By Norshazlina Nor'azman
BARIO (Sarawak) (Bernama) -- The 50 minute flight to Bario from Miri in the tiny "Twin-Otter" plane was one experience that this author would not forget.
Flying at 7,500 feet in the air, the slightest of turbulence could be felt in the cabin. It was certainly a bumpy and fearful ride.
However, as for the locals who have become used to the uncomfortable ride it was just another day in their routine travel in and out of the town.
The plane flies twice a day, from either Miri or Marudi.
SMALL PLANES PROVIDE A DIFFERENT FLYING EXPERINCE
The MasWing plane that can fit 19 passengers at a time is the only quick mode of transportation to the land of the Kelabits. For those looking for a challenge, the highland is also accessible via the logging track.
However, keep in mind that the winding road are also the ones taken by timber lorries. One would need a four-wheel drive to traverse the path and the trip from Miri to Bario will take around 12 hours.
Although flying may seem like a better choice, one must bear in mind that riding the Twin Otter is not as comfortable as flying in a jetliner. Its seats are reminiscent in size to those of the once popular "Bas Mini".
The open cockpit allows passengers to view the pilot's movements.
Passengers are only allowed to bring with them cabin baggage not exceeding 10kg and a hand-carry item not exceeding 5kg.
In fact, when checking in at the airport, it is not only the luggage that is weighed. Passengers too have to step on the scale so that the total weight carried onboard could be recorded.
The writer recently had the chance to travel to Bario along with several other media practitioners, under the Kembara Media 1Malaysia programme organised by the Information Department.
A SUSPENSEFUL TRIP
The flight from Miri to Bario was initially delayed for an hour because "the clouds have not parted yet", preventing the control tower from assessing weather conditions.
Inspite of the on and off bone-shaking ride due to turbulence, the low altitude flight enabled the writer to enjoy the view of the lush forests and majestic mountains.
However, the return journey was not as forgiving because the plane was subjected to heavy rain and strong winds.
The writer, who is prone to motion sickness, could only contend with the nausea she felt amidst the turbulence.
However, the pilot skillfully managed a smooth landing, despite the bad weather.
And once the plane landed on terra firma, it was a different experience.
Bario offers something for the challenge seekers as well as those looking for a quiet getaway.
In the Kelabit language, Bario means "wind". True to its name, the highland that stands at 1,150 metres above sea level is always cool and windy.
The thick forests and tall mountains surrounding Bario contribute to the perennially cool weather. In fact, one of the mountains surrounding the undulating landscape is Sarawak's tallest mountain, the 2,423-metre tall Gunung Murud.
In the daytime, the temperature is around 24 degrees Celsius but can drop to 16 degrees Celsius come night time. Warm clothing is necessary to ensure comfort.
The chill can even be felt in the pipe water, which is cold as ice. There is no electricity supply to the area so water heaters are out of the question.
The people of Bario use generators to generate electricity when necessary. Some have also installed solar panels.
Not all communication lines can be used in the area, either. There are four public telephones servicing the area, including the ones at the airport and school.
A COMFORTABLE HOMESTAY
Accommodation is not a problem here. Bario offers a variety of village homestay boarding at reasonable rates.
At many homestays, the usage of the diesel generator is allowed only between 5.00pm and 7.00am daily.
However, that is a minor trade-off compared with the breathtaking view of forests, mountains and paddy fields.
Although 95 per cent of the people of Bario are Christians, there are also homestays provided by a Muslim family that provide traditional halal food.
The Zara Lounge owned by Amy Fazidah Mustapha, 36, or the Mustapha Lodge owned by her father is located near the airstrip.
Visitors can also hire the locals as tourist guides to take them on four-wheel drives to interesting and challenging locations.
RICE AND PINEAPPLE
The famous, low-starch and organically grown Bario rice originates from here, and visitors like to bring back a small bag of rice with them as souvenir.
The texture of the grains is smaller than the average rice grain. When cooked, the rice tends to be rather sticky but is softer and more fragrant than the common rice grain.
Besides the omission of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the water used for irrigation at the rice fields are also from a pure source - the mountains.
Bario is also popular for its sweet and delicious pineapples. There are some 30 pineapple plantations there, most of them planted in mountainous regions.
A couple from Sydney, Australia John Martens, 52, and Delia Martens, 52, said they were amazed at the beauty and uniqueness of Bario, which they had yet to see anywhere else.
"In Bario, everything is lovely and interesting. The people, the nature and the food, everything is wonderful," said the couple who stayed at "The Ngimat Ayu House", here.
Like said by the Deputy Director of the Information Department of Sarawak Zaini Mohamad, Bario is definitely worth exploring.