Tour guide Afshin enjoys showing Sarawak to the world

Afshin Dajai

Kenyalang Portraits

By Wilfred Pilo

“THE tour agency makes the arrangement, the tour guide makes the holiday.”

Based on this unspoken understanding, freelance tourist guide Afshin Dajai, 29, knows his job is to bring tourists to picturesque holiday destinations that they have paid for and to make their stay a memorable one.

“I became involved in this profession after I got acquainted with a French woman who was married to a local here. I was then working for a food and beverage outlet in the city,” he told DayakDaily.

Afshin narrated that the French woman noticed he possessed strong interpersonal skills and promptly suggested that he would make a good tour guide.

“Soon after, I got my Freelance Tourist Guide licence from the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and specialised in culture and adventure tours four years ago,” he said.

Lucky guests can have their photos taken next to the biggest flower in the world — the Rafflesia, which is a genus of parasitic flowering plant found in TDNP.

He recalled the first time he brought several tourists to stay at the Basaga Holiday Residency, and to visit Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Later, he started bringing tourists to a Bidayuh village in Padawan, where they would stay at a homestay and sample firsthand the lives of the natives.

Afshin said the most interesting thing about his job is the chance to meet an endless stream of different people who share different interests and knowledge about literally everything under the sun.

He disclosed that he got real serious in the profession two years ago by opting to become a freelance tourist guide.

His routine now basically comprises bringing tourists or visitors to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, to Sematan town, to Telok Melano by boat or inland (depending on the weather) and then to his favourite destination — Tanjung Datu National Park (TDNP). It lies on the western-most tip of Sarawak’s coastline and is one of the state’s smallest national parks.

“The clear turquoise sea makes the place so exquisite,” he said, of the park.

An early morning view of the gravel coastal shore of TDNP, where guests hang out during their free-and-easy session.

The most common packages are three-day-two-night stay or four-day-three-night stay.

“I usually have a maximum of four people. It is the regulation for all licensed tourist guides to have a 4:1 ratio.

“During their stay in the national park, I would prepare their meals and make sure their stay is as comfortable as possible before trekking the national park. I also have to ensure they are safe,” he said.

A view of a section of the national park from inside the Forest Hut, where guests get to sleep before going out for trekking activities.

There are park accommodations with five rooms, and the rest are forest huts with washroom facilities.

“The flora and fauna at TDNP is heavenly. It is a virgin forest and you can only identify the wildlife upon hearing the sound they make. This is what makes the job exciting,” he chuckled.

Afshin said his focus was on jungle trekking, and so far this year, he had made more than 30 trips to TDNP. The “tour season” is between May and early October.

Getting to the national park entails a two-hour boat ride from Sematan.

“We usually hire a boatman from a nearby village. But TDNP can now be reached from inland, and I think in the future, the national park will be accessible by road once the coastal road is completed as there would be a link,” he said.

Greenery at TDNP, where guests get to enjoy the shade.

Along the way to the national park, he would make it a point to brief the tourists on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ so that everybody knows where they are going and what to expect from their visit.

“Disappointment is always the problem. Tourists expect to see and experience what they paid for, but sometimes, it is just impossible to fulfil their expectations. That is because we are in a natural environment,” he explained.

Afshin disclosed that most of his customers are mainly from Europe, and most of them are very adventurous and are nature lovers.

“While in the park, my responsibility is to educate them on the beautiful flora and fauna and conservation efforts in the area. I am quite well versed in this area as I have personally been involved in the conservation of sea turtles, the Orang Utans and other wildlife,” he said proudly.

On conservation, he opined that the government should put more funding and prioritise the national park, instead of just building infrastructure.

He said locals must understand the importance of conservation and not just treat national parks as just a place for trekking and retreats.

A fresh-water creek at the TDNP, where Afshin often brings his clients.

“They (locals) should do more by respecting nature and making Planet Earth greener,” he suggested.

Afshin added that people must also understand the impact pollution has on the environment and on global warming. For instance, he lamented that excessive marine activities and shipping could pollute the coastal waters.

On the proposed road linking to Telok Melano, he said it would make TDNP more accessible, and this is good for tourism, but not so for the environment in the long run, especially if human traffic snowballed.

“Maybe, we should balance things up a bit by limiting access to the area to preserve the flora and fauna,” he opined, adding that the park authority should also have a maintenance culture to ensure the wear and tear of park facilities are addressed and rectified regularly.

“The telecommunication system is also of paramount importance for many national parks, and this includes TDNP. We need them because in the event of an emergency, especially if lives are at stake, then we can call for immediate evacuation or assistance,” he said.

“I love the job and the business, but family and loved ones are above them all. Come the months of February and March, I make it a point to condition myself and keep fit to prepare for the busy season,” he said. — DayakDaily