Skandis Longhouse / Sarawak

We stayed two nights in the longhouse. It's not a large one -- only 13 families, about 75 people. (Some longhouses have hundreds of people living in them.) I can't compare the experience to anything. Sally, our trip leader (who has stayed at this longhouse many times), described it beforehand to us as "walking into a National Geographic." That's pretty good, but it doesn't tell you how it smells (like unwashed dogs), how the uneven boards move under your feet, how delicious the food is, how the roosters wake you at 3 a.m. with a pre-dawn rehearsal for the real thing, or how the people move in and out all day in an easy rhythm, doing what they need to survive -- but slowly, because it's very hot.

These two kids were left to their own devices most of the day. The two women who cooked for us were looking after them, but the kids took an interest in me, and once I pulled out the camera, they were my friends for life. Kids love to see the instant replay on a digital camera. I never learned their names, but we had a good time for an hour or two. Then we walked down to the river and they lost interest in me, content to play in the water every bit as intently as kids who don't go into the river to bathe every day.

The log the kids are standing on in the photo above is the typical entrance stair to a longhouse -- a single piece of ironwood with shallow steps cut into it. It's maybe 15 feet long. The kids could race up and down like squirrels on their tough little feet. Below, they are in the doorway of the kitchen used for visitors, which was added onto this longhouse with money from Intrepid Travel. Meals in the longhouse are taken in the individual families' rooms, not communally, so we had our own room. There is no furniture of any kind. We slept on thin foam pads on the floor out in the common area between the rooms and the porch (riau), where the floor is covered with woven straw and rattan mats.