Villagers are slowly appearing behind open doors of wooden houses. Roosters sing repeating songs and cats roam around, occasionally showing a fight or an act of love. This is Annah Rais village, so near town, so easily reached by road, yet so much a world apart. Staff looks like a really nice, quiet guy; he tights his knife holder around his waist, lights a cigarette and prompts us to start the walk.
We leave the village small lanes and enter a muddy terrain, climbing steps made up of bamboo branches. The ascent is steep. The undergrowth around us is so full of humus, with vast forests of amazingly tall and thick bamboo and the occasional ferns and palms. Sweat runs copiously from my head and from every pore of my body, and we are forced to make several stops in order to rehydrate. Staff uses his machete skilfully to make walking sticks out of bamboo for us to aide our walk, and we surely appreciate it!
As the vegetation gets denser and the humidity higher, we slowly start to realize the challenge of walking along these leech-infested paths. It is advisable to wear long trousers and proper socks in order to avoid the bloodsuckers banqueting with your vital juice. Also, remember to carry plenty of water supply even if your guide carries some for you. You will use it!
Staff occasionally clears the path with his sharp machete, moving falling bamboo branches, logs and overhanging vegetation. He tells us these paths are used only by local farmers to reach their cultivations of tapioca, banana and various other vegetables. We cross craftily-made bamboo bridges over suspended small streams, and occasionally stop to observe and take a picture of colourful wild flowers, orchids, pitcher plants and unique mushrooms, with only the sound of nature accompanying us.
We keep on walking for about two hours; the last section of the track is so wet from the night rain that our boots sink in the muddy terrain, making us loose balance. The reward is indeed worth the effort: the three-tiered waterfall has jumps of at least 30 meters each, the last two discharging water in natural ponds that call for a dip!
Staff makes camp, lights a fire and cuts huge chunks of hollow bamboo branches in which he places the chicken he has carried from home together with stems of various ferns and palms picked up during the walk, closing the top with fresh leaves and placing the natural container right inside the fire.
Meanwhile I climb to the upper tier, take off my soaking wet clothes, place them to dry on a sun-hit stone and free my ankles from small sucking leeches clinging to my skin and hiding inside my shoes. Job done, I enjoy a dip in the cold, refreshing pond. I then decide to daringly sit on a wet stone right below the waterfall and linger a while under the powerful wall of water hitting my back. The impact is so violent that I cannot bear more than a few minutes in that position.
Happy and refreshed, I sit on a moss-covered stone to dry myself under the scorching sun, disturbed only by the sudden call from Staff: lunch is served. We sit on a bench made of bamboo and eat generous servings of rice in banana leaves, chicken and palm hearts cooked in bamboo and boiled tapioca leaves. Delicious!
The walk back is a bit of a photocopy of the walk there, only we walk faster with a fewer stops. By the time we reach back Annah Rais, where Miss Karum receives us with a smile and a couple of ice cold beers, 7 hours have passed! We are exhausted but so happy to have achieved a wonderful adventure in the foot of the ancient Borneo mountains: a trek to the waterfall!
Special thanks go to Karum Bidayuh Homestay and to Staff (a few shots of rice wine that evening made him more than happy!). We highly recommend this tour; yet, if you are about to embark on this adventure, please remember that a few people walk half of the way and decide to walk back… The hike lasts 2 hours each way and it is de-man-ding. The weather is hot and humid and the copious sweating can take its toll, especially on a hot day. The ascents/descents are steep. If you are concerned, you are not physically fit enough, you are not used to trekking in the jungle or have a medical condition, ask Miss Karum to arrange a car to cover at least half of the trek and leave you to a nearer starting point, or opt to nearby hot springs, still a nice experience but not so hard.
For information and bookings, contact Miss Karum or Jenny at Karum Bidayuh Homestay
tel. (+60) 0168981675
or check their website at www.longhouseinborneo.com