"I FEEL SO MUCH STRONGER THAN BEFORE AND MORE POSITIVE TO FACE THE CHALLENGES AWAITING IN MY LIFE"
I remember three months ago when I was still a shy person, I was nervous when I was about to board the plane along with another two venturers. I had so many things in my mind as it was the first time in my life that I will be leaving home for such a long period. I wondered if I had made the right decision to go on this adventure, I wondered if I will get homesick, I wondered if I will have the courage to speak to new people, I wondered if I am strong enough to go through all the challenges ahead. I had many concerns in my mind, however, I told to myself to be calm and take things as they come as I already made the decision to get out there and challenge myself.
As Host Country Venturers, we were required to meet up a day earlier. After we reached Kota Kinabalu, we met another five HCVs from Sabah at fieldbase. After lunch, we went for a swimming assessment and departed to Basecamp. I was glad to spend a night with my fellow HCVs. That night, we were told to prepare a performance for the international volunteers. After discussion, we decided to sing “Tinggi-tinggi Gunung Kinabalu”, a very popular Malay song in Sabah that described the beauty of the tall Mountain Kinabalu and dance the traditional folk dance of the Kadazan Dusun called Sumazau. That was my first time learning the song and the dance. We had fun laughing and teasing each other although it was the first day meeting each other. We felt like a family. The next day, all the international volunteers arrived Basecamp. We were divided into seven Delta groups for our induction week. My heart was pumping quickly when the international volunteers got down the bus. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, my project manager approached me and introduced me to the other group members. The induction week was instructive. We received medical trainings, learned to set up the radio, and all sort of trainings to help us survive in the remote project sites. During the induction week, I was still doubtful about surviving in the jungle. However, after a session with my group which we wrote down our hopes and fears on pieces of papers, I found out that we all had similar hopes and fears. I was relieved to know that I am not alone in this journey. Therefore, I became less reserve to speak to my team members. Besides, we had some memorable activities that strengthen our team bonding such as the Raleigh Olympics and also a Quiz Competition against other Delta groups. Furthermore, we also went on a practice trek and stayed a night in the wilderness. Beforehand, we were told by the locals about the rules in the jungle to respect the jungle spirits. Our project manager also told us more about it during the night after we finished reviewing about the day. It was my first time sleeping in the hammock in the middle of the rainforest. It was quite comfortable but I didn’t sleep too well as I was afraid of the jungle spirits.
Soon, induction week came to an end. I had a mixed feeling when I was allocated to Alpha 6, which was the trek group because I knew that trekking would be tough. I was afraid that I was not physically fit enough to overcome the challenge. However, I was excited to go out and explore the Borneo jungle. Trekking was indeed, tough. I will never forget the “killer hill” on the second day of trek - we went uphill for 6 hours! It was not only physically challenging but also mentally demanding. I was the weakest member in my team. I found it extremely hard every time we went uphill. However, I was grateful to have the best teammates who motivated me a lot throughout the trek. There was once, everyone had reached the top and one of my teammates ran down the hill to carry my rucksack for me. I was touched by my teammates because they never once left me behind. My teammates also let me lead in front and set the pace. Moreover, if they ever heard me saying that I was the weakest member in the group, they will say it was because we were a very strong group or say that I have a smaller build compared to them. Throughout the whole phase, the bond between our team became so strong and we got really attached to each other. I developed my love towards trekking as I get to see beautiful sceneries and met amazing teammates that I will treasure for a lifetime.
Soon, trekking was over. When we finally reached the bus pick-up point, we were so happy and wanted to tell the whole world we had conquered the jungle. The shower at basecamp after the trek was the best shower I had ever had in my life. I never realized that something this small can be so satisfying. Trek made me started to appreciate small things and always be grateful.
It was allocation again, I felt sad to leave my trek group but at the same time very excited to start a new chapter of my expedition. I was allocated to Alpha 3 to build a suspension bridge in the beautiful Danum Valley. It was a seven hours of bus ride and about two hours of 4x4 to reach Danum Valley. When we were in 4x4, we saw a herd of pygmy elephants. Although I had saw many elephants in the past whether it was in the zoo or in the elephant sanctuary, the excitement of seeing elephants in the wild was different and unique. The camp at Danum Valley was called Mengaris camp, which was named after the Mengaris tree surrounding our campsite. The camp was well equipped with a kitchen, two tables, fixed hammocks, flushing toilets and showers. These things may sound like nothing but it was definitely a luxury after going through trek. When I finished trek, I thought I finished the hardest part of the expedition and was relieved that the rest of my expedition would not be as tough. However, I was wrong. Building the foundation of the suspension bridge required a lot of hard work. This included shoveling gravels from the river, carry the gravels up a steep hill and collect a big pile of gravels on the hill.
When we had enough gravels, we started mixing the concrete to fill up the foundation. When mixing concrete, we had to wear longs, protective eyewear and face mask. This made our work harder as the weather wasnhot especially after lunchtime. Despite all the hard work, we had lots of fun moments in Danum Valley. We explored the primary rainforest and installed cameras to capture pictures of animals to study different trails were used by different animals. We also climbed up an observation tower to have a better view of the primary rainforest. On the way back to camp, we saw red leaf monkeys playing with each other. Furthermore, we also went on a night walk and saw nocturnal animals such as the flying frog and the Pitta. As Danum Valley is a well-known research centre, we were lucky to meet some researchers and learned about nature from them. They invited us to their laboratory after they managed to capture 70 bats in a night and talked to us about different types of bats found in Borneo. During the last few days at Danum Valley, we had a mini trek to Purut Camp that took us about 5 hours. I was behind our ranger, Marty during the whole trek. He shared me a lot of his experienced in Danum Valley and taught me many things about the jungle. On our way to Purut camp, we saw many elephant dungs. The ranger told us that the elephant dungs are still fresh and the elephants might be around us. We tried to keep ourselves quiet so that we would not disturbed the elephants. We did not see any elephants but Marty and I saw a wild boar. We stayed at Purut Camp for two nights.
The camp was located right beside a waterfall. During the day, we went to the helipad and cleared the helipad. In the evening, we trekked to a nearby place to visit a bigger waterfall. Soon, it was time to say goodbye to Danum Valley. On the last night, the rangers held a farewell party for us. We had barbeque and karaoke. Danum Valley was a really great place with many wildlife. Throughout the phase, we saw many wildlife such as the hornbills, pygmy elephants, flying frogs, red leaf monkeys, wild boar, and sambar deer. This encouraged me to learn more about protecting the environment and I hope that one day when I visit this place again, it would be as lovely as it was.
My final phase of the expedition was a really special phase. I was allocated to Alpha 5 which we spent our first half of the phase at Tawai Forest Reserve and second half of the phase at Kampong Kopuron. At Tawai Forest Reserve, we stayed at a chalet with mattresses, pillows and ceiling fans. We took the chance to replenish our energy. However, the work at Tawai was challenging. We carried our parangs and cleared trails up the local hill. It was easier for us as the previous group had already cleared a path and installed some handrails. We worked with the community volunteers from Kampung Kopuron.
There were three peaks in total. By the end of our trip at Tawai Forest reserve, we managed to cleared trails to the second peak of the forest reserve and went to observe the third peak. The adventure from the second peak to the third peak was difficult as the trails were not cleared. We all got cuts on our legs but when we reached the third peak, it was all worth it as the sceneries there was breathtaking. During five days at Tawai, we also transplanted wildings form the forest reserve to the botanic garden. We were told that when the wildlings are strong enough to support itself, it will be plant into the forest again. Soon, our stay in Tawai came to an end. We said goodbye to our lovely chalet and moved to Kampung Kopuron which was a pleasant village with lovely people. During our stay there, we cleared the land beside the village river to build a pondok and a campsite. We also carried stones to put along a trail that the previous group cleared. Besides, we successfully built three pondoks with the help of the villagers.
Furthermore, we conducted a baseline survey to assess the water supply, health and sanitation situation in the village. As the only Host Country Venturer in the group, I had a big role in the survey as most of the villagers cannot understand or speak English. Luckily, I had help from the community volunteers. We split our jobs into half and had two teams to conduct the survey each day. We managed to conduct surveys in four houses each day and in five days’ time, we finished surveying twenty houses. At the beginning of the survey, I felt awkward to occupy the villagers’ time for the survey and was really nervous to speak to the villagers in Malay as I was not very fluent in Malay. However, the villagers were cooperative and were willing to spend their time to do the survey. Therefore, I became more comfortable with the villagers and was thankful to have given this opportunity to know more about the village as well as the villagers. At the end of the phase, we had a homestay program, two female venturers and I were appointed to stay at the village chief’s house for two nights. We tried some local dessert and had conversations to the village chief’s children who were a few years older than me. They told us about the lifestyle in the village and showed us pictures of their family. We were also invited to take part in the district harvest festival. On that day, we were dressed in the traditional Kadazan costume. We had a big feast at the festival and had a memorable night dancing and singing with the villagers.
When I just got used to waking up by the sounds of roosters crowing and dogs fighting, it was about time to leave the village. On the last night, the villagers held a huge farewell party for us. The next day, they even sent us off to the main road and bit farewell to us.
Thinking of the feeling that I was really unsure about going on an expedition at first, now, I am proudly saying that I had the best ten weeks of my life in Borneo changing people’s life and also my own life. I made new friends, gained confidence and learned a lot throughout this expedition. I am also keener in giving back to the society and become more grateful of everything I have. I feel so much stronger than before and feel more positive to face the challenges awaiting in my life. I hope that by sharing my story, more people will be inspired to get out there and join an expedition.