Location : Bintulu town, Bintulu District, Kapit Division, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Although Belaga town was only 37km from the Bakun road junction, the drive took us about an hour. Pretty scary for first timer as the narrow roller coaster road was full of potholes.
There were no signages as we approached the town and had to stop to ask for direction. I came to Belaga with a sense of nostalgia and a high expectation after 30 years since my last visit. As I drove around town looking for a hotel I felt disappointed. Except for some additional rows of shophouses, district office, a fresh market and a diesel power station, nothing impressed. The least I expected was a decent concrete waterfront to relax and watch the Balui river flow by.
There is a large community of Malays among the mostly Chinese in the town and mixed native groups. These Malays are descendants of olden day Brunei barter traders who married the local natives and chose to stay back.
The Belaga Hotel where I once stayed at was still standing and the daily life of Belaga was still pretty much the same The Kenyah/Kayan ladies still had their beautiful beaded ’bak’ or baby carriers to carry their babies around as they shopped.
The antique shop owned by Kapitan Neo where I bought some bags had become a ‘mixed’ shop selling noodle, coffee, ammunitions and left over antiques. His 2 sons now manage the shop. I enquired with one shop owner about the fate of the huge bearded pig that was caged near the riverbank. He said it escaped during a flood and someone shot it. The price of freedom was not sweet after all.
The next morning, we walked over to a Malay coffeeshop by the river to watch how the durian business was transacted here. As we drank our coffee more and more boats came to deliver durians. Luckily for these villagers, there were 3 very eager Pakistanis who were willing to buy up everything they had. These guys could make a handsome profit in Bintulu with a truck full.
We had to say goodbye to this riverine town early as we needed to visit some longhouses before we checked into Bintulu for the night. Belaga will always have a special place in my heart being my first adventure into the interior of Borneo. Back then we had no other choice but to use the wooden cargo boats from Kapit up the Rejang and Balui rivers in order to come here. Shooting up the Pelagus rapids was such an unforgettable thrill with the breeze in the face as I sat on the bow watching the boat maneuver carefully across the rocky waters. Awesome skipper. Next …..village hopping along the Balui River
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