Thursday 14 June 2018

A Letter to Mak & Abah: From Bario with Love

This is an imaginary letter to my parents about Bario. They have never been to interior Sarawak before including the highlands, and hopefully through this imaginary letter, I can dream that they will be interested to visit Bario someday!

Dear Mak & Abah,
Hope both of you are doing great! I’m perfectly fine and enjoying the remaining days here in Bario.
I have lot to share with the two of you, and while I’m free now, I’d better write to you before I
forget the things that I want to say.
If Mak & Abah are wondering how big the Bario airport is, it isn’t. It is cute, and it is just perfect
for Bario. And the plane? Just as cute as the airport. It is called Twin Otter, and only 18 people can
fit into it at one time. Oh, and don’t be surprised that almost all the people in the airport know
each other. If they feel like chatting, there are two caf├ęs running in the airport where they can sit
down, have a drink, and catch up. One is in the airport itself, and the other is situated in front of
the airport, and both served yummy Maggi Mee curry. Yes, you read it right.
The owner of the homestay picked up us at the airport, or else we would have had to walk.
However, walking is a pretty normal mode of ‘transportation’ here in Bario unless you want to
save time and have the means to.

As we were on our way, we saw a stretch of paddy fields. This is one of my favorite views in Bario.
Somehow, when I saw the paddy, it felt ‘down-to-earth’ and heartwarming. It reminded me of your
memories that you have told me about, Mak, when you were young and you went into the paddy
fields back in the time when paddy fields still existed in kampung. I’m here to experience what you
have experienced, and it was an unforgettable moment!
I mentioned just now that the paddy fields were one of my favorite views in Bario. Another one is
the Tama Abu Range that serves as the backdrop of Bario. It is huge and looks majestic. However,
trust me when I say that it is going to take more than 10 hours to reach the top although locals
would suggest it will take around few hours. But let just stick to 10 hours, and I can already
imagine how exhausting it can be. I think I need to hit the gym first to get myself prepared before
reaching that level of hiking.
The Bario Asal Longhouse is the place at which we stayed. It is long indeed, hence the name!
Along the longhouse, you can see hearths or ‘tetel’, and each of them represents one family.

Hearth or ‘tetel’.

Our homestay is inside the longhouse, and it is called Sinah Rang Lemulun’s homestay. They
provide all three meals, and the chicken wings are the best! I wish Mak and Abah can taste it right
The other side of the Bario Asal Longhouse, also known as the Tawa’.

This is the other side of the longhouse. It consists of no tetel, but on the wall, you can see pictures
of each family and their relatives. How awesome is that? I think it is a good way to remind them
about their kinship. They not only know their own nuclear family but also their extended family!
This is also an area where they hold special occasions or Irau they call it.
In Bario, there are a few ‘special’ products that many of those who visited would buy and bring
home, namely Adan rice (more commonly known as Bario rice), pineapples and its jam, and
natural salt. With Adan rice, we can cook it and eat it as usual, but here in Bario, they often make it
into Nuba Laya or mashed rice. The rice is cooked with plenty of water, almost as if we were
cooking porridge, but it’s not quite like porridge.
The sweetness of pineapples here can’t be compared to the pineapples that we usually buy in a
supermarket. They also make the pineapples into jam which was frequently served to us during
breakfast. This jam can be homemade or processed in the small factory that the kampung owns.
Salt in Bario is acquired naturally through spring water that is harvested through a well. It takes
hours to boil the salt water until the water evaporates, and the salt crystalizes and hardens. They
will package it into bamboo stems and allow it to sit by the fire until the water completely dried
out and the salt takes the form of the bamboo stem. Then, they remove it from the bamboo, wrap
it with leaves, and it is ready to be sold! It sounds easy peasy, but it requires a lot of time, and the
process of heating has to be repeated many times. However, that is what makes the salt in Bario
so special: the cost of time and the labor that is involved. Bario salt also has a higher iodine
content than regular sea salt!
Don’t worry, I will buy a bit of everything so that you can taste it all!
I wish I could tell you every single detail of the experience that I am having here in Bario and
about Bario itself, but let me save it for when I’m back at home! A little mystery and surprise never

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