Friday, 19 March 2010

Cheese on Homestay with Alpha 8

After leaving Alpha 7 midway through their trek in the jungle it was time to meet up with Alpha 8 for their homestay in Long Pasia. They had finished their trek earlier in the day and I was expecting them to be taking an afternoon nap after their 12 day trek. But as I walked into the kampung I heard a familiar voice shouting ‘SPIKE, SPIKE!’. They were already stuck into an intense game of volleyball with the locals as well as a more gentle game of football with the kids. It was a refreshing site. After nearly a week under the canopy of the dense jungle it felt good to have a proper view and to soak up the late afternoon sun. No wonder everyone was outside enjoying themselves.

Nooh, one of the guides, showed me to his home, a traditional stilt house made entirely of wood, where I met his family who I stayed with that night. I was given CoffeeTea (coffee, tea, milk & sugar in a single sachet) and shown photo albums of all of the previous Alpha groups that have trekked in Long Pasia. Nooh could remember the name of every Project Manager and his favourite venturers. It became clear that the Raleigh treks are as much of a highlight for the guides as they are for us.
I spent the evening eating copious amounts of traditional food generously prepared by my hosts, and learning Malay from their 5 year old daughter before the lure of an actual bed became too great.
In the morning I met up with some of the group waiting patiently outside one of the houses for the others to finish breakfast. One of the guides turned up eager for Mike to give him a final boxing lesson before we left.

The 4x4s arrived soon after and we set off for KK with the promise of pizza and the group was eagerly anticipating their time on Mamutik, the dive island.

After an eventful but successful journey of KFC and guitars we made it back to KK and treated ourselves to a dip in the local swimming pool. I left Alpha 8 as they tucked into a dinner of KK’s finest noodles. They never did get their pizza, but I think their week on Mamutik should have made up for it by now.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Our photographer, Cheese, on Trek with Alpha 7

I was greeted at the pier by a tanned and relaxed looking Alpha 7. Their pre-trek week on dive island had clearly been productive. However, in a few days their tans would be replaced by mud, and that relaxed feeling would be superceded by tiredness and the odd muscle cramp.

The journey to the jungle started with a 2 hour bus ride from KK to Sipatang where we refuelled…at KFC. There we met the convoy of 4x4s that would take us on the second leg of our trip, a 4 hour off-road drive to Long Pasia, the kampung marking the start and end point of the trek.
In 12 days the sight of the brightly coloured houses, stray buffalo and inquisitive children wouldn’t just be a talking point, it would be a huge sigh of relief and realisation that everyone had finally completed what would probably be their toughest challenge on Raleigh.

But for now it had just begun. Our first task was to erect the team tarp and secure the static hamocs. From now on we would be moving everyday, and instead of setting up camp after 6 hours on the road it would be after 6 hours trekking.

The following morning everyone was up at the crack of dawn, eager to get a day’s trekking under their belt. Camp was cleared, group food and kit packed away, and it was time for our guide to lead the way into the jungle.

Final preparations before beginning the trek.
And we're off!
Nooh, 'The Jungle King' and our guide.

The mist was still rising over Long Pasia as we waved goodbye to civilization for the duration of the trek.

We forded a couple of rivers, scrambled up a bank or two, paranged our way through thicker areas of jungle and arrived at Bamboo Camp. It had been a relatively gentle two hour trek and a pleasant surprise for the group.

We had a leisurely lunch, a cup of coffee (someone left the tea bags behind), a rinse in the river, and a chance to learn some camp craft. Although, rather than the Bear Grylls-esque skills I was expecting, we learnt the art of bracelet making.

Soon though it was ‘longs o’clock’ and we all dutifully changed and smothered ourselves in deet. The cooks whipped up some of the finest Raleigh rations on the campfire and we carbo-loaded like nobodies business. The evening was passed with a game of mafia and some stories of the jungle spirits. I soon became much more attached to my newly whittled bracelet, which I hoped would act as a jeemat with plenty of obat to ward off the bali saleng.

After a night of strange noises, mainly Aydan’s snoring and Ben’s flatulence, I was woken by the familiar sound of the hornbills whooping from the canopy of the forest.

The daily duties started with stoking the fire, boiling water for porridge and taking down hamocs and tarps. The less glamorous jobs come after breakfast and include filling in the long drop (with soil) as well as burning the loo roll, which was a favourite for Flic.

Yes Flic, you love it!

Gentle stretching was followed by thunder, lighting & the storm…not inclement weather but some bizarre bonding exercise introduced by Joe White (if any friends or family members could shed any light on the origin of this it would be greatly appreciated).

The morning group stretch.

It had just gone 8am by the time we left camp. A few hours of the usual jungle scenery passed and we came across a clearing and several flimsy looking bamboo structures, we had made it to the next camp. Our new home for the night was set up in increasingly quick time.

The guides took us foraging for river fern before dark, which was cooked in a traditional recipe for the evening meal.

With energy levels replenished it was a unanimous decision to have a longer trek the following day. The guides agreed our team was strong and had coped with the first couple of days well. They suggested a challenging trek to a camp near the Indonesian border, which only two other Raleigh groups have been deemed fit enough to do in the past. Naturally, Alpha 7 accepted.

The trek was tough. Eight hours ascending into the Kalimantan hills took its toll on our bodies but most of all our will power. It tested everyone’s physical and mental limits but we all eventually made it to camp unscathed. The heavily chlorinated but still slightly stagnant smelling water wasn’t going to stop anyone enjoying a well-earned cup of mylo.

Thunder, lightning and a storm came that night…a real one this time. Despite some people’s efforts to ignore the deluge, determined to sleep off the day’s exertions, they were forced out of their waterlogged hamocs.
A night on the forest floor under the communal tarp wasn’t the best preparation for another hard day of trekking but there were no complaints...well not many.

We descended from the ridge where we'd camped using climbing ropes and sticks to support ourselves on the steep slopes made slippery by the heavy rain, which had started again.

It was the toughest day I had on trek and I know most of the group felt the same. It was made worse by the leeches lurking on every leaf since the rain had coaxed them from their hiding places. I’d like to say that everyone dealt with them with courage and maturity but I’ve been told I’m not allowed to lie on the blog.
A meticulous leech check.

By now the daily duties had become routine and the team worked together like a well-oiled machine. Everyone’s tarps were taut and it looked like the hamocs had been tied using a spirit level. I’m not sure whether this was a case of practice makes perfect or whether people had just taken extra care for fear of another rainstorm. Either way, the camp looked immaculate. I made the most of my perfect hamoc and had an early night while the others continued to pick leeches from their boots, not the usual evening entertainment but satisfying nonetheless.

The following day was my final one with Alpha 7. It was another long trek to camp where I said an emotional goodbye, wished the team luck for the rest of their journey, and left them setting up camp while playing the usual game of ‘would you rather…’.

I was off to meet Alpha 8 for their homestay, but that’s a different story…