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Exploring eco-tourism potential of Ulu Katibas

by Peter Sibon, Posted on December 15, 2013, Sunday

JUST GREAT: Giving the thumps-up before leaving the camp site.

COOL: Tengku (right) and his friends taking a break from a fishing trip in Ulu Katibas.

IT was pouring as soon as our expressboat reached Song one early Friday morning – a letdown of sorts since we had been looking forward to fine weather in our quest for the ultimate adventure in Ulu Katibas.

Our coordinator Tengku Gruna who had been planning the trip to explore the eco-tourism potential of this locale for almost a month, was naturally disappointed but he quickly put damper the behind him by taking us to breakfast at Song’s only café, built on stilts atop a fish pond.

After a hearty breakfast of fried kuay tiaw and bee hun, we were shown to a teacher’s house where we made final preparations for spending a whole night deep in the jungles of Ulu Katibas.

At that point, Tengku did not say much about the trip other than telling us to bring along basic necessities such as jackets, sleeping bags, long-sleeved shirts and a good pair of trekking shoes.

He had informed me much earlier he was not supposed to disclose the details as doing so is considered taboo among the Ibans – especially when it comes to hunting and fishing in the jungle – for fear the trip may end in failure. And as Bidayuhs, we too have similar unwritten rules.

After a short briefing, the 13 of us were divided into two teams packed into a 4WD vehicle each. Our destination was three and a half hours away via logging road to Ulu Katibas plus another two hours drive to the furthest longhouse adjacent to the renowned Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.

On reaching our rendezvous point, we again split into two groups – one taking the right junction and the other the left. My group took the right junction. Tengku then informed us we would meet up with the rest later that night.

My group consisted of Tengku himself, one shooter, the 4WD driver and Tengku’s three engineer guests from Kuching – TKY Consultant Sdn Bhd’s director Ivanson Kwee, Chua Yan Heng and Su Kwok Tung.

As the 4WD backseat was too cramped for four persons, I opted instead to sit next to the shooter on the uncovered bedding, and held on to the side bars. For obvious reasons, the shooter sat at the back – he needed a clear view of his targets that may suddenly emerge from the dense vegetation on both flanks.

Along the way to the furthest longhouse in Ulu Katibas and of Song District, our shooter missed two chances of bringing down his quarries. The game he was hunting were very alert and fast and would disappear into the jungle in a flash – with the shooter in pursuit. Each time he missed his chance, he would apologise to us.

THRIVING: These wild orchids thrive in Ulu Katibas.

EYE-CATCHING: Butterflies gathering on a riverbank at Ulu Ketibas make for a pleasant sight.

After a two-hour journey, we stopped for a break and had a dinner of white rice and two cans of preserved food. The meal was simple, yet tasty and satisfying.

“This kind of adventure – to experience the wilderness and explore the eco-tourism potential – is what I want to do here in Ulu Katibas so that tourists will have the chance to see live animals in the wild,” Tengku finally broke his silence on the purpose of the trip.

As we were quietly having dinner, someone in our midst said he was hoping to have exotic meat for the next meal. It was perhaps wishful thinking because deep down, we knew the chances of getting anything like that were pretty slim.

And true enough, at 1am on Saturday, after hours of hunting, we all felt exhausted and decided to call it off and returned to our rendezvous point to set up camp for the night at an abandoned logging garage.

Except for two small mammals, there wasn’t any exotic meat to be had. So for most part of the meal, we settled for instant noodles – before bedding down.

It was very cold and windy in the spacious abandoned garage despite a burning campfire. As my clothing, especially the jacket, were wet due to the drizzle on the way back to camp, I was not having the best of nights, waking up twice in a span of two hours owing, I suspect, to hypothermia. However, I managed to bear with it and didn’t wake anyone up because I knew all of them were tired and fast asleep.

Trying to stay alive, I flashed two decades back to a survival-training stint at an outward-bound school at Pulau Ubin, Singapore, where I was a trainee-instructor. In retrospect, it was the application of the handy life skills I picked up at the time that saved me from the cold and damp that night.

The other group comprising experienced hunters decided to go hunting and fishing and only returned at about 3am. They too told us about their many missed chances at bringing back to camp the exotic meat we were hoping (against hope) to have – how they came close to shooting a huge deer and some wild boars. But they made up for drawing a blank in the jungle by catching more than 20kg of fish, mostly semah, in the crystal clear river.

The next day, we woke up at first light and a teacher named Nawang Budi from SMK Song was kind enough to prepare breakfast for us.

After breaking camp, we regrouped at our rendezvous point and before pushing off, had a cold morning dip in the nearby river – which was, indeed, refreshing after a day and night without a wash.

While we were having our bath, a companion volunteered to cook a big semah for us while a few others prepared to barbeque the smaller fish. The experience of having freshly cooked semah and barbequed semah provided some consolation to a very frustrating and unsuccessful hunting trip.

Surprisingly, Tengku’s three guests from Kuching whom I interviewed before we departed for Sibu Airport all gave the thumps up for the trip.

Su (Kwok Tung) said although exhausting, the trip was “quite adventurous.”

“I will recommend this kind of adventure if a proper sleeping place could be arranged. Moreover, the hunting trip which lasted until early morning, was a bit too long,” the 24-year-old pointed out.

On the other hand, his superior (Ivanson) Kwee described the trip as actually quite fun, saying he had gone through worse while conducting preliminary studies on the Bakun HEP project in the early 90’s.

“This is my first hunting trip and I found it very exciting, especially having fresh semah cooked with just salt and water. Overall, I think the arrangements could be improved to make the trip more enjoyable and memorable.”

He suggested encouraging visitors to go fishing as it would give them more excitement, especially over the first-hand experience of harpooning a fish.

Meanwhile, Chua (Yan Heng), who is also a consultant, said at first, he thought the trip was boring but after the experience of sleeping out in the wilderness and joining the hunting trip, it turned out to be a real eye opener.

“Tourists will have a more enjoyable experience if given the chance to either fish or hunt instead of just sitting in the 4WD,” he said.

He is happy to see for himself the pristine flora and fauna during the trip and hopes to bring along his friends and even family members in the future.

Tengku who is also a political secretary to the Chief Minister, hopes to tap the eco-tourism potential of Ulu Katibas as he believes the area has immense possibilities for exploring culture, adventure and Nature. And he intends to incorporate them into his future plans for Ulu Katibas.

“Why not? After all, CAN (culture, adventure and Nature) is already a well-known acronym for a special brand of tourism that lures visitors to the deep interior of the state.

“We have beautiful and crystal clear rivers where we can fish for semah and other exotic species. We also have beautiful scenery of mountains and forests where we can still hunt wild animals.

“This will definitely be a big plus. And I intend to cap it with the cultures of the local longhouse community so that they too will benefit from this kind of activities,” he enthused.

Tengku also hopes to start rafting activities in the Katibas River soon to further boost the eco-tourism potential of Song.

As for local residents such as Nawang and his friend Antai Boing, a teacher from Kampung Segong, Singai, Bau, but has lived in Song for the last 20 years, they have made hunting and fishing a favourite weekend pastime.

“At times, especially when the weather is fine, we can catch as many as 200 to 300kg of Semah. We consider this trip unsuccessful because we only caught slightly over 20kg,” he noted.

Asked what were they going to do with so many fish, Antai said they would normally share them with friends and relatives.

“We never sell our catch because whatever we catch is only for our own consumption. We never tire of having semah for our meals,” he confessed.

GOT ONE: Nawang with a speared fish in hand.

SAVOURY: Barbequed semahs are tasty and sweet.

BASIC: Our driver cooking semah with just salt and water.

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