Finding the Salt Trail in Crocker Range, Borneo

Crocker Range Park is located in the west coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The Park is approximately 75km in length and 15km wide, run along northeast-southwest axis. It comprises an area of 139,919ha, about twice the size of Singapore.  The elevation there ranges between 100m to 2050m at the peak of Mt. Alab. The park is mainly covered with forest with a tract of perhaps the last remaining hills dipterocarp forest in the west coast of Sabah. It is an important water catchment area with the headwater of five major rivers in the west coast division.
My journey
At 9a.m, the sunlight was just about to break the domination of the cool morning mist. Festive sounds of bird were fading away returning the sense of mystery back to the forest. I was standing at one edge of the hill staring at the densely forested vista before me. It was hard to keep my eyes off the alluring wave-like greeneries in a gigantic land of Borneo. My mind couldn’t seem to stop thinking of the journey I was going to take that will leads me into the land of Crocker Range – to a trail full of stories which carries the name ‘The Salt Trail’. For over 100 years, the people of Crocker Range have been using the jungle routes to the tamu (market) of town in Sabah’s West Coast to barter their produce for salt and other goods.

Suspension bridge
There was a high anticipation in each and every one of us as we took off through a small path shaded by the wall of trees. As we trekked further, the evidence of human existence became more obvious by the view of fallen trees caused by human activities. Sounds of small insects from their unknown little tiny kingdom and the chirping birds on treetops had been our loyal companion. Steep rocky downhill terrains of 5.5km were the odds to beat. It was strenuous that you could hurt your knee easily if you don’t land your feet slowly. Through persistence, the tiring journey inside one of the Bornean rainforests finally came to a temporary rest when we reach our host family’s house at Kampung Longkogungan. It was a small house made of wood with basic facilities. Firewood is still their main source of cooking fuel. Dolin’s family is a farmer who sells their land produce such as rice and tobacco to a nearby town in Donggongon, Penampang. When the night falls, the nature turned in complete silence. Lit by candlelight, we landed ourselves on basic mattress for a good night sleep.
Dinner time in a villager’s house
Heavy-heartedly, I forced myself to wake up when the morning light washed away the remaining dimness that the night has left. Our porters were very kind enough to prepare us breakfast. Apparently, they had woken up earlier before me. We waved Dolin’s family good bye at about 9a.m to continue our expedition to a yet unknown territory. Agriculture is the main source of living for people of Crocker Range. This is proven with numerous private paddy fields along the trail. Most of them were on small scale which is enough to supply rice for the family throughout the year. Though life here is very simple, they are blessed with resources.
67efb-crockerrange4To complement the fertile soil is an icy-cool river that flows endlessly through the range. I took the opportunity to have a feel of the refreshing water on my hand and face everytime we had river-crossing. Once again, our porters showed their support by forming a line across the river to help us reach to the other side. Some trails had us walking through hanging bridges and small bridges made of bamboo and wood. This 3.3km trail was mainly laid on flat land but with the muscle pain we already had, it was quite a struggle. For the night, we stayed at Darius’ house at Kampung Kalangaan. Again, it was a basic accommodation with basic facilities.
We were woken by the sound of rooster this morning. It felt like it was shouting just inches away from our ears. Flow of the Crocker Range River seems like the only sound can be heard here. Everything was peacefully quite and serene that I wished I could embrace it and bring it back home to the city. There was no long trekking for this day. Just a 45 minutes walking downhill to go to the river for swimming and catching fish. As usual, we were escorted by the loyal porters as well as the guide. I was touched by their hospitality because I knew for a fact this is beyond their job description. Being able to dip into the crystal clear river of the Crocker Range was an exhilarating experience. After spending some time swimming, we were served with delicious traditional lunch – fish cooked in bamboo. We spent two nights at Darius’ place.
Every good thing will come to an end eventually. With a sad heart, we bade goodbye to Darius’ family and promised to ourselves that we will return one day. The journey home was not as easy as we hoped it would be. Merciless uphill terrain with rocky path was a hard nut to crack especially when you are already exhausted physically. Through persistence and strong determination, I walked slowly and took as many short breaks I wanted to re-energize while spending some time to enjoy the fascinating view of the Crocker Range from the hilltop. This place is without a doubt a haven hidden in the heart of Borneo. Along the way, I noticed a few old tombs dates back to the pagan era. A sense of relief crept inside of me as I successfully reached the ending point. The 7.7km trail is beaten and at this point of time, I really felt like on top of the world.
Amidst this seemingly lost world, there is human residing in this place. For decades long, the indigenous Dusun has been calling Crocker Range their home. This is what makes trekking in Crocker Range unique.  Apart from the physically challenging trekking activity, we get to experience the traditional lifestyle of the biggest ethnic group in Borneo and most importantly, becoming part of the community.   
By Joebonaventure Matius
Check out the 4D/3N Crocker Range Jungle Trek package HERE

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