Last summer we went to Borneo with World Challenge from 7 July to the 7 August. World Challenge is about getting students to take the lead on their trip, including everything from fundraising the money to organising our activities in Borneo and taking turns being leaders each day. For the whole trip we all took it in turns to be leader and accountants. We all dealt with the stress and enjoyment that came with the responsibility. Borneo is a large island in Southeast Asia inbetween the Philippines and Singapore. Our trip had 5 phases; acclimatisation, jungle trekking, community project, rest and relaxation and cultural and exploration phase. We all spent about 2 years preparing for this trip, and each of us had to raise £4,350, but it was all worth it.
Treks at Similajau
After more than 25 hours of travel, with stops in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and following our first orientation day in Miri one of Borneo’s most important cities, we arrived at Similajau on the 10th July – which was Jamie’s birthday – for our acclimatisation treks. On the first day we settled in our lodged, had a group meeting and explored the area. In the evening,…after Kathryn fought with Alex the caterer for around 30 mins we were finally fed – cold chips and cold curry…yum!
On day 2 a tropical storm started at 4:00am. During the night the electricity cut out due to the storm, which meant the clothes we washed the night before didn’t dry and our room was hot, very stuffy and smelt like mouldy cheese. The next day we then had to complete a trek in torrential rain which meant lots of leeches, especially for Jamie who collected a total of 15 leech bites and this resulted in Tiger singing a song about The Leachy Lady. Lucy and Issey had an impressive total of 60 mosquito bites each from the evening before and were not very happy at having itchy legs all day.
On day 3 it was Sophie’s birthday and we started walking to Turtle Beach 1 which was around 9km, the longest trek so far! We didn’t make it all the way there, but still enjoyed the beautiful sights of the beaches. After a day of exhausting trekking in the heat, we headed back to our lodges at Park HQ where we all had a well deserved snack and rest. Then a few of us went a wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ in the sand for Sophie on the beach and just before dinner we went and watched the sunset.
Project at Long Atip in Sarawak
We spent our second week in Borneo doing our community project in Long Atip. The main focus of the community project was to help build an extension to a church and we also helped in the local school as well as helping on Lajim’s farm. Whilst at Long Atip, we played football, duck duck goose, and hide and seek. Our hosts were called Lajim and Martha and we stayed in a Long House which took 21 minutes to get from one end to the other (and which you can see in one of the photos). At the end of our week we had a goodbye ceremony where we all had to perform their local dance and try to play the drums.
Treks at Gunung Mulu National Park
Following our community project, we had to take a 20 minute flight to Gunung Mulu National Park. Once we arrived we went straight to our homestay and then we began a small trek, which we all enjoyed it but we didn’t know how hard it was going to be. We then headed for dinner, and ate at an open restaurant with bats flying across our heads, resulting in Issey and Lucy screaming a lot.
On day 2 we completed a trek to an amazing waterfall and paddled in the stream. We enjoyed lunch there and then headed back to out homestay. And during the evening we all had a nice chat to get to know each other better.
The real challenge of the jungle trek began on Day 3. For the next two days we knew that it would be tough, it started off with a boat journey. We first stopped off at at a rural village where we bought many items from the market there. Afterwards we had a 30 min boat ride to another destination where a few of us went into the caves while the rest of us played in the water. We eventually started our main trek which was 9 km, it was difficult due to the temperature, humidity and our heavy backpacks. For many of us it was one of the biggest challenge of the trip. However, the wildlife that surrounded us was spectacular and distracted us from the gruelling walk. It took us around 5 hours to complete the trek and we were very relieved when we arrived at our destination.
On Day 4 we now knew what to expect and that we would have to have a positive mental attitude as the day promised to be tough. The 11km walk would difficult with our big rucksacks. Tiger had a traumatic experience of finding a leech on her. She was so terrified that our guide claimed that she had woken the jungle voodoo spirits and so he ran off and left us!! After we finished the walk with many of us complaining about blisters or pain we were able to relax on another boat ride. This time three hours long which included many of us falling asleep due to how tired we were.
Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in South-East Asia which is 4095m above sea level. It was definitely one of the hardest things we have all done but one of the best things in our life! Mrs Sookdeo, and our inner biologists, noticed the changing vegetation as we got higher. We started our ascent on the 31st July and reached the summit on the 1st August. On the first day we started walking at 7:00 and it was fair to say that even after walking we started to feel the side-effects of the altitude but we were prepared with our group snacks which included many cookies. The further we climbed the mountain the more surreal it became. After around 6 hours of walking, and many steps, we arrived at our accommodation ⅔ up the mountain. Unfortunately, Sophie fell over and badly hurt her arm. Matters only got worse as the accommodation was freezing which meant lots of layers were worn we then prepared for an early night going to bed at 6:30.
On the 1st August, we woke up at 1:30am and we were walking by 3:00am. We walked for 2 kilometers in the pitch black fighting against altitude sickness. The further we ascended the mountain the steeper it got which meant we were walking on slate with only a bit of rope for support. After 3 hours of walking we finally could see the peak!! Even though it was hard work it was definitely worth it, we were literally above the clouds and were able to watch the sunrise. It was the most surreal view we had all ever seen and we made sure that we took plenty of photos. We then prepared ourselves to climb the peak and this was a struggle as we were so high up so altitude was hitting us hard!!! But we finally got to the very top of the mountain which was everyone’s biggest and proudest achievement of their life.
We then began to head down the mountain which was actually harder than ascending as it was tough on our knees. Unfortunately, Ester became very very sick and had to be carried down in a stretcher, while Sophie kept fighting the pain from her arm. And despite walking in the pouring rain, we were all strong and made it down. We finally reached the bottom where waiting for us was a buffet with many of us drinking lots of hot chocolate. Climbing the mountain was hard for everyone and it was important that we had a positive mental attitude many, of us faced our fears including Ms Gonzalez Lens conquering her fear of heights. It was completely worth it as we are now able to say that we have climbed the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and for many of it was the highlight of the trip.
Rest and Relaxation
Our final phase was R&R. For this we went island hopping around islands off the coast of Borneo, visited the Sabah State Gallery – which had a women’s art exhibition and other local art. Other highlights of our Rest and Relaxation Phase included Ziplining and Snorkelling around the nearby islands of Kota Kinabalu where we got caught in a tropical typhoon! It was awesome but scary.
We also visited a Handicraft market, Sabah State Mosque, food markets, the Orangutan Rehabilitation centre and Sunbears at Sepilok. And, in addition, Sophie and Amaia spent some of their rest and relaxation visiting the hospitals and were very proud about their x-rays.
What we got from the trip
We all learnt different things from the trip this included learning how to manage people as everyday one of us was leader which included booking accommodation or taxis or finding food for everyone to eat.
For the physical side of things, it was important that we worked as a team and had a positive mental attitude as the expedition was both physically and mentally demanding. Some also learned that you shouldn’t shower in your clothes when they get smelly.I think it’s safe to say that this is the best trip of our lives where many great friendships have been made.