The members of the Borneo 2011 Expedition group returned to Trent on 1stAugust after a three week adventure in Sabah, Borneo. Fourteen 6th Form students and three staff had travelled to the tropical island for a variety of activities including jungle trekking, a community project, some wildlife viewing, an ascent of Mount Kinabalu (4095 metres) and some white water rafting. A superb time was had by all as they faced the challenges of the different environment, climate and culture found in Borneo.
The trip started at 0400 on Monday 11th July as they gathered for the drive down to Heathrow. The flight via Dubai and Brunei got them to Sabah late on Tuesday where the reality of what a tropical, hot, humid climate really means. The first phase of the expedition was the five day jungle trek, so everyone loaded up into 4x4s for a six hour journey deep into the rainforest. The first stop was a village called Long Pasia where the group was split up and accommodated in local homestays. The next morning, the trek into the forest began. Although it was slightly cooler here due to the altitude, it still proved to be very hot and sweaty work. At the end of the day the group put up their hammocks and bashas (shelters), prepared some food and went to bed for the first strange night in the jungle. The various noises made it feel very different, combined with the isolating factor of the mosquito net and the new experience of trying to sleep in the swinging hammock. Dawn proved to be welcome and brought a range of accounts about how well people had slept.
Over the next four days, the group covered a considerable distance, crossed many rivers, saw some of the wonders of the rainforest including huge trees with buttress roots, and experienced first hand the scourge of jungle travellers in these parts – leeches. Although everyone had wisely invested in a pair of leech socks, they still managed to get into shirts, on necks and hands and some clearly feasted very well before being detected! Fortunately, although unpleasant, they do not carry disease so are relatively harmless. The group’s jungle skills improved greatly and everyone became efficient at setting up and dismantling the hammocks. During this time, the local guides introduced the team to various jungle survival skills and some of the uses which various plants can be put. At the end of five days of discomfort, constantly damp clothes, alertness for leeches and other insects, the group returned happily to Long Pasia, the chance of a shower and some better food back at the homestays. That evening, the guides put on a show of traditional dress and dancing, inviting our group to have a go.
The second phase of the expedition was the Community Project. The group spent three days at the Don Bosco Childrens Home in a village called Bundu Tuhan in the foothills of Mt Kinabalu. The basic project involved painting as much of the outside of the main building as possible in the time available and this proved to be very successful. However, the real aim was to interact with the children in the home, especially to develop some of their English language skills. The first afternoon was an ice-breaker with lots of games played in the yard. Over the next couple of days, the students prepared and conducted some specific sessions on artistic skills, simple language, more complex literary discussion, some science and maths. They also introduced games, including cricket, and spent time singing and dancing with the children. The response was very welcoming and friendly, and it was sad to leave the Home on the last afternoon to move on to the next phase.
The third phase concerned wildlife, especially visiting the Kinabatangan river, the Orang-utan sanctuary at Sepilok and the Rainforest Discovery Centre. These were all over to the east near the town of Sandakan, a long five hour journey away through extensive areas of palm oil plantation agriculture. On the way the group stopped to visit the memorials erected to those who died in the terrible ‘Death Marches’ of early 1945, when all but 6 out of 2400 Australian and British POWs died in Japanese camps or on forced marches through the jungle.
Over the next couple of days, the group was able to experience wildlife in its natural environment. The orang-utans at Sepilok are slightly different as they are fed as part of their rehabilitation, but elsewhere there were long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, monitor lizards, swamp snakes, two crocodiles, some wild boar, slow loris, hornbills, fish eagles and kingfishers. One clear highlight occured in the Rainforest Disovery Centre high up on the walkway through the upper canopy. As dusk fell, three flying squirrels emerged from a hole in the trunk, climbed higher in the tree and launched themselves into the air, gliding away through the forest.
Phase four was the ascent of Mt Kinabalu, at 4095 metres the highest mountain in this part of southeast Asia. It is a very well-prepared tourist trail, so navigation is not an issue. The challenges include the distance, the altitude, the weather and the long descent. Additional challenges for our group arose due to some students being sick before starting the climb. However, with a mixture of great determination from them, lots of support and encouragement from the others, everyone made it up to the magnificent summit and, even more importantly, made it down safely. However, everyone knew they had worked hard as they had stiff leg muscles for the next couple of days.
The final couple of days were spent white water rafting, shopping for souvenirs and visiting one of the islands just offshore from Kota Kinabalu. Eventually everyone was ready for the long return journey, lasting a total of 37 hours, arriving at Trent to be greeted by happy parents. There was lots of excited chatter as the first stories were told, before everyone dispersed.
Thanks go to Adventureworks for the organisation of this expedition. Thanks also to Lee, our excellent guide in Sabah, and the jungle guides (Hanry, Apok and Kenny). The full illustrated story of the expedition will be told at 1900 on 15th November in the Trent College chapel.