MIRI: Going on a vacation without any pre-planned itinerary to South Asia and South East Asia countries turned out to be the best back-packing trip for Polish traveller Aleksandra Nowak.
Embarking on her long trip in October last year after saving for three years, Nowak made her first stop in India and thereafter to Nepal before returning to India for more exploration.
She continued her journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines before reaching Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“What was supposed to be several days in Kuala Lumpur before my last stop in Thailand turned out to be more than a month after I visited the National Museum. I was deeply attracted to the mysterious yet beautiful Sarawak and its people. I made a last minute change of plan, bought a ticket and everything started from there,” Nowak said when sharing her travel story with The Borneo Post recently.
Considering herself more of a traveller than a tourist, Nowak decided to do some deep exploration during her trip.
“When I was at the museum, I read about the old ethnic people, the tattoos, hole in their ears. The picture displayed was so amazing that I like to see them myself.”
Nowak arrived in Kuching, did some sightseeing and hitch-hiked to Sri Aman, Kapit, Belaga and finally to Miri.
Once she arrived in Sarawak, Nowak shared, one of the very first things that amazed her was ‘sape’.
“I was at a gallery and did some reading about ‘sape’. I also happened to cross paths with a talented Kelabit young lady from Bario who plays sape. She invited me to hear her sape performance. I am truly happy that I accepted the invitation, the performance was so beautiful,” Nowak said, describing herself as a happy child enjoying the first sape performance in her life.
Preferring to travel alone to places, either walking or hitching a ride from strangers, Nowak feels that Sarawak is a safe place for a female traveller.
“People say India is a dangerous place. But having been there twice, I really thought that it is not as scary as what people have said. At least, I managed it during the two times I was there.”
Nowak added that in Sarawak, the people are shy but nice. It could be because she was a foreign visitor and they were showing politeness and respect.
Nowak would first consider the availability of transportation before visiting places.
“To be honest, the choice of transportation is not much. There are places such as Mulu and Bario that can only be reached via plane, which is too expensive. While taxi is also out of question due to expensive fare, my only option to get to places would be the public bus. This alone poses a huge problem, thus backpackers hope the government could come up with a good solution,” she said, adding that she was grateful that there were nice local strangers who gave her a ride along the way.
Accommodation is easy for her, as there are cheap hotels everywhere.
“Backpackers would choose a cheaper option because we are travelling on budget, thus so far, I have had no problem deciding on that,” she said.
One of the most memorable moments during her trip here was when she travelled from Kapit to Belaga.
“It amazed me that the Rajang River is called the Amazon of Borneo. People here told me that the river was still clean and clear 20 years ago. Due to trading, it has changed into tea milk colour, despite being an important water source to some locals living nearby. It was amazing yet worrying.”
Sailing along the river on a boat, Nowak enjoyed the journey, observing the landscape and scenery which she may not able to see anywhere else.
Upon arriving at Belaga, she had a three-day two-night stay at a longhouse there, where she was truly amazed by the people and their culture.
“The quiet place is surrounded by trees and the people have a laid-back life. Their daily activity evolves being with people, interacting with each other and with nature. This is much more than what the usual longhouse trip tourists are usually brought to and I felt lucky to be able to experience the real thing,” she said.
Nowak’s plan to continue to explore Bario had to be put on hold when she accidentally sprained her leg.
She ended up staying longer in Miri to recover from the injury before flying to Thailand in early April to attend a wedding.
“The time when I hitched a ride with S4S envoy travelling from Sri Aman to Kapit was one of the best rides I was lucky to have. The people were generous enough to share not only their ride, but also the many interesting stories about Sarawak,” she recalled.
Nowak noted that it would be hard to learn about Sarawak during a short stay here, because there are simply too many things that await travellers to explore.
“I even shared my story, which was written in Polish, on my Facebook page as well as my newly setup blog so that I could carefully jot down those memories I’ve had here. I hope it could greatly inspire and encourage those who want to come here, but hesitant to do so, to embark on a trip here,” she said.