Ba’Kelalan and Bario in the Miri Division offer something different to visitors who would like to try out the homestay programmes offered here in Borneo, Sarawak. Both are unique in that they are snuggled in high altitude and the weather conditions are very favourable due to the coolness and the abundant sunshine everyday.
Ba’Kelalan & Bario Homestay is actually a new name given to the age old custom of sharing one’s home with visitors in the upland areas in Sarawak. Ever since visitors from outside started arriving at the highlands, they have always been staying with families who opened up their homes to welcome these visitors. The isolated nature of these areas and the limited accommodations available mean that visitors have to put up with some families. Visitors need not worry about families being unfamiliar with their arrival and sharing of their homes.
Accessed only by air, which is the main drawback, Ba’Kelalan is about 170km from Lawas while Bario is much closer to the Kalimantan border. Both are major towns in the northern part of the state with majority of the inhabitants being Lun Bawang and Kelabit, two of the major tribes of people collectively known as Orang Ulu (Upriver people) in Sarawak. Of course the land route is an option that only those with time, stamina and hardiness can try in hiking through rugged highlands, sleeping in makeshifts shelters and relying on stream water.
The isolated nature of Ba’Kelalan and Bario also helped preserved many of their age-old traditions like the dances, bamboo band and types of food. Padi cultivation provided the main staple food, which also became an important export commodity for the people due to the high quality rice produced. Pineapples also grow well here and are naturally sweet. Visitors will get to join in the traditional padi planting activities like harvesting, planting and land preparation, depending on the season they arrive in these settlements. Fishing, plucking vegetables from the jungle and some animal husbandry are some activities that visitors may participate in when staying here.
At Bario, the salt making process of evaporating water over a few days to get the crystals is also something to try your hands on if chance upon. The fire is kept going without stopping over the days and water from the well is continuously poured into the iron basins. The resulting salt is much priced by all the native people in Sarawak and was an important barter trading item in the past. Another interesting activity is picking wild fruits from the jungle and this provides visitors an opportunity to enjoy themselves while learning about the traditional way of life.
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