Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Month In Borneo

I Must Be Dreaming
Birthday surprise.
Crystal Blues is anchored on the very peaceful Sungai Tulai, and the sun is just peeping through the open hatches.  I'm still sleeping when I hear a choir of sweet young voices singing (very quietly) "Happy Birthday."  Of course I think I'm dreaming, so I lay in bed, sleeping, drifting off.  Then the choir starts up again, a little louder, and through the fog I realise - this is for real ! The singing is coming from the cockpit !  I stumble out of bed and through sleepy eyes I see nine children, a stack of gifts and a beautiful cake with candles burning.  After blowing out the candles, and opening the gifts, the children paddle home in their canoes.  What a fantastic way to start our birthday !

Then I turn on the computer.  As soon as Skype loads birthday messages and calls come flooding in.  Gary and Sue on SV Yaringa made a quick video call from Japan, just before they depart on passage to Alaska.  Our Seirra Wireless modem and the Celcom data card is provividng excellent service up here in the jungle. I quickly emailed some of the birthday images to Neil, who is still in Singapore.  Our birthdays will be spent apart, as Neil flew back to India and Singapore for a week of work.

Jungle Barbecue

Kikki and Betty preparing the middin fern
Jabu and Chanda suggested a barbecue in the jungle one afternoon and invited all the cruisers.  A children's committee was formed, menu and costings were calculated.  Coconut rice in bamboo, hot dogs, marinated chicken wings, fish bits, sausages and midden fern were on the menu.  I added an Aussie touch with potatoes in foil, cooked in the coals.  Next morning we speed off in the dinghy to purchase the supplies and others prepared the barbecue area and cut down the bamboo for the rice.
Two fires were prepared, one for the grill, one for the bamboo rice and potatoes.  While the food was cooking Jabu, Beretin and Dominic took the cruisers to explore the jungle.  The boys showed us large Nepenthes, (insect eating Pitcher plants), hanging orchids, birds nest ferns and many tall native fruit trees.  We arrived back as the food was being served on large green leaves.  Everyone agreed that it was a great adventure.
New reading glasses and big smiles!

Reading Glasses R Us

Kikii from SV Endelig and we on Crystal Blues had been collecting reading glasses and sun glasses.  One evening whilst visiting the long house we asked for a book and distributed the glasses.  Then we sat back as glasses were tested.  Eventually all those who needed new reading glasses found a suitable pair.  Our Iban friends will often "go without" with no complaints, but are happy to accept when the spirit is right.

Rubber Tapping Iban Style 
Jampie collecting the latex
Although this was our fifth visit to the longhouse, we had never visited a rubber plantation.  This year our good friend Jampie asked us if we would like to go and watch him tap and collect the white, silky latex.  Robert and Elaine (SV Sunrise) joined Ley and the kids early one morning to watch Jampie.  We saw the simple tool that is used to just skim open the the bark each morning.  He carefully poured the collected latex into a bottle and then turned over each cup so that the mosquitoes could not breed in them.     
Jentang and Asat rolling out the rubber.

The latex is then taken back to the long house and mixed with a coagulating chemical (an acid), left to firm up and then pressed out into rubber slabs.  These are then dried and sold off to the traders in town. Even after four years of visiting Rumah Lidam, we are still amazed by their culture and life skills.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Borneo River Action

Our Caribe "car" with a load of Iban visitors
We always think of our inflatable dinghy as our "car".  Here in Borneo, on the river Sungai Tulai, it is the quickest way for us to get to town, and really the only way to move around - visiting the long houses or bringing visitors to our boat.  Built by Caribe in Venezuela, it's now ten years old and still going strong.  On our last visit here the Caribe carried a mother in labour to hospital - and that child was named after Ley.  Last week it carried a badly injured young man to the same hospital, after he was involved in an accident in the longhouse.  Bleeding badly, he was carried from the longhouse in a woven sling under a stout pole and loaded onto the floor.  We hear that he survived, but may not have use of his fingers.

Local Boats 
Our Iban friend Jampie made his own boat 5 years ago.  He went into the jungle, cut the tree down and then cut the timber into long planks.  These were left to dry out and then he built his boat.  That tradition continues, though this year we were surprised to see new styles emerging - boats clearly built for speed.  This year, the young men are building small racing boats, practicing for a competitive regatta to be held on the river in July.  Though the designs are new, they're assembled with the same skills used by their fathers.  
 Each boat uses a small (standard) chinese manufactured petrol engine, air cooled with a single cylinder. Propeller selection and hull shape seems to be up to the builder.  Every day this week they've been carried down to the river and tested, sometimes with dramatic results. Iban boats are usually steered by a single paddle, held over the side.  These new boats have rudimentary rudders with a basic rope steering system.  These afternoon practice sessions are great entertainment for the locals - big and small, old and young, the community crowds the dock, offering words of encouragement and helpful suggestions. There is always alot of laughter. Neil uses our dinghy as the "crash" boat.  He has towed a few boats back to the dock and was instrumental in one rescue where the driver flew out of his boat whilst turning too sharply.  The boat sped off into the jungle along the riverbank.  It was totally hidden in the undergrowth and a machete was called for to hack a path into it.  All the time the engine was roaring away - no safety cut out switches here. 

Glamour For The Girls
There are three yachts now visiting the longhouses here on Sungai Tulai for the Gawai festival.  Yesterday afternoon the three cruising women decided to add a bit of glamour for the local girls.  They gathered up nail files, polish, polish remover and a splash of perfume, and headed into the long house.                                                                        
Ley gave a quick talk on  manicure and nail polishing techniques.  Nails were cleaned and filed, cuticles pushed down and then the painting began. One coat of clear base, two coats of colour and then two top protective coats - all in fairly rapid succession.  Extreme speed nail painting followed, but we all had a great time and many beautifully manicured hands were seen in the long house that evening. Many thanks to Kikki from SV Endelig and Christina from SV Roxy for helping hands and the perfume.