Whenever the word “apple” springs out, among the first things that come to my mind are usually, “Washington”, “Pies” or “Snow White”. Well, that’s just me being random. But all that has definitely changed. Say apple to me now and it’ll take me straight to Ba’kelalan.
Some may go “say what?” in response (like I did the first time), and some may go, “oohh, where’s that?” and only a few would say, “been there done that”. It is so remote and you have to take 2 flights to get there. First to Miri, then to Ba’kelalan by taking the Twin-Otter 15 seater MASwing aircraft (www.maswings.com.my). It is located near the Indonesian Kalimantan border and you could see a hell of a view on your way there. Cameras flashed like no one’s business even though the journey was bumpy, with the pilots trying to maneuver our cute little plane from hitting any thick clouds. All of us just wanted to eternalize the bird’s view of the greenery, the Mount Murud, the neat structured palm oil farm and the incredible unpolluted blue sky that looked like a painting.
We landed after 55 minutes of flying and were warmly greeted by a big group of the Lun Bawang tribe, whistling flutes to the local tunes. All were clad in black and yellow traditional attire which starkly stood out against the mountains and the sky. The name Ba’kelalan brings the word Ba’ which means wet lands in the Lun Bawang language and Kelalan is derived from the Kelalan River.
We checked ourselves in the lodge which only took us 30 steps away from the airway. Convenient indeed! The Apple Lodge homestay consists of a vast dining area, a hall with a set of TV in it, a kitchen, private and shared bathrooms, and rows of rooms that only includes the necessities; beds and a table. Yes, that is all. We gon’ go back to basic yo! And that’s Ba’kelalan way! But fret not because you wouldn’t be staying in the room that much anyway when there’s so much to see outside!
The beautiful Ba'kelalan ladies donning their traditional attire.
The main and a must-go place is of course its apple farm. Thanks to the cooling climate, it is now the first apple farm in Malaysia to grow the fruit on a commercial scale. The apple orchard is harvested twice a year and has two thousand apple trees. It is run by a 75-year old former pastor Tagal Paran, whom we refer to as Pak Tagal, a man who is always with his smile on. Anyhow, back to the apples, they’ve got about seven varieties of apples which are the 'Ba Kelalan Apple' or famously known as Manalagi, Rome Beauty, Tropical Beauty, Lady Williams, Anna, Kwanglin and Jonathan.
The famous Manalagi Ba'kelalan apples.
Pak Tagal and his Rome Beauty Apple.
Among other activities we managed to see was the processing of the salt. After scooping the salty water out from the well, they cook the water for exactly 24 hours until it dries out and...
We also stopped by three villages to mingle around, eating the unique delicacies such as rice tea, rice crackers, manok pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo) and so much more. The journey we took to go from one village to another was breathtakingly magnificent. We sauntered along the immense rice fields against the towering hills with a clear blue sky as a background. I know I mentioned the skies one too many times here but it was really that mesmerizing. My neck even hurt from looking up so much. Along the passage, we stopped over for food which was prepared by the villagers while listening to their stories and watching them perform dance rituals of their cultures and traditions.
Some of the dishes that were cooked in bamboo.
Rice tea stored and served in bamboo
Look at the sky!
Local folks dancing.
We stayed there for 4 days and each day was filled with activities that I personally think are special. It was simple yet rare and that’s the whole idea because sometimes simplicity has its own way in bringing out such beauty that lies within. Ba’kelalan truly is the Heart of Borneo Escapade.