Jungle Expedition

Jungle Expedition

One of the ladies I was assigned to for the second half of my time in Bario was Tepuq Sina Do Ayu, a caring lady who made sure I was always full and fed me relentlessly. Most of my days were spent weeding her garden and pineapple farm or helping her with cooking and beading. Other than that, I relaxed and chatted with her family quite a bit.
Tepuq’s daughter, Sina Katherine was back from Miri and on her last day in Bario, she wanted to pick jungle vegetables.
That was the beginning of one of my most memorable moments in Bario.
The four of us (Tepuq Sina Do Ayu, Tepuq Do Ayo (her husband), Sina Katherine and myself) left for Arur Laab jungle before 10am. Everyone was in long pants and long sleeves. My tepuq had graciously borrowed me boots while everyone else was in shoes or slippers.
View along the way to the Arur Laab jungle.
And so we began our little expedition towards the jungle walking up and down hill, crossing Tepuq Supang’s paddy fields and finally reaching a hut where water from the dam passed through. After that, it was the overgrown rain forests of Sarawak.
The paths were narrow and we bent and climbed over tree barks. At one point, the road gave way to only tree roots where we stepped and walked on with nothing but a steep slope beneath us if we were to fall. We saw porcupine quills along the route and since it had only rained the day before, there were plenty of leeches! It wasn’t my first time seeing a leech (it was my second!) but it was my first time seeing live leeches unattached to a body.
Wriggling little creatures of hell.
Leech chilling on a leaf, waiting for the next unsuspecting victim.
By that time, some leeches had already clung onto my tepuq but she just pulled them off and chopped them up with her parang (machete) like it was nothing. I had leeches clinging on to my pants and boots but none on my skin. My tepuq even had one on her neck! I just stood there wide eyed while she nonchalantly chopped up the leech and smiled at me.
Yes, it is as badass as it sounds.
After that, I got a little paranoid and began to pat on my neck and shoulders periodically.
On our way through the forests, we had to walk across a small waterfall. It was not a problem for me as I had the boots on and could walk across with my pants still dry. However, both my tepuqs and sina insisted I step carefully on the rocks to keep even my boots dry while they treaded the water, holding my hand and got their pants wet up to their shins.
I was really moved that they cared so much for me and truly felt like I was a part of the family; like I was their precious cucu (grandchild).

Our hike into the forest continued where we kept our eyes open for dure, a type of jungle vegetable.
Dure looks like a green leaf.

That was an unhelpful but very accurate description. I was given my own little plastic bag where I could fill it with any kind of leaf that I THOUGHT was a jungle vegetable. I knew my leaves were going to be evaluated later lest I picked some poisonous or inedible leaf. :X


Our hike continued into a field of renuyun where most of the contents of my little bag came from.
A field of renuyun. The only place I could confidently pick jungle veggies!
My tepuq holding up renuyun leaves.
While plucking the leaves, I kept asking Tepuq Sina Do Ayu where were we and what we were doing in English. I was drilling the phrases “We are in the jungle” and “We are picking jungle vegetables” over and over again. She couldn’t answer me when I asked her the same questions 5 minutes later so she got Sina Katherine to help her answer instead.

After filling one basket (we had two) with renuyun and dure, we continued uphill where we saw the dam that was the source of water for Arur Dalan village.

We later went on a route that led to something like a banana garden in the middle of the jungle where the two tepuqs quickly got to work. They collected the banana flowers and the “ubud” which are smooth white piths located deep in the middle of the bark of the banana trees.

There was a Pineapple Ceremony at 2pm later that afternoon in the Bario Asal longhouse and so the older people of the group (Tepuq Sina Do Ayu and Tepuq Do Ayo, the pros) began chopping up the banana trees like crazy while the younger ones (Sina Katherine and myself, the inexperienced kids) stood watching by the side without parangs (they didn’t trust me with a knife! >=[).

They worked fast and hard so Tepuq Sina Do Ayu and I could make it back in time for the Pineapple Ceremony. Watching them work struck me again how impressive these tepuqs are. Age is not a factor. You can decide whether or not to be physically fit into your sixties or seventies. Age is just a number.
Badass tepuqs “skinning” the banana barks.
After filling our second basket, we rushed home to attend the ceremony. Unfortunately, my tepuq and I still ended up late for the Pineapple Ceremony.
Nevertheless, it was a great day. It was my first time going so deep into the jungle and also my first time picking jungle veggies! What an adventure! Throughout the escapade, I was really moved by how everyone constantly worried and reminded me to be careful. They were very patient with me taking small steps along the steep parts as I am clumsy on my feet. The tepuqs also insisted on carrying the heavy baskets all the way back home but I carried one of them anyway. 🙂
All in all, it was a wonderful day. I probably say this since I was the only one with boots (THANK YOU SO MUCH TEPUQ!) and also the only one who walked out of the jungle without any leech bites!
(From left: Sina Katherine, Tepuq Do Ayo, Tepuq Sina Do Ayu)
Tepuq and family! Peace out!

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