“Wildlife, Longhouse & Kayak Bike Tour”
By Cycling Malaysia Magazine April 13, 2015
The adventure just started brewing. From structures to creatures, our ramble took a turn into the wild. Despite the sun ditching us the following morning and the rain taking command, attempting to call our ride off, we kept to our original game plan. We went presto to where the ‘semi-wild’ things are.
All it took us was a 30-minute drive to enter the 1613-acre Semenggoh Nature Reserve, and further in to the Semenggoh Wildlife Center, just in time for the 9.00-10.00am feeding of our ‘forest people’, reddish-orange in color.
Better known as Orangutans, our tree dwelling closest relatives, now in danger of extinction, share ~97% of the same DNA. Natives to Borneo and Sumatra—the only kind among great apes that comes from Asia—these species, 27 of them, take refuge in the center, roaming free around the thick, green forest.
A howling call greeted us on our way down the feeding area. We looked at each other, a big question mark over our faces, which our dear guide addressed almost instantly —the orangutan’s ‘long call’ to repel male rivals, especially in the presence of a sexually receptive female.
High up in tree canopies we saw large nests made out of leaves and branches, where they sleep overnight. Then we knew we were coming real close to them. True enough, just a bit further down, a barrage of tourists turned up, busy taking photos of the long-haired star going bananas over bananas.
“Turn the flash off your camera,” a ranger would remind over and over. Light showers of rain were abstracting the view from our lens zooming in on the sophisticated details of their movement, as one of the two orangutans made an umbrella out of big leaves for its head. Clever! While we were a bit drenched by the time the eco-guide took us further in to the forest.
We walked a short trail made soft by the rain and stopped by another viewing area. Two pairs of a orangutan mother and child showed up. One of the babies is named Ruby, the youngest among all. Then, we walked back to the visitor’s holding area, only to find the oldest at 44 years old, Seduku, coming down a tree, slowly walking towards us, and up the wooden ceiling beam. She stayed there overhead—a rare opportunity for visitors to be in such close proximity.
Even rarer was the chance to follow her and another walking down the road, just when the other visitors already left after the feeding session. Their physical adeptness to swinging from tree to tree made their movement on the ground very slow, but this, for us, was a good chance to observe them closely and walk alongside them, yet still keeping a safe distance. What a ‘semi-wild’ kickoff for the trip!
The Bamboo Garden was a kilometer downhill ride away, only one among other gardens that are part of the Botanical Research Center in the forest reserve. A short walk in, with cicada sounds in the background, and we were already introduced to a variety of bamboo species.
Next on our list was the Palm Garden, across the Orchidarium, which offered us a view of its wild wonders blooming in their own sunshine. Having been kept under the shade of the thick green canopies, we decided it’s time to come out under the returning sun for some adrenaline-pumping ride.
As if the sun was playing a peek-a-boo surprise on us, by the time we reached Kampung Timurang, a local Bidayuh village, through Jalan Puncak Borneo, we were already sweat-soaked and sunburned after cycling around 29km that consisted mostly of flat roads and a few occasional hills to tackle within an elevation range of 20-60m. Thank Mother Nature for the ample greenery and superb mountain views that complemented the challenge of the ride.
At the Visitor Information Center, we asked about Rafflesia bloomings, the world’s largest flower, and had some snacks and refreshments to recharge us for the miles ahead. The village is the nearest place to Kuching to view Rafflesia flowers, though they were not in full bloom yet that time. So instead, we turned the odds back in our favor, and moved on.
In less than a kilometer, we took a right turn on the dirt road, our wheels sinking into the sticky mud, to cross less than 30m long bamboo bridge. As exhilarating as it was, every step taken was all worth the ride.
Hills and heat continued to spice up the ride. Our gear shifting skills were put to test as we rode an almost nonstop up and down the hill sequence, interrupted by a ravine caused by the road that caved in after a landslide. We took an alternative route and reached Kampung Annah Rais after the grueling last 2km within an elevation range of 52-67m.
Before visiting the said longhouse, we were served with a local feast with four divine dishes: Ayam Pansuah (Chicken in Bamboo), Tapioca Leaves stir fried with Tepus, Sweet and Sour Fish and Ensabi with Black Fungus. We never felt more at home in a stranger’s house, especially after taking some beating on the road on our wheels. Even more when we were taught of how to dehull rice by using a c traditional rice pounder and, a little after, of how to winnow the rice by hand, separating loose grains from husks. Not only this, but we also got to try smoking the d Bidayuh’s traditional bamboo pipe called ‘supak’ in their dialect. Truly, they were not called the ‘Engineer of Bamboo’ for no reason. But the whole sharing was only an appetizer, as right after, we were taken to the well-preserved 6 Anna Rais Bidayuh Longhouse, one of the oldest and the nearest longhouses from Kuching.
Here, we were taken on a tour around to see villagers on their daily routine. Built almost entirely out of bamboo, the longhouse evoked a sense of peace and strength in the cracks and squeaks of the flooring. It was like stepping into a whole new world, especially when we reached the e Headhouse. And yes, there were human skulls hanging in a wire basket, which were said to belong to their foes! As once in their history, the Bidayuhs were known as fierce headhunters.
For our welcome drinks, we were served with tuak, their very own rice wine. Cheers to the glory that was the longhouse built on its well-kept traditions!
There’s no better way to end a 38.8km ride than to soak in natural hot spring! Spa, you say? Where else but the jungle!
We let the natural waters treat our tired legs, for more surprises were carried over the next day. This time, we went for some rainforest kayaking adventure!
We were quick to go the following morning after having sumptuous glutinous rice in a pitcher plant and, of course, curry, for breakfast.
We headed straight to 8 Kampung Bengoh where we get started with our paddling exploits. We took a different kind of beating this time, as we were working both our torso and arm muscles. In this quest, every stroke mattered. Class 1 and Class 2 rapids punctuated the calm rowing in the flat-quiet waters at the start. Our taste for adventure was more than satisfied as we discovered nature’s surprises along the route, including a f hidden waterfall and a cave, not to mention the limestone hills that filled our eyes. Just before we ended our rowing trip at Kampung Semadang, we took a refreshing dip in the cold mountain water by the sandy beach bank.
Our excursion into the jungle was some gripping fun. The adrenaline junkies in us were sure grinning from ear to ear at the end of it all, especially when a Sarawak traditional spa was awaiting us back in Kuching. There’s no saying no to some Tribal Remedy!
The cyclist is a curious creature. When he finds there’s nothing feeding in the wanderlust of his mind and body, he spins his wheels and goes to where the wild things are. In this 49.88km cycling and kayaking adventure, our curiosities were pampered to our heart’s content, as other cycling enthusiasts would with their fellow adventure-seeker friends.
Find out more about Paradesa Borneo’s Multiple Day Cycling Holiday.