Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The Road to RIMBA III – Journey

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The Road to RIMBA III – Journey

This post is the third of a four-part series documenting the inaugural LKCNHM RIMBA-Sarawak project expedition, reported by the expedition leader Hwang Wei Song.

Storm clouds gathering above as we crossed Batang Ai Reservoir, Sarawak. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

Following a final intense month of preparation, the LKCNHM team were finally en route to our field site in the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary!

Overview of our journey to the field station in Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (red dotted line). Image credit: LKCNHM.

Getting to the field station – located within the depths of the Sarawak rainforest – was quite an adventure in itself.

The overland journey from Kuching (left) to Batang Ai National Park (right) took place mostly along the Trans-Borneo Highway. Image credit: LKCNHM.

The team departed from Kuching in the early morning and took a 6-hour journey to a jetty at Batang Ai National Park.

The water journey involved crossing the Batang Ai Hydroelectric Reservoir before heading up the Sungai Engkari tributary. Image credit: LKCNHM.

From there, we switched to long boats that took us across the Batang Ai Hydroelectric Reservoir – slightly larger than one-tenth the size of Singapore island, and up a narrow tributary to reach the field station.

Our most able and very friendly local ground crew that we depended heavily upon throughout the expedition. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

Boatmen and field assistants were recruited from the local Iban tribesmen to provide critical ground support. Their local knowledge and expertise were invaluable throughout the expedition.

RIMBA-Sarawak expeditions were planned by Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) to provide an avenue for the locals to generate some income while sharing the common values in conserving their native lands. Our fates were thus, invariably intertwined, and new friendships were forged.

Batang Ai Reservoir jetty with gathering dark clouds at a distance. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

The water journey was off to a hurried start, as the boatmen were anxious to cross the reservoir. Looming dark clouds were threatening to turn into a nasty thunderstorm. Long boats are crafted for navigating shallow rapids and do not travel as well on the open waters of the reservoir. If the waves get too choppy due to high winds, there was a real chance of the boats capsizing.

Halfway across Batang Ai Reservoir, rain drops began to fall as we headed towards the storm clouds. Video credit: LKCNHM.

Thankfully, the thunderstorm merely skirted the reservoir fringe and we avoided the brunt of the deluge, allowing safe passage into the Sungai Engkari tributary.

Hand signals by the foremost boatman to the longboat coxswain helped guide towards the deepest channels and avoid submerged obstacles. Video credit: LKCNHM.

The next leg of the journey upriver presented fast-flowing rapids, treacherous boulders and tight corners that the local boatmen had to skillfully navigate. The difficulty was further elevated as the boats were going upstream, against the flow of the river, as we ascended 300m in altitude.

Going full throttle upriver against the flow, also called “shooting the rapids”, takes great skill and precision. Video credit: LKCNHM.

In order to navigate the fast-moving rapids, the boatmen fashioned wooden poles to steer the boats nimbly across the torrents.

A recent treefall blocking access upriver was swiftly dispatched by many hands at work. Video credit: LKCNHM.

At areas where the waters were too shallow, everyone had to disembark and push the boat upriver. An unforeseen obstacle in the form of a fallen tree obstructed part of the river and had to be cleared by some deft chops by parang (local term for a machete).

Morning view at Nanga Talong Longhouse, after a night of much needed rest for everyone. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

After a thrillingly wet 4-hour journey upriver, we reached Nanga Talong Longhouse – the last longhouse along Sungai Engkari, and our rest-stop for the night. We were warmly hosted by the longhouse chieftain (locally referred to as Tuai Rumah), and got to experience a little of their way of life and a first taste of their local dishes.

Loading up our longboats at Nanga Talong for the final stretch of the water journey. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

Early next morning, we bade Nanga Talong farewell and set off towards our final destination: Nanga Segerak Field Station. The last leg of the journey was a 2-hour boat ride further up the head waters of Sungai Engkari. The crystal-clear water was cold to the touch, and the surrounding forests from here onwards is one of the most pristine natural areas in Sarawak with no human settlements.

A snorkelling mask is essential gear to search underwater for missing equipment. Video credit: LKCNHM.

As luck would have it, one of the longboats struck a submerged rock soon after departure, causing the propeller to be dislodged. Although parts of it were recovered, a holding pin was lost in the waters, effectively disabling the longboat. To search for a pin among loose river rocks is like the proverbial needle in a haystack. Inevitably, we had to carry on the rest of the journey with the pinless longboat in tow.

On arrival at the landing point of Nanga Segerak Field Station. Video credit: LKCNHM.

Unfazed, we managed to cruise to our final landing point without further incident. It took us one and a half days to reach Nanga Segerak Field Station, using two 4-wheel drive trucks and three longboats, shooting over countless rapids, and spending a night at a longhouse. Few places in the world are this remote nowadays.

View of the Nanga Segerak Field Station accommodations wing, a most comfortable facility amidst the lush wilderness. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

The field station served as our staging area (and home away from home) for explorations into the surrounding forests over the next two weeks. No time was wasted as we settled into our assigned rooms, had a quick lunch, whipped out our field gear, and were ready to head out into the forests by early afternoon.

Early morning view from Nanga Segerak Field Station. Photo credit: LKCNHM.

Stay tuned to our last post about the fieldwork conducted in the captivating land of howling gibbons and the most elusive Orang Utans!