Happy Harvest Festival! Running Malaysia’s mountain expedition ends with a bang.

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The fun never stopped from the peak down. The Trek Finder Tours had one more show up their sleeves for us. But the price we had to pay from reaching the highest of the high was a little bit over and above our fatalistic expectation of pain. More aches here, some stiffness there. A kind of torture that makes you recoil at the sight of stairs.he fun never stopped from the peak down. The Trek Finder Tours had one more show up their sleeves for us. But the price we had to pay from reaching the highest of the high was a little bit over and above our fatalistic expectation of pain. More aches here, some stiffness there. A kind of torture that makes you recoil at the sight of stairs. We voiced the pain that our knees would give away as we walked up and down—and on even ground! But no such thing as legs like Jello could make us skip the biggest party in Sabah—The Harvest Festival or Pesta Ka’amatan.

A Sunday Like No Other

Before the main show, we were taken around to observe the Gaya Street Fair (Sunday Market) and were treated to various cultural aspects of Sabah. We walked among the locals and the tourists, peeping into each stall and clicking away scenes that fascinated our inquisitive eyes. The sun was no stranger as its rays blinded our ways and its heat parched our throats. We settled for some fresh sugar cane juice and got all recharged from its natural sweetness.

But this Sunday was nothing like other Sundays of the year, for in this proudest day for Sabahans, diversity spread around the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) in colorful costumes, cultural dances, and traditional displays of the many ethnicities that build the Sabahan identity.

So we hopped on our pickup truck and made our way to KDCA to witness the much anticipated festival of the year. An annual celebration, The Harvest Festival marks the end of the harvesting season of the rice crops. Imagine thanksgiving but over some good ol’ tapai (rice wine) that is sure to pack a punch down your throat. As we entered, we were caught by the influx of culture, people and all things that spell out Ka’amatan.

It was both a visual and gastronomic feast for thousands of locals and visitors who flocked together in the spirit of “Peace and Unity through Culture”— this year’s theme that was officially launched on the 1st of May. While their countdown began a month earlier, ours began a week before, counted through kilometers of many hills and thrills on the road, off and in the water.

Post-Hike Pain and Gain

Limping around with occasional Aaah! Ow! Ouch! as we hiked up the staircases to the traditional bamboo and wooden houses, we would turn the pain into our mighty, silly Haha! Yet NO, laughter is not always the best medicine, especially not when your calves are burning every step up, but a culture overdose is! All the colorful, creative and cultural array of tiny revelries in every head turn was enough painkiller for the post-hike torture.

We walked by fresh, cold drinks, steaming hot food and the amplified murmurs of the crowd filled our curiosity and excitement. Tens of tents were spread out where happy visitors took shade under. You could see almost everyone snapping a can of cold beer, singing a tune of “Aramaiti” followed by exciting conversations, which were definitely overshadowed by the loud music. Ah, festivity at its finest.

We walked along paths of the celebratory lane and came across different ethnic cultures. From long houses to weapons, and elders to modern day babies all adorned in their traditional costumes, we were taken captive by their heartwarming openness.

Returning their smiles, of other random strangers, and watching them gladly showcasing their tradition in their heirlooms: musical instruments, dishes, methods and translations were completely humbling. In fact, too humbling we felt like just staying in the infinity of those moments shared with our newfound friends.

The celebration couldn’t be complete without Sugandoi, a karaoke contest and the Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Beauty Queen), a beauty pageant. Never have we seen a hall full of people, who didn’t mind the congested space with deteriorating oxygen levels, not to mention the slow cooking under the heat, and yet whose eyes were transfixed on the stage at all times, cheering and waving supportive signboards. The entire nation came together to celebrate and appreciate their beautiful women.

After a little tugging and losing our way in the crowd, we made it out.

 

Drink, Drank, Drunk!

And, of course, the celebration gave birth to instant party animals! There were jumping, singing, dancing around all through the day, on top of lots of drinking—drinking till the very last drop! Well, our dive into Sabah’s very own rice wine is a story we leave for another day! *wink*

While this was how we made hay while the sun was shining its brightest (or the only anti-inflammatory remedy we could pull off!), our version only stayed true to the spirit of Pesta Ka’amatan by sweating off the merits of the Harvest fever.

With chugs of booze and lyrics of Tadau Tagazo Do Kaamatan, among other festival signature songs playing in our head, pure fun prevailed over the pathetic pains that were beating us early on.

There’s no better way to wrap up our weeklong outdoor adventure than to pay tribute to Sabah’s cultural identity in the palpable spirit of unity in diversity. Aramaiti!!!

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