Monday, 22 March 2010


Onto the top deck for early morning tea about half past six today. At seven o'clock, the anchors were raised and we set off upstream to Kapit. There are a few pictures here. Quite a few people floated up to the top deck and there was a lot of discussion before we trooped downstairs for breakfast. After about two hours sailing we moored again, in sight of Kapit.

First view of Kapit as 'Pandaw' approaches the town

The fastest and noisiest vessels on the river are the Express Boats which roar up and down all day. We were told that we’d be using an express boat to transfer to the town and at about nine o’clock one of these improbable-looking vessels came alongside. These craft are long and thin, loooking something like an aircraft without wings. I’ve seen a similar design in use on the Yangtse River in China. We boarded through a hatch just behind the tiny cockpit. for the boat driver. The front cabin is first class and has ‘two plus two’ seating and, at the front, a modern plasma screen which can show videos. I didn’t get a chance to look at the second cabin which extends astern as far as the engine room. Since we were only going a few hundred yards to the new landing stage at Kapit, we didn’t get to experience the effect at speed with the engine screaming but, with journeys of around four hours non-stop common, it must be a bit wearing! There are a few pictures of Express Boats here.

Disembarking from the Express Boat at Kapit Landing Stage

We disembarked, in the rain, at the landing stage and walked along the waterfront, marvelling at the range of activities with goods coming off boats large and small at the various jetties. I saw a coffin standing at the edge on one pier whilst a group of men, in ordinary clothes, manoevred a wooden longboat into position. I wasn’t able to see them load the coffin, but it must have been a tricky operation.

A little further on, we came to another Brookes-era fort – Fort Sylvia, built in 1890 by Rajah Charles Brooke and now in use as a museum. These Forts were built to prevent the Iban tribe moving up-river and fighting the Orang Ulu people. There were some interesting artefacts on display and an interesting series of old photographs illustrating the complex history of the area.

Another short walk in the rain took us to a large, modern building a small part of which was in use as a town museum. There was another interesting display of artefacts used by the various communities, including Malay and the Chinese immigrants who did so much to develop commerce. There were a number of wall panels describing education, hospitals, civil works, electrification and other aspects of the infrastructure. Unfortunately, most of this information was made up twenty years ago and did not appear to have been updated since so it didn’t give an accurate idea of modern Kapit.

It was still raining as we made our way to the town centre and the modern market building where we split-up to explore the area on our own. The ground floor was the typical bewildering array of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables all sold from the ground on temporary pitches whilst the first floor had permanent stalls with shoes, clothes, fabrics and household goods. A number of coffee shops and shop units were located on the first floor. I noticed an insurance broker and a number of ladies’ hairdressers.

By this time, the rain had virtually stopped so I walked round the Chinese Temple next to the market hall and then I did a circuit of the town. In addition to all the shops, there were lots of offices and apartments, all fairly modern and, inevitably, built of reinforced concrete. It’s not the most elegant of building materials but its use has made possible the development of buildings of a size and convenience previously impossible, particularly in relatively un-developed areas. My pictures of Kapit are here.

We all met up at the landing stage at ten to twelve and re-boarded our Express Boat for the short journey back to Pandaw and lunch.

The trip was now getting more intensive and, at three oclock, we went ashore again on a different Express Boat. This time, a fleet of about eight minibuses had been provided for our journey by road to an Iban Long House. We drove, in convoy, out of the town on a road which was initially quite good but then the road surface became completely broken up and the buses were going from one side of the road to the other trying to find a reasonable track. After about half an hour, we spotted a long, wooden Longhouse nestling on a steep hillside and we pulled up in a compound surrounded by dilapidated wooden garages housing various cars and motor bikes. We were separated from the Longhouse by a river and the access was via a suspension bridge which I thought great fun. For those of a nervous disposition, a small detour led to a modern steel bridge which had been provided in connection with a project to build a completely new Longhouse. I am assured that Longhouses continue to be built because people like the community-style living.

Steep concrete steps led to the original Longhouse, raised above the ground on a forest of wooden poles. Wooden steps led up to ‘main street’, the open walkway between the two long wooden ‘sheds’ on either side forming the living and working accommodation. On entering, each visitor was invited to take a spoonful of beaten egg from the Chief’s son, who was in traditional dress, and deliberately pour it onto the ground as a ritual to bring fertility. This is an animist culture.

Inside, we passed a storage area for rice before being seated around a clear area with a number of musicians already playing gongs and a drum. Once we were all seated in the sweltering heat of the room, the dignified looking chief, in T-shirt and shorts, made a welcoming speech which Louis translated. Ritual offerings of food and salt were made ready and one of the visitors was asked to perform the ceremony under direction. The ritual finished with a live chicken being brought in and presented to the four cardinal directions. Blood sacrifice was supposed to follow but the chicken was certainly unharmed when it was carried out of the room. We were all presented with a small glass of rice wine for the traditional toast. The Chief’s son and, also in traditional attire, young grandson performed a traditional dance. One of the visitors gamely joined in at the end.

The Chief kindly invited us to visit his private quarters. The large living room was furnished with television, sound system, DVD player and satellite box but most noticeable was the photographs of family, family weddings and numerous official-looking certificates. Next was a storage area with four or five wardrobes, all of different designs, standing in a line. Partitions had been provided to make a couple of private rooms, which I surmised were for overnight foreign visitors. A spacious kitchen was provided with both bottle-gas cooking rings and a traditional wood fire cooking arrangement, a couple of washing machines and sinks. Out the back were a number of toilets with modern fittings which we were told connect to a septic tank.

Finally, we went to the weaving area where a number of the dark-haired ladies had laid out jewellery and weaving for purchase. Eventually, I bought a nice piece of weaving and asked the girl who sold it if it was her work. She pointed to an older lady who insisted it was the younger girl’s work. We then indulged in a bit of good-natured slapstick as I tried to fathom it. Louis was asked to clarify and he said ‘they both made it’. I took a picture of them both holding the weaving.

I rather think the older woman was teaching the younger one and that’s why there was confusion about who made it. It was a very instructive and enjoyable interlude and there are lots of pictures here. I was quite surprised when the Chief shook my hand on the way out. We returned to the waiting buses, running the gauntlet of numerous smiling children, and drove back to the landing stage at Kapit. The Express Boat returned us to ‘Pandaw’. Cocktails were available on the upper Deck but, instead, I elected to check e-mail and post my blog for Sunday! After a pleasant dinner with my American friends, I returned to my cabin to sort out my photographs and notes. Quite a day!