Across the pond in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, after you mention Brunei to the people there, chances are, someone would say in a fit of literary quixotism, “Oh, Brunei roads are littered with gleaming, new cars… the streets are paved with gold.” Leaving them to their imagination, it is gratifying that our neighbours subscribe to Brunei as a wealthy nation.
This past weekend, Sunday 23rd October, a friend, Rudy and I sojourned a road less travelled. A road meant to be dominated by humans. A line of white dissecting the evergreens of the rainforest. There is hardly any traffic, save the infrequent sputtering of mopeds and some distinctly knocking engines of old automobiles zooming past. This is the only road traversing one end to the other of Berambang Island. No glittering hot rods. Just man in nature.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” Henry David Thoreau
Pulau Berambang is Brunei’s largest riverine island. Situated less than a kilometre from the banks of Pintu Malim, this island is easily accessible by boat, the fare 50 cts one way. The eastern banks of this island is Sungai Menunggul, a waterway border shared by Limbang, Malaysia and Brunei.
Berambang Island is lightly populated. The only modern housing is Kampong Bolkiah B, houses built on the mud flats fringing the northern shore of the island. Jungle and mangrove covered most of the island. Through the Wild Life Protection Act, 1978 revised 1984, authorities have identified the mangrove forests on Berambang for the protection and conservation wildlife sanctuaries.
It is the pristine environment that got Rudy and I to leave our urban yokes to hike to the hills. Our prize was to ascend Bujang Pahang hill (175 m), which offers stunning views of the coastal flats and hills of Limbang and the Brunei’s famed Kampong Ayer (Water Village) from its summit.
The peak is nothing but a pinnacle of rock, sandstone to be exact. Hikers before us had left marks of their visits by their writing on the walls. It must be noted that certain sections of the hill are rather steep, more than 60 degree incline. Three flights of man-made, concrete steps were erected, circa 1995 in the lower sections of the hill. In the upper reaches, the jungle trails are littered with fallen leaves, branches and twigs. The forest is mature, so there is little or no undergrowth.
At Kampong Menunggul, some 3.7 km from the jetty, an erected sign led us to a trail leading up to Bukit Bujang Pahang. 30 m into this trail, on our right, we notice a bamboo trough channeling stream water to a house at the foothill. This cool, refreshing water is sparkling clean and has no gamey, peaty smell. Rudy and I collected some water to wash away sweat from our face, neck and arms . The water is cool and refreshing.
Another reason we have come to explore Berambang Island is to visit the Berambang Colliery. Rudy and I explored the remains of Brooketon Colliery in Muara in March 2011 and this trip continues our search for Brunei’s major carbon export before and during WW2.(See Revisiting Brunei’s Historical Brooketon Colliery at Muara blog here).
About halfway up Bujang Pahang Hill, we come to an opening in the hill, and a shaft descends steeply some 60º into a dark abyss. The locals call this “Lubang Arang Batu” (literally translated, Rock Coal Hole). Without training in spelunking or speleology (cave exploration), and without a local guide, Rudy and I didn’t venture any further. We immortalized our visit with photographs. Near this entrance, the ground is covered with fragments of coal, pebble sized. Evidence of a bustling economy from the past.
Traipsing along the ridge, in the direction of Kampong Ayer, we come to a rock formation fondly known to the locals as Bukit Batu Bertingkat (Layered Rock Hill). Not an imposing hill but rather another outcropping of stacked layers of sedimentary rocks about 10m tall.
Along the ridge, the vegetation is sparse, covered with low bush and a variety of fern. Trees found anchor on the lower slopes and creepers scale the branches and trunks for sunlight. A few stands of pitcher plants were spotted and many appeared withered. There were a few younger pitchers, but not healthy specimens.
Our hike into the woods and hills on this day covered a distance of over 8 km, of which 7 km was on paved road. The sun beat down bright and hard and quite obviously Rudy and I suffered some sunburn. Fortunately on this very hot day we hydrated ourselves copiously. Our exercise was both relaxing and tiring. Breathing fresh air, and hiking into the pristine forests and climbing the hills of Pulau Berambang, we enjoy being in the forest and climbing the hills.
Reminiscing the words of Thoreau, on this day, we traced our steps on the woods to enjoy the essentials facts of life – in the pristine forests and hills of Pulau Berambang.
Revisting Brunei’s Historical Brooketon Colliery at MuaraPP