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5D4N Bario, the Kelabit Highlands Trip – Flying to Bario with the Twin Otter
July 26, 2017 Aviation

In case you have missed my 5D4N Bario, the Kelabit Highlands series, I was on waiting list for onward flight from Miri to Bario. 

Once we reached Miri Airport, we went straight to the rural services counter, Counter 7. There is no self check-in for rural services flights. Rural areas listed on a piece of paper in front of the counter are Mulu, Marudi, Bario, Lawas, Limbang, Ba’kalalan, Lawas, Mukah, Long Seridan, Long Akah, Long Banga, Long Lellang. As a Sarawak fan, even I could not put the places on the map of Sarawak. They are just out of the known world, well atleast to me. 

The queue was steadily growing. Arriving early was the least we could do to secure seats. Flying to Bario with Twin Otter was something that I looked forward to. I tried to be as observant as I could from the check-in counter up until I caught a rare sight. They were locals with excessive luggage to be checked in. Two toilet bowls wrapped with the plastic sat at the left side of the counter. What? Freaking toilet bowls! I wanted to laugh all I want, but it hit on me that Bario is an isolated destination. I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t take pictures of them.

Just a few meters away from the bowls, a huge weighing machine stood. One by one, they climbed the weighing machine to have their body weights recorded by the ground crew. All the while, few others waited nervously as body weight and luggage weight are determinant as to whether everyone would be able to fly to their respective rural destinations. As long as we did not have the plane ticket flying to Bario, our fate was left hanging.

Then, came our turn. We surrendered our identification cards, weighted the luggage and ourselves. I was the second person to be checked in as shown on my ticket. So, we secured our seats to board the twin otter to Bario.  

Finally, we are going to Bario, the Kelabit Highlands with one of MaSwings’ 6 fleet sexy old De Havilland Canada DHC-6-400 Twin Otter.

Twin Otter is a versatile fierce little beast with exceptional performance in highly technical terrains such as rough and rugged terrain, deep valleys, rainforest and mountain ranges.  With a carrying capacity of 1800 kg or approximately 19 passengers, the experiences to be on board  Twin Otter is one of the highlights of my aviation adventures.

Boarding was done at the mention of Bario. It was a smooth affair for only 11 passengers were flying to Bario that morning.

Once I was on board, I asked around on the seating arrangement. The locals told me it was a free seating and I get to choose my seat. Since Pora and I were both first timers with Twin Otter, we each had a window seat. My seat was 1A.

As Twin Otter does not have air-conditioners, small fans were stationed at the corners of the plane. At take-off, the Twin Otter vibrated as though parts of it were coming off. I felt nervous at first because it would be my longest ride on short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft every. The journey was estimated to be roughly 1 hour depending on the wind flow.

When air-borne, the Twin Otter has a maximum operating attitude of 25,000 ft (7,620 metre), which is very low. It allows for breathtaking panoramic view of dense Borneon jungle. I could not afford to miss any moment of happily peeping out the window. Once in awhile, the passengers behind me would pat my shoulder, pointing to any landmark areas. She had the urge to explain the landmarks to me. Ah, the sweet gesture of hospitality. I can feel it already, Bario!

Meanwhile in the cockpit, which was spread wide open for us to see, the pilot gleefully chatted and joked about their lives.

The in-flight experience was laid back and warm with hospitality. Definitely not an experience one could buy with any other type of commercial aircraft. I have been charmed by the twin otter!

When they said Twin Otter has flexible landing gear options to accommodate the extreme condition, I did not expect my heart to skip a beat when I felt the gears. Literally, you can see and feel with your senses every step taken by the skillful pilot. When the Twin Otter started to descend in between valleys, I froze and nervously waited for the Twin Otter to land.
The landing was okay with the plane landing against the wind. Hard enough you could feel the sway. We landed safely on the STOLport, a short take offs and landings airport. The local passengers eagerly wish us, “Welcome to Bario”. Who needs pretty stewardess to feel welcomed in this part of the world!

 It is a cowboy and dusty airport. With just counters, 3 rows of waiting seats, a weighing machine (a must!) and no conveyor belt. The luggages were left at one corner to be claimed by the passengers. A friendly local approached me and gave out a tips – if I wanted to bring home pineapples, I would be better off making my order with one of the airport staff. Just in case you are wondering, I did not place my order from the airport staff. 

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