In the end, only the small patches under the care of a national park will probably be spared.