An early morning start took us quickly out of Kuching to our first stop, the Serian market. Although smaller than some of its counterparts around the world, the rich fabric of colours and scents coupled with the obvious love of food in Sarawak made me wish for a shopping bag and an available kitchen. Photos will have to do 🙂
Following a sampling of Sarawak sweet pancakes at the market, our journey continued to the Mongkos Bidayuh Longhouse and Village. Excellent coffee and tapioca wrapped in banana leaves, alongside Sarawak three layer cake greeted us before our exploration of the village began. The long house is essentially an apartment complex inhabited by a number of families with a common covered porch area running the length of the structure. Chores are ongoing in the shade and breezes on the porch as well as resting, dancing and sleeping. Floors are bamboo.
The original roof was destroyed by the Japanese in WW II and replaced by tin. Bullet holes remain in the upper walls – families survived by hiding under the longhouse. Following a Longhouse tour and narrative by our excellent local guide, our group was privileged to watch a native dance with some of us getting up and trying out a few steps. Music was provided by several large blue drum like instruments that had us all toe tapping along 🙂
The Sarawak government is very far sighted in that it offers school aged children in these rural communities free tuition and board at public schools in the state. The children stay at school during the week and go home on weekends – one result being that only the very young were present during our visit today.
School is mandatory in the state, and members of the Bidayuh community have become Doctors, Lawyers and members of government. The jungle gardens around the village are planted with rubber trees, pepper bushes, bananas, beans, rice paddies and just about every type of vegetable you can imagine. The near equatorial location plus abundant rainfall ensures year round harvests. One ominous development over the past few years has been the required implementation of irrigation systems for the pepper plantings- due to the steady increase in mean temperatures. Pepper is a main cash crop for the tribe. The large healthy plants produce black pepper and the more costly white pepper – depending on when it is picked and the curing methods – who knew?????
A planned 45 minute walk turned into double that when our group arrived at the river and found that the bridge had been washed out in an earlier heavy rain. Following game trails, negotiating some interesting bridges
and hacking some trails out of the undergrowth took us deep into the jungle and face to face with some interesting plants and fungi. Fungi are prevalent here particularly on trees and plants which have been grown on depleted ground several years after it is initially cleared in slash and burn techniques.
Our guide was a goldmine of information about the plants around us. One fern was part of my dinner tonight cooked in garlic and oyster mushroom sauce. In its raw state is it crushed and used on boils to draw out infection and speed healing. Another interesting discussion was the use of very young green banana leaves as cooking vessels. Apparently if you put a leaf like this over a fire, liquid will ooze out of it and you can cook eggs in the liquid. No need for cooking pots in the jungle 👍🏻😀 The various plants made for some interesting photo ops.
The Top Spot food court was our destination for dinner. The phrase food court brings to mind small crowded spaces ringed with artery cloggers such as MacDonalds, Wendy’s, subway etc. – all producing items that bear no real relationship to food. I approached dinner with some trepidation. What a pleasant surprise! The “Food Court” in Kuching is the size of a foot ball field with outdoor and indoor eating areas.
Rather than being surrounded by trans fat central, stalls with REAL food surrounded us. The way it works is that you choose a stall, pick your seafood and vegetable, then choose the cooking style. The results were stunning both visually and to the palate.
Tomorrow is our final day in this area. We venture out on the river in the early morning, in search of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, as well as the local crocodiles which reach 18 feet in length. I hope to spend the afternoon exploring more of the town and then a night walk is scheduled in the jungle. Stay tuned!