Sunday, 21 March 2010


It was still dark when I went onto the top deck for early morning tea. A number of my new friends were up, enjoying the fresh, new day. We weighed anchor a few minutes after six and headed upstream, with a spotlight trained on the near bank to help the helmsman check his position. Very soon, it was light enough to make out our progress without the spotlight. By the time we’d taken breakfast, we were passing the small town of Kanowit where we turned sharp right to enter a tributary, the Kanowit River.

View on the Kanowit River

After cruising upstream for a while, we passed a Longhouse, either new or extensively modernised, providing homes for over eighty families. The helmsman then showed his expertise by performing a U-turn where the river was only slightly wider than ‘Pandaw’ is long (55 metres). Returning downstream seemed to involve a lot more steering changes and changes in engine speed, I presume because of the reduced effectiveness of the rudder when going with the flow. Pictures along the Kanowit River are here.

When we rejoined the main river at Kanowit, the helmsman turned the ship to face upstream and very gently drifted us alongside the concrete jetty. The water level wasn’t too convenient so the crew arranged steps from the main deck down to the lowest part of the landing stage, from where concrete steps led up to road level.

View of Kanowit from our mooring

We disembarked for a walking tour of the town. Since there were around fifty of us, we were divided into two groups – odd cabin numbers with our guide Louis and even cabin numbers (including mine, 314), with our guide Henry. We started at the Hock Ann Teng Chinese temple, next to the jetty, and then made our way up the main street. The locals don’t see many tourists, so we provided the Sunday morning free entertainment for the people shopping or sitting around in one of the many ‘Coffee Shops’.

I was upset by one sight. On the pavement outside a shop were two rat traps, each containing a frightened rat. Henry said the rats are destroyers, caught eating food stocks in shops. Because of this, it’s considered fair to leave them out in then sun to suffer for a time rather than despatch them humanely.

We carried on to a large wooden building which is the traveller’s lodge. This is a place where locals may overnight cheaply before continuing a long journey. The limited facilities are communal but it’s cheap.

The water treatment station stands on the top of a small hill overlooking the town. Water is pumped from the river to the plant where it is treated by Reverse Osmosis and stored in a large water tank for distribution to the town.

Near the river bank is Fort Emma, one of the wooden forts built during the Brooks period. Fort Emma was built of wood in 1859 and has survived quite well. There’s been some recent restoration and, when I ventured upstairs, I was amazed to see its new function – there’s a fully-equipped computer learning laboratory with swish new equipment! The young man in charge explained that the laboratory had only just been completed - all the chairs retained their polythene transport covering - and that it was not quite open yet. He’s right to be proud of a wonderful facility which will bring all sorts of skills to the local community.

My pictures of Kanowit are here.

By the time we reached the boat, the water level had risen so that we had to take off shoes and socks and paddle a couple of paces through river water a few inches deep to get to the ship's ladder! As soon as we were back on the boat, we set off upstream on the main Ragang river. Pictures of this part of the river are here.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the restaurant and then, at 4.0 p.m., Louis gave an absorbing talk on the languages and customs of some of the tribes in Sarawak. A little later, we had a briefing on the next days activities.

At 7.30 p.m. we had the ‘Fusion Dinner’. The vegetable tempura was not, to my mind, a complete success - I use as a standard the marvellous tempura I had on Miyajima during my Japan trip. The cream of broccoli soup with fresh crab meat was wonderful. I then had the Honey Sake Fish with onion rice as the main course and enjoyed it, finishing off with a fruit salad and ice cream. So you see, we were not exactly starving.

The film ‘Farewell to the King’, set in Borneo, was later shown in the Lecture Room but I decided I was too tired to see it and, from what I heard the following morning, I missed nothing. Another very enjoyable day!