Travelling during the pandemic, spotty mobile signals on the road and revisiting breathtaking Maludam (Final Travelogue – Day 10)

D'Drift Team taking a wefie in front of the 'burung tiong' statue in Sri Aman before returning to Kuching.

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By D’Drift Team

KUCHING, Oct 20: Travelling safely during the Covid-19 endemic is possible, as long as standard operating procedures (SOPs) are strictly complied with at all times.

Face masks must be worn properly, especially in enclosed areas. Frequent hand washing with soap should already be a habit by now, and if water is unavailable, use hand sanitisers right after touching surfaces where the virus can linger. Physical distancing of at least six feet ought to be practiced as much as possible.


There should be no excuse that the SOPs can’t be observed because, as simple and monotonous they may sound, the three simple steps could save lives. Prevention is always better than the cure.

At times where some may still feel anxious about travelling even after their Covid-19 vaccination schedule, travelling should not be something to be afraid of.

The D’Drift Team has completed a 10-day cross-district travel across 15 districts and sub-districts including Asajaya, Maludam, Kabong, Sarikei, Mukah, Niah, Bekenu, Loagan Bunut, Lapok, Lambir, Tatau, Sibu, Pusa, Layar, and Simanggang, before returning to Kuching.

And this morning on the last day of the journey, the three team members did our last Covid-19 antigen self-tests and received three negative results. Prior to this, our other self-tests were carried out on Day 1 (Oct 10) and Day 6 (Oct 16), all of which were negative as well.

Though nerve-wracking at times, with our minds running wild thinking of the possibility of getting infected with Covid-19 while waiting for the test results, it was reassuring to know that we were safe before returning to our homes, friends and families.

Other than abiding by SOPs, self-testing and self-monitoring are also necessary at this stage of the pandemic in the State. The responsibilities now lie in our hands as the Sarawak government has been preparing us for the endemic stage of the disease, with the previous two vaccine doses and now the third booster shots.

The team has made it a routine to conduct a Covid-19 antigen self-test first thing in the morning throughout the journey.

Unlike a year ago, lives have now seemingly returned to near-normalcy as businesses slowly open up and interstate travels are now allowed, with stringent rules in place.

 

Lackadaisical network coverage in Sarawak in urgent need of improvement

Unfortunately, the poor and inconsistent telecommunication network coverage all along the Pan Borneo Highway, coastal roads and especially rural and remote villages in Sarawak needs to be fixed. Urgently.

Connection problems are a huge inconvenience for travellers making trips across Sarawak particularly when it comes to work matters, as it may require a person to carry different mobile lines in order to stay connected.

Currently, there is no single network that provides reliable coverage for the entire State. You can rely on Maxis along one stretch, but the cellular signal would disappear and leave you with an SOS or emergency call function. On the same stretch, you may get a weak signal from a Digi or Celcom line.

Even with connectivity, the signal is so weak that you cannot even reply to a message on WhatsApp or whatever text messaging apps that people rely on to communicate in this digital era, while emails fail completely.

Mobile networks fail as the D’Drift Team travels to rural areas.

Efforts to expand and enhance the mobile and Internet coverage in Sarawak with its rural areas and scattered population must be accelerated, more so when the Pan Borneo Highway is slowly but surely taking shape.

The Pan Borneo Highway that spans more than 2,000km is set to link the entire length of Sarawak, from Telok Melano in the southwestern tip of Sarawak to the eastern Merapok town in Lawas before connecting with Serudong in Sabah.

Touted to be the transportation backbone of the states of Sarawak and Sabah, it is expected to play a major role in opening up the economic corridors and opportunities in the surrounding areas.

Before its able to do so, however, a strong and reliable telecommunication network is critical to propel and support the economic activities in this vast region that is moving fast towards digitalisation.

Telecommunication providers in Malaysia, particularly major players like Celcom, Digi and Maxis need to focus or think of a solution to expand and enhance the network connectivity statewide that penetrates rural and remote areas, which are largely blind spots when it comes to having a working, reliable Internet connection.

 

A recap of D’Drift 2021 MVP – Maludam

Maludam was immediately chosen as the one place among all others worthy for a second visit by all three D’Drift Team members.

What we experienced there between Oct 10 and 11 was only a small part of what the tiny coastal town has to offer.

There are seasons for everything all year round, including various tourist attractions such as the ghostly ‘pokok ara‘ for hornbill watching, ‘headless’ coconut trees at Tanjung Riong, Irrawady dolphin spotting at the Maludam River, and firefly watching.

Not to mention the abundant marine resources such as jelly fish, red shrimps, ‘lumek‘ fish, ‘gonjeng‘ fish, and puffer fish. Also, don’t forget the palm sugar (‘gula apong‘) production industry that we missed the first time around.

Another major attraction here would be Maludam National Park, which is the second largest park in Sarawak, covering an area of 432 square kilometres, with the only viable population of the critically endangered red banded langur remaining in the world today.

One can even choose to stay overnight in the national park for a chance to spot the many rare and unique fauna native to the area.

Located in a strategic location that is roughly the centre point between Triso and Pusa, Maludam is set to develop even further in five years’ time with the completion of the 4.8km Batang Lupar Bridge which will link major towns from Samarahan to Betong.

Maludam did not only impress members of the D’Drift Team, but also attracted many of DayakDaily’s readers. Since the publication of our stories on Maludam, we have received many emails and inquiries from the public regarding the town.

Some even said they never knew such an interesting place existed in Sarawak and would love to visit themselves one day.

The sun rises over the small town of Maludam, a sub district in Betong Division. 

Like Maludam, there are many more undiscovered townlets, unwritten stories, and untraveled paths in the ‘Land of the Hornbills’. DayakDaily through its annual D’Drift expeditions will continue to seek out more of Sarawak’s hidden gems so that Sarawakians as well as tourists will be able to discover the many wonders this beautiful State has to offer.

To all the D’Drift fans who have been following our footsteps since Oct 10 and have taken the time to write in and express your support, we’ll see you again next year. — DayakDaily

Related articles:

Travelogue, Day 1 – Beliong dragons trapped in cages for 6 years and counting

Travelogue, Day 2 – Headless coconut ‘pillars’ of Maludam

Travelogue, Day 3 – Pan Borneo Fury 1060 – ‘best’ coaster ride in Sarawak Theme Park

Travelogue, Day 4 – Spooky Mukah: Hanging coffins, burial totems and human sacrifices

Travelogue, Day 5 – A salty post-funeral cleansing ritual

Travelogue, Day 6 – Doleful-looking horse pile of rubble

Travelogue, Day 7 – Raining battery-size hail in Loagan Bunut National Park

Travelogue, Day 8 – Old West Lapok of Sarawak: Not American Quarter horses, but Hilux pickups

Travelogue, Day 9 – Sibu ‘Old MacDonald’ had a farm, E-I-E-I-O