Raleigh International Malaysia – 2006
As the expedition was booked for such a long time before hand it came as quite a shock to the system when I finally arrived in the Malaysian state of Sabah in the island of Borneo. Upon arrival I was quickly inducted into the Raleigh lifestyle. Our first night was spent in a hostel in the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, where I met my fellow venturers; the biggest shock apart from the climate was the numerable Glaswegian accents!
We departed at dawn the next morning and made our way to ‘Jungle Camp’ where we were introduced to basic jungle safety and survival techniques, culminating in our first live attempt at trekking and living in our Jungle environment. I have to say I was not feeling great at this point as I managed to destroy a termite nest underneath my basha and was unable to get near it for a good half an hour as the enraged termites swarmed my rucksack and hammock. That night in the jungle we were placed into our final groups for Phase 1 of the expedition and treated to a traditional ‘Headhunters’ dance from our jungle guides who encouraged us to join in.
At the end of ‘Jungle Camp’, my group was given an alpha number and were told what our first phase entailed – Alpha 6 Adventure. Uh-Oh was my immediate reaction, as Adventure was the toughest of all the phases and we were all still acclimatizing. But soon my trepidation was eased; our team grew close over our first week spent on the tiny island of Mamutik where we all achieved our Padi open water diving qualification. All twelve of us venturers began to know each other intimately and we were ready to take on the challenge of the Crocker Range for our trek. The Crocker Range is a range of hills in a protected area of Sabah. Our route was very remote, and the journey consisted of uphill climbs followed by downhill climbs followed by a river crossings. We would walk from dawn until between two or three in the afternoon, around 8 hours walking every day drenched in sweat and bleeding from numerous leech bites. I myself counted one hundred and thirty two leeches on my legs over the seven day trek. Our final day of the trek was a turning point for all of us – we now only had a few days left with each other until we were going to be slit up. Our friendships were strong as we had all helped each other get through the trek in one piece but our last days together were not going to be spent idle, we still had Mount Kinabalu to climb, the highest mountain in South East Asia at 4,101 meters and for this stage we were joined by another Alpha group. Our climb began at around midday and quickly it was realized this was going to be a race to the guesthouse at a point just below the summit. I was able stay with the fastest group most of the way up until I was forced to stop for a break. Luckily for me my break was short and I discovered other Raleigh Participants close ahead. I made the climb in five hours and to my surprise I was third up by only a matter of seconds (the fourth came 45 minutes behind me). As the rest of the party arrived at the guesthouse we all managed to get a few hours sleep before being awoken at 2 am to continue our ascent which we achieved at around 5 am and were able to take in the breathtaking sunrise on the windswept peak.
After our ascent up Mt Kinabalu we were whisked off to Borneo Paradise hotel where the entire Expedition team (about 120 of us in total) were allowed 36 hours to relax and say goodbye to the friends we had made before we were divided and given our new Alpha groups and Phases. But not after our compulsory ‘Skit’ performances in front everyone on stage. As a group Alpha 6 performed embarrassingly badly (which was probably the intention of the Skits) but we did have a very good laugh performing it.
For Phase 2, I had been placed in Alpha 3 in the remote kampong of Linapasan where we would be constructing a vital gravity water feed system for the local population of around forty people. I was very pleased when I met my team of fellow ventures as I had been placed with two girls I knew already from Phase 1, one being the unforgettable Lana’ Boo’ from Bermuda who had caused much hilarity on Phase 1. Our departure from the hotel was in true Raleigh style – at stupid o’clock in the morning, half four to be precise. The journey lasted seven hours by coach and we were extremely relieved to arrive, well that was until we realized we had not arrived because we were stopped by an unusually high river which made it impassable by coach, just a Kilometer from our destination. We were forced to carry all our supplies and rucksacks across the river and to make our way on foot to the Kampong; this process was carried out four times until all our kit was on site. Our accommodation was a small one roomed community hall with adjacent ‘toilet’ ahem, facilities nearby – which consisted of a single bamboo walled hut built on top of hole in the ground. My first morning in Linapasan was again another culture shock, the kampong had no running water, sewers, tarmac roads, or any public amenity that we take for granted in the UK. This made me see what great impact the water feed system was going to be for this community by providing a plentiful year round supply of water to a community that previously had only a seasonal supply from the nearest river. The system consisted of a dam that we were going to construct 2.4 kilometers away in the jungle from which we would pipe water to three 800 liter tanks in the kampong. This was no mean feat, myself and two others were responsible for the construction of dam which we built using rocks sand and cement, we managed to complete the dam in only four days and I thoroughly enjoyed this task. The nine others in our team had started laying the pipe before we were able to help. The enormity of this task was incredible. The pipes were 100m long and it took six people to carry a single pipe from a kilometer outside the Kampong, through the kampong and 2.4 kilometers to the dam. The work was done in temperatures around 40 degrees with usually above 75 percent humidity, though it did feel good when we finished for the day and were able to immerse ourselves in the nearby river. On our Sundays off we played Volleyball with the local community on a court we had constructed next to our accommodation. We also had the opportunity to teach English in the local school (though I did not enjoy the 4km walk in the mornings), I found teaching a class of student very rewarding though I did find that my abilities to teach were not great enough to get a single student to say “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers, but which Peck of Pickled Peppers did Peter Piper Pick”. Finally after ten days we managed to finish laying the pipes and we now started constructing mounts for the water barrels. I was charged with laying concrete footings for one of the barrels and constructing a brick wall, I learned that pointing mortar was not my forte, though the locals seemed happy enough with my efforts. Once the barrels were in place we were now able to start connecting the pipes which was completed in few days. One of my best memories of this was when the locals helped clear an area in the rainforest to allow us to connect an area of pipes. With chainsaws and Parangs (machetes) in hand we spent a happy morning felling trees, unfortunately we were not allowed to have a go with the chainsaw. Once the pipes were connected it took a day of tinkering to get the water to flow to the Kampong correctly, but we had got there in the end. To celebrate the JKK (person in charge of the kampongs security and affairs) held a meal for us in his home. The whole kampong turned up as well as the districts JKK, we were treated to local dishes, with pork, beef, chicken and a nameless meat which we highly suspected was dog meat though was admittedly very tasty. We also were once again shown local dancing and were all eagerly encouraged to join in, though our technique was not up to scratch the younger children did enjoy sitting on our shoulders as we danced. Our days in Linapasan were drawing to a close and after twenty days our time there ended and were once again whisked off to Borneo Paradise Hotel for another thirty six hours where we performed a song we had worked on for the Skit. In no time at all we were split up once more, and placed into our phase 3 groups.
I was now off to Danum Valley. I was especially pleased with my group this time, not only was Laura, who had been with me through both previous Phases with me, but my good friend from Phase 1 Naveen was now once again in my team. The drive to Danum Valley was a staggering nine hours this time, but eventually we arrived, and what a place it was. Danum Valley is a world famous conservation area in the south of Sabah. It is an area that has never been logged or inhabited by any human community. The area is surrounded by a buffer zone of forest that is only subjected to selective logging which allows many of the animals in the area to inhabit the very outer regions of this area of rainforest. My arrival was amazing, not only had we seen a solitary elephant as we entered the area but when we arrived at the field centre in Danum did we spot an Orangutan building a sleeping nest in a tree nearby to our sleeping area. This was the first primate I had seen in Borneo after two months which really sent home the message that Danum Valley is a really special place. The next morning we left the relative sophistication of the Field Centre where scientists stayed to conduct research in the surrounding rainforest. Our equipment was carried by boat up river to our jungle camp and we walked the hour long trail to our camp. The camp was very pleasant, previous Raleigh groups had constructed a sleeping area covered with a tarpaulin where we were able to hang our hammocks as well as a covered cooking and eating area. Very homely. Our camp was next to the Segama River and the Tembuling River which flows into the Segama. Next to our camp was a camp set up by the park Rangers who were there aiding us in our task. Our task was to continue the construction of a suspension bridge across the Segama which would open up the area of Rainforest for scientists from the field centre to study. We were aiming to build the concrete foundations on the far side of the river. The foundation was going to consist of a ten ton concrete footing; the cement was going to be brought to the site by the rangers on boat then mixed by us using river water and sand from the river bank. As a group we decided we were going to work form seven to two six days a week. Our first day of work was interesting; we had to take a small boat to get across the river before we were able to begin. I found out quickly that this was going to be yet another very manual task. The work was very rewarding however as we could see as the days went on that our foundation was building. We completed the task after thirteen hard days. With all this free time and the prospect of having no more work to do we were driven to find other ways of entertaining ourselves. Myself and Naveen were able to construct a jungle sofa from logs and a sleeping roll mat, complete with jungle views and river views, though it was a bit of a task actually getting people off it so we could sit on it.! Fortunately one of the Project Staff came up with the idea of Solo Camping in the jungle, myself and six others set off into the jungle to give it a go. It was however not what I had expected, we spit up and set a meeting point for the next morning, we were roughly two hundred meters apart, though the density of the jungle made it impossible to see further than twenty five meters in any direction. Once I had found a suitable tree to set up my Basha and got it up the task was to start a fire to cook on. This proved to be a problem as almost as soon as I went looking for firewood did it start raining in true rainforest fashion, heavily and all night. Luckily for me I had a can of coke and a book with me. I drank the coke, cut the can in half and started a fire inside of it with pages from my book. To say the least this didn’t really work. I ended up eating tepid noodles and drinking cold coffee. As soon as it got dark though, I started having second thoughts about solo camping, the jungle is an unnervingly noisy place at night, and I knew that there were a lot of very real dangers out there, but I kept my Parang close at hand and survived the night. When we got back to camp, I gave Naveen and the Rangers a full account of Solo Camping. I couldn’t believe the Rangers reaction, they thought we were crazy. They told me on no account would they consider going into the jungle alone, always with four or more people, orangutans are extremely dangerous on the forest floor as well as Sun Bears, elephants, and bearded pigs which were all plentiful in this area. Needless to say we were not allowed to Solo Camp again. We were fortunate enough to see lots of wildlife while we were in Danum Valley. Bearded pigs regularly raided our camp’s wet slops pit, on one memorable occasion Murcedi (one of the Malaysian venturers) came running back to camp after he was charged by a pig. Hornbills, monkeys, and Civic cats, monitor lizards were seen on an almost daily basis. We were fortunate enough to have a large male orangutan spend the night in a tree inside our camp one night. The insects in Danum were amazing too, we regularly had big spiders, foot long centipedes, giant moths and butterflies and a whole array of crickets and other creepy crawlies living alongside us.
But like everything, it had to end sometime and no sooner had I arrived in Borneo and I was leaving, but not before one last night with everyone on expedition for a big farewell party in a luxury beach resort on the South China Sea. I think it s safe to say that I will never forget my experience and most of all the lifelong friends I have made.