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As Long as We Remember...

August 19, 2015

Continuing Search for Wallace

Tom McLaughlin

Simunjan, Malaysian Borneo – My friend, Dr. Jerry Drawhorn, had arrived from California and I knew we were in for a treat. He is an expert on Alfred Wallace, among many other things, and I knew we would be travelling to spots Wallace had visited.

As you may recall from other columns, Alfred Wallace was the guy who, with Charles Darwin, came up with the Theory of Evolution. Unfortunately, he was dropped because Darwin had a much better public relations campaign and was married to the Wedgewood china fortunes. This was in 1858, when a paper, with both names, was presented before the Linnean Society, a really big deal then.

We hired a driver and a car and tried to find the coal mines mentioned in Wallace's book, "The Malay Archipelago," which has not been out of print since the mid '60s, 1860s that is.

Driving around the back roads of Sarawak, we came across an old steam engine that was parked alongside the road under a protective roof. We tried to find a way in and had to snake our way through brush to find it. The old locomotive fitted on the front of a coal fired steam engine that carried the mineral with cars from the mines down to the level ground for transport to other areas. It was about 1.5 meter high and 4.0 meters long. A huge rusting hulk.

We then tried to find the mines. We asked about three of four people, found the correct road but still could not locate them. We stopped at a Malay house, my wife and driver jabbered in Sarawakiian and they told us this was it. I looked quizzically at the side of a mountain, overgrown with jungle, and they kept pointing and "up there." I would have to take their word for it.

We sat down and had some Hari Raya treats (the end of the fasting month celebrations) and discussed old politics. Then they asked if we would like to see a couple of the mines. I was told we would take a path that took 20 minutes and was for old and young people.

We started into the forest and after a few meters the path, or what there was of it as our visitor slashed his way through with a parang, ( a sort of machete). Then the trail went straight up at 80 to 90 degree angles. I thought I was in shape, but with my knee that needs a few squirts of lube, and my breath where I was breathing very heavily slowed us way down. I stopped and rested every few meters in this straight up through the jungle adventure. My climb took about an hour with Suriani's (my wife's) help.

We made it to mine #6, a small 1 meter opening that went straight back into a hill. We took pictures in front of it and I asked where the next mine entrance was. Our guide looked at me and thought "this guy will never make it" and encouraged us to return back whence we came.

I found a stout stick and leaned on it throwing myself forward as we descended. Oh, did I tell you it was pouring rain and everything was very slippery? Yes, it was during this dry season. I did very well grabbing on to small trees and vines giving an occasional Tarzan yell.

The mines were arranged in descending order with #9 at the very top of the hill and #1 at the very bottom. They slanted sideways down the hill. In a much earlier day, people used wheel barrows. Then the steam engine had carts which carried the coal at a slant down the mountain.

It was here that the great naturalist, Alfred Wallace found some of his more important specimen.

...Life is good. . . . .


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