LAST Saturday was my second excursion to Telok Melano by road within a month; I have been there for a couple of times by sea, first time in 1969.
I was showing off to Australian and NZ relatives that Sarawak will eventually have a beautiful trunk road from Telok Melano to Lawas, and on to Sabah – linking two seas, the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.
I warned the visitors not to be rude, “Don’t you ever call our present road from Kuching to Miri a farm road, mates.” They chuckled, saying in unison, ‘Cool.’
“Come back and we will travel together up north in a grand style if and when the road reaches Sabah,” I assured them as I assumed the role of a tourist guide for the day.
I had promised my guests fine weather, banking on what my late mother used to say that Landas is over after the Chap Goh Mei, the Chinese Ngiling Tikai. When it rained cats and dogs that Saturday morning, I defended my ability to forecast weather conditions. It didn’t work because there had been too much partying for the previous few days. Just for the record, it did clear up a bit in the afternoon.
The moral of the story is that never promise the tourists the weather. Rather promise them clean beaches – at Telok Melano they can find one!
My guests were not disappointed with the beach though they didn’t swim. But they did not keep their opinions to themselves about the lack of basic facilities there.
So, what did we all think of Telok Melano?
The only toilet facilities available were at a homestay. For the 200 people that Saturday, this amenity was most inadequate but good business for the owner of the outfit; 30 sen to use the toilet, or 50 sen for a ‘shower’ under a rubber hose. The supposedly public toilet near the village was boarded up for repairs.
In a place publicised as a tourist attraction, we expect basic facilities like public toilets, rubbish disposal, recreational facilities for children of visitors and villagers. These things should have been ready by the time the highway was open, knowing fully well that once a new road is open to public traffic, hordes of holidaymakers will descend on anything new. And they’ll bring along something old – the bad habit of throwing rubbish any old how. Where were the bins?
The sign at KM1 did not tell you how far Sematan is from TM, nor its distance from Lundu or Kuching. To foreign tourists, this information is important. They write about little things that the locals often take for granted. They tell their friends about Sarawak’s beaches – good and bad. Handwritten warnings on cardboard with red paint gave the impression that there was no local authority to impose compliance. It’s a truism that one’s first impression of a place is the most indelible.
The Samunsam Forest is a wildlife sanctuary, out of bounds for ordinary visitors. There is no sign to say that this is strictly so, even though the new road goes right through it. We saw a vehicle from the Forest Department parked by the road. There might be forestry wardens there to catch people encroaching on the sanctuary. There should be an easily seen warning system to ensure the public will respect preservation of the flora and fauna in the area.
Swimming is not the only activity for visitors on a day trip. Some will explore the jungle around (outside the sanctuary) if there are jungle tracks. A good example is the jungle trekking at the Batang Ai Resort in Lubok Antu. Bicycle tracks are another possibility at TM.
Snorkelling is another attraction for the enthusiasts. Take fishing enthusiasts out as far as Labuan Gadong or Tanjung Datu? At the moment, there is a man who takes you out to Labuan Gadong but he’s not always available if and when he is required. Lack of coordination and organisation, is it fair to say? A boat trip to the Island of Talang Talang would be interesting but official permission is required before you get there. That would be bothersome.
Other facilities: additional power and water supplies and the Internet connection are for the authorities to think about. Not my forte. I’m sure these are being looked into by them.
More rubbish bins are required. I saw two placed opposite the landmark Telok Melano 1km and nowhere else. Not an edifying sight at all. The habit of throwing away used plastic and other trash is our bane. This habit takes a long time to stop. I don’t know when.
My guests suggested that visitors take back their rubbish home like ‘we do at home’ – trash put in plastic bags thrown into your own bins at home. Otherwise, in no time, there will be a mountain of trash at Telok Melano. That would be the beginning of the end of a place of predilection for the visitors from overseas.
We saw several four-wheel buggies driving on the beach. Vehicles are not allowed to drive on the beach, please. There is no one to enforce this. I noticed two Rela personnel, but what good did they do? Cars were parked everywhere, only a few of them in the designated parking spaces! A chaotic scene that Saturday; I hoped by Sunday things would improve.
I feel sorry for the business community at Sematan; they are losing out to Telok Melano in terms of small trade. Before the completion of that stretch of the Borneo Highway, daytrippers would normally stop at the bazaar for lunch (Sematan’s soft shell crabs, yummy). Many of them now skip the town altogether. On the way from Kuching they turn left at the junction en route to Telok Melano; on the way home they turn right. Bye-bye Sematan!
Opposite Sematan town is a promontory where Kampung Pugu is. There is brisk trading of food and drinks for visitors who come via the Lundu-Pandan road. Good road. That draws away a crowd from Sematan on a weekend. Poor Sematan Bazaar.
I have observed that whenever a new road bypasses a bazaar, that town’s business is adversely affected. Two cases will illustrate the point. Batu Kitang Bazaar, outside Kuching, was doing good business because it was the landing/departure point for a ferry and boats across the Sarawak River while the bridge was under construction. But, the bazaar was bypassed after the Batu Kitang Bridge was completed. Another case: Lundu town was booming before the bridge across the Kayan River was open to the public, but after the bridge, economic activity slackened considerably, a far cry from the time when many seafood freaks stopped at the bazaar for the crabs and prawns before they went home.
Back to TM. We’ll visit it again in half a year’s time; see what’s developed by then!
Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]