Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gap year programme in Borneo – Mt. Kinabalu Climb and Jungle Trekking

This report brings you how Natalie and her team conquered Mt. Kinabalu, one of the highest mountain in southeast Asia, the highest peak in Borneo’s Crocker Range and the highest mountain in the Malay archipelago. Not only that, couple of days after descending from the mountain, they have successfully trekked for 5 days and 4 nights in the jungle and ended their programme at Camp Bongkud. I’ll let you read all about it here..

Dear friends and family,

I am thrilled to say that since my last update our group has made it through two major challenges! On Wednesday morning, we embarked on our ascent of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia. The first day was hard work, trudging up steep, uneven steps, one after the next,  loaded with a backpack of food and water for the day and warm, clean clothes for the rest of the journey. After 6 km walking we reached Laban Rata lodge where we were greeted with an optional icy cold shower and a bed to sleep in for the night. However, despite cocooning ourselves in numerous blankets, many of us found it difficult to get a quality night’s sleep due to the cold at altitude. In any case, we all relished filling our bellies that night with unlimited visits to a delicious buffet dinner!

The next morning our alarms sounded at the fine hour of 2 am for a 2:30 departure up the final 2.5 km of the mountain, aiming to see the sunrise from the summit. Up bare rockface, in the pitch black darkness, we went, with only a white hand rope and faithful head torch to guide us. The last 100 metres was the hardest, clambering up slippery wet boulders on our hands and knees, desperate to reach the top.

I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, but wow it makes you feel alive!!

Unfortunately the weather at the summit wasn’t ideal so there was no view to be seen, and no one wanted to linger long in the finger-numbing cold and wind.  I broke open a celebratory chocolate bar, took a photo in front of the sign saying I had reached 4095.2 metres (this kind of thing requires photographic evidence) and mentally prepared myself for the long descent to the base.

I was so overjoyed to see the entrance gate that I had walked through less than two days before that I swear I nearly cried! I did it! Our first night at Camp Bongkud, our last camp in Borneo, was a blur of a well-deserved shower, a good meal and the warm embrace of a mattress.

For a couple of R & R days we hobbled around Camp Bongkud like little old ladies, taking small tours of the village and the school nearby as well as learning how to cook traditional steamed banana cake and bead bracelets. Our bums and thighs still sore, we received a briefing on our imminent second challenge: a 5 day trek in the Bornean jungle. The real deal this time : setting up our own hammocks each night beneath the forest canopy and cramming them into our backpacks the following morning; carrying our own food for the whole duration of the trek (a gourmet combination of instant noodles, cans of baked beans, biscuits, peanut butter, potatoes, canned tuna, oatmeal and oranges) which we had to ration ourselves.

Most of us simply balked at the thought of torturing our poor recovering bodies again with more intense physical activity! But we looked forward to the challenge of testing our personal limits once again, particularly in the realm of personal hygiene. Nothing but baby wipe showers for 5 days? Bring it on!

We set out the next morning, our packs swollen with food and supplies, both apprehensive and intrigued to see how we would survive the wilderness. After meandering away from the camp on a gravel road for a while, we came to a narrow bridge crossing our first river. One at a time we tip toed along the haphazard wire mesh patched up with wooden planks.  It was the threshold into the world of the jungle! After that a porter came to the front of our single file march. Around his waist was a sheathed machete (known as a ‘parang’ in Malay), which he swung back and forth to carve a path through the undergrowth. Suddenly some of the girls (and, admittedly, the boys) began to squeal, alerting us that the leeches had come out to play. It was then we knew the jungle had swallowed us up and we would have to wait through the next few days to see if it would spit us out again in one piece!