KUCHING: After months of elaborate preparation, the inaugural Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge kicked off with an enthusiastic group of adventurers.
They will walk in the footsteps of the early settlers of the highlands, who used to travel on foot between Ba Kelalan and Bario through challenging terrain and weather, amidst breathtaking mountainous landscape in the Bornean rainforest.
The eco-challengers, comprising visitors, villagers from the highlands and media practitioners will also walk past historical sites of the people living in the Maligan and Kelabit highlands between Ba Kelalan and Bario. The number of participants was kept small to reduce the impact upon the environment.
This event is organised by Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi (Formadat), a transboundary, grassroots initiative that aims to raise awareness and understanding of the highland communities in the Heart of Borneo (HoB).
It is supported by Ministry of Tourism Sarawak, Sarawak Tourism Board, Forest Department Sarawak, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Museum Department, Curtin University Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak), Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), Gantuman e-Bario, Tutum Bala e-Ba’ Kelalan, Planet Borneo Tour, Highland Paradise, WWF-Malaysia, Rurum Kelabit Sarawak and Persatuan Lun Bawang Sarawak.
The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge, the first of its kind to be held in the highlands, started from Ba Kelalan on July 25 and onwards to Pa’ Rebata, Lepo Bunga, Mount Murud (Church Camp), Long Rebpun and Pa’ Lungan, finally ending in Bario after seven days of trekking.
The ending of this event will coincide with the first day of the 10th Bario Slow Food and Cultural Festival (Pesta Nukenen dan Kebudayaan Kelabit) that will run from July 30 to Aug 1.
Formadat Malaysia leader Penghulu George Sigar, in his welcoming remarks before flagging off the participants, said he hoped the eco challenge would grow into a signature event in the Heart of Borneo that emphasises ecotourism aspects and bring benefits to local folk.
“These benefits include increased publicity on the highlands as one of the preferred ecotourism destinations in Sarawak.
“We are a rural community with a big dream for a sustainable future. This is only possible with help and support from the government and other organisations.
“We also hope that the eco challenge will provide sustainable alternative socio-economic activity for locals and increase the appreciation to maintain the natural environment for its inherent value for our people and visitors,” he said.
He added that the Second Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge will take place some time in July next year to coincide with the 11th Bario Slow Food and Cultural Festival.