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Adam Bennett – expedition to Borneo

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I would like to thank the Jack Bloor fund for contributing to my recent Adventureworks expedition to Borneo.

BORNEO 1After two days travelling we reached Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, and in order to acclimatize to the heat and humidity we camped at an outdoor activities centre situated outside the city near the beach. That night was spent encountering our first tropical storm with heavy rain and wind sending branches crashing down on our tents and frequent lightening illuminating the surroundings.  The storm lasted all through the night causing most of the group to seek shelter in the changing rooms.  However a few of us decided to try and sit out the storm – a decision I later regretted as our tents flooded or were left sitting in deep water.

The next day we arrived at the jungle training centre where the Malaysian army was also training. We did a practice trek and were shown what not to touch and taught about respecting customs for example, how we couldn’t call out people’s names in the rainforest as the locals believed that the spirit would know who had come and disturbed the forest, so instead we had to shout ‘whoop’ when we needed something.  The first day of the trek was not too tough as there was quite a bit of walking along road but we had been warned that in the jungle you either walk uphill, downhill, never flat, which we later found out.  The walking itself was not too difficult but the weight of large rucksacks and the heat and humidity made it hard going.  By the end of the day everyone was exhausted but we had chance to relax in the river before the first night of sleeping in hammocks.  That night many people fell out of them and not many found the hammocks comfortable after laying in them for hours.

Borneo 4The following day was mainly uphill walking and difficult.  I had learnt from the day before to cover up and slap on the sun cream but the heat was intense.  Luckily, pausing at a village for a break, one of the men pulled back planks from a hut and revealed a shop selling ice lollies and cold drinks which everyone wolfed down.  The village where we eventually stopped for that day was high up above the clouds and probably the poorest and most isolated as the only way to reach it was a steep walk uphill for several hours -which we then found out the children had to do to get to school!  I gave the gifts I had been carrying to the children – inflatable footballs, sketching toys and stickers.  The villagers made meals in exchange for food and the night in the village hall. Unfortunately, I had decided to not bring my sleeping bag with me on the trek and had left it with the rest of our excess equipment at the base.  Also the sleeping mat I ordered before I left home had not arrived in time and I was left having an uncomfortable night in my sleeping bag liner on the wooden floor.  From the village we could see views of Mt. Kinabalu and the surrounding hills.  The next day consisted of walking over hills and into the valleys below and finished with another uncomfortable night on the concrete floor of the village of Rungus Nahaba.  All through the trek I saw the rubber trees that the villagers make their living from being harvested and also unfortunately deforestation of areas by the locals to create farmland.  Furthermore I saw the worlds largest stick insect and giant millipedes as well as various giant beetles.  The final day was back to walking on a track but I found it just as difficult due to the fact that there were no longer trees to provide shelter from the sun.  After a long steep climb, the trek finished tantalizingly close to Mt. Kinabalu in the village of Nabalu.

The next day we were whisked away to Sepilok Orang utan Sanctuary where we spent the a few days on a project making walkways for the tourists through the rainforest. I saw the feeding of the orang utans and the park ranger took my group to see the baby orang utans in an area prohibited to tourists.  We then went to the Kinabatangan River and spent two days wildlife spotting on dawn and dusk expeditions in boats down the river and trekking through the leech infested jungle.  The wildlife was quite spectacular – 6 out of the 8 types of hornbill in Borneo including the rarest; various poisonous spiders and large bugs, promiscuous monkeys and during the night treks; sleeping kingfishers.  The next stop was at the magnificent Gomantong caves to view the bats (and cockroaches) in a huge cavern.  Although it was a great place to be the stench of the bat droppings was quite overwhelming.

This was followed by preparation for the ascent of the mountain which we had ahead of us.  Passes were collected at the park headquarters aBORNEO 2t Timpohon Gate. Whilst waiting to set of it started to rain so everyone put on their rain coats and overtrousers – quite a different outfit to what we had been wearing for the past weeks.  The trek started with a deceiving downhill stretch but that would be the last descent of the day as there were thousands of steps to climb to reach ‘halfway house’ at 3200 metres.  As the rain gradually increased the paths became wetter and wetter and nearer the top of the ascent the increasingly rocky paths resembled streams.  The wind especially increased with altitude with windspeeds reaching 100km/h.  I did not find the climbing particularly difficult and it was relatively easy compared to the four day trek and I also found my running had physically prepared me well.  The fact that I only had to carry my day sack (sleeping bags were provided where we stayed) and the reduced temperature and humidity were also useful.  However the decline in temperature made it difficult for some who found it easier not to rest as the wind quickly made it cold and the difference in temperature was difficult to adapt to (it was reportedly minus 10 degrees C at the summit).

Borneo 3After many hours we made it to our destination for the day.  Although the metal hut gave protection from the wind it was still cold and a few mugs of Sabah Tea were very welcome.  The next hour was spent watching people being buffeted around in the wind whilst trying to reach the hut. It was a relief to retire to my sleeping bag to try and warm up. We were told of the poor conditions on the summit and how of the almost 150 people that had attempted the summit the day before only 16 had made it.  At this time the ascent of the summit the next day was looking doubtful, especially as the wind was making it a challenge just to make the 50 metre journey to get our tea at halfway house.  Waking up in daylight the next day was a very bad sign as we were meant to get up at 1am for the last climb. Unfortunately the summit was still closed due to the weather conditions meaning we would have to give up our ascent.  Disappointingly we set off for the bottom of the mountain in the cold wind but on the upside the clouds had cleared giving a wonderful view of the mountain above and below.  I left the mountain knowing that one day I would return to conquer it.

Borneo 5The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the sulphurous Poring hot springs although part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it.  The following day I woke up feeling quite ill and it wasn’t made any better by the long, cramped coach journey on the way back to Kota Kinabalu for our last two days of rest and relaxation.  It turned out I was actually quite ill with and had to miss the days activities.  The final day was spent on the island of Mamutik snorkeling although there was little success as the sand had been churned up by the bad weather making visibility poor under water.  The expedition finished on a high on the island (the sun eventually did come out) and although little sea life was seen, spotting a monitor lizard on the land was a bonus; a good finish to an excellent adventure.

The money donated by the Jack Bloor fund was very useful especially as it put less pressure on me to raise money at the time of my exams and has helped me fulfill an unforgettable experience whilst also increasing my desire to continue to travel and enjoy the natural world.

If you would like any more photos or details of my expedition please don’t hesitate to ask.

Yours gratefully, Adam