Our Lemanak River Adventure in Kuching, Sarawak, began on land. Considered as one of the tributary of the main Batang Lupar River, the Lemanak River was located about 230 kilometres from Kuching City, reachable within 4-5 hours depending the speed of the driver. My friend and I were a little stretched for time so decided to take only a day trip on the Lemanak River.
We woke up early, had a quick breakfast and were waiting at the hotel lobby for our pick-up by 7am. When the mini-van arrived with our driver and tour guide, there was a couple who was joining the tour and we took off without much ado given that it was going to be a long ride to our destination. It was a relatively smooth journey, with clear skies and we had glimpses of what the countryside looked like. There were stretches of wide paddy fields, interspersed with rubber and pepper plantations. We passed by small towns and villages, and saw sago palms dotted amongst primary and secondary forest and hilly landscapes.
Just as our bottoms were beginning to feel flatten, we finally arrived at the Lemanak Jetty, where several motorized narrow wooden long boats were tethered. Climbing into one took a bit of skill, and we had to sit in single-file. The boatman at the back, our guide was in front and the four of us in the middle. These native long boats seemed to sink a little further with each passenger load. I was sitting very still as I did not want to create any imbalance that would topple us over into the cold river water. Once we were all seated and stable, the boatman started the motor and off we went. It was going to another half an hour’s trip upstream to the native Iban longhouse, our final destination on this Lemanak River Adventure.
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Our guide informed us that the Lemanak River was the main mode of transportation for the Ibans or Sea Dayaks, one of the largest ethnic groups in Sarawak, Borneo. As we traveled steadily along the meandering river, we enjoyed the cool breeze and fresh air while observing the thick, overhanging jungle foliage surrounding the riverbank. Intermittently, traditional Iban longhouses at strategic areas or bends of the river would come into view. We kept wondering which one would be ours. At certain sections of the Lemanak River, the water was fast flowing, which created some excitement for us as our long boat was navigated safely through the rapid-like waters. It did take time and experience for the boatman to be able to guide these long boats swiftly and safely along the river.
The Iban people are known for their hospitality and we were treated to their welcoming warmth upon reaching the designated longhouse on the Lemanak River. As we alighted from the long boat and headed to where the Chief of the Iban long house stood, sounds of gongs with pulsating beats and a group of colorfully costumed native Ibans came forth to greet us. A series of traditional Iban dances were performed and we were invited to join the ngajat or war dance, which involved graceful feet and swaying hand movements to the accompaniment of rhythmic music. So we did and it was hilarious!
Next we were brought to watch a cock-fighting training demonstration, without spurs, thank goodness. Although it may be fascinating for some, I was not too keen to see two roosters clobbering each other in the name of male supremacy. The blowpipe demonstration was much better. I had a go with the four-feet long blowpipe, but shooting the dart, non-poisoned of course, was easier said than done. My friend was a better shooter or blower, and managed to hit the target placed about twenty-feet away. Kudos to her!
We also had a grand tour of the long house, which comprised of multi-family living under one long roof. They must be a tolerant group of people. Their daily chores consisted of weaving baskets and mats, mending fishing nets and feeding the livestock. The Iban community invited us to participate in their chores but we politely declined. Then we tried the local native rice wine called “tuak”. It tasted sweet and had a rather nice aroma but with a potent punch to it. My advice was not to consume too much of the rice wine, especially on an empty stomach.
Regrettably, our Lemanak River Adventure had to come to an end. We said our goodbyes, got into our long boat, headed downstream to Lemanak Jetty, piled into our mini-van and journeyed back towards the direction of Kuching City. It had been a memorable experience, and for me, the highlight was the visit to the longhouse. A better choice would be to stay at least a night, providing more opportunity to immerse deeper into the lifestyle, culture and heritage of the Iban people.