Tuesday, 1 November 2011

From the Loop

Memoirs of a Logs Man on Loop.

I woke up early one Thursday morning with a sense of duty and expectation. I should have been tired at this time of the morning, it wasn’t even light yet, however, the anticipation of adventure was all I could sense. That Thursday morning, I teamed up with 11K’s Deputy Programme Manager, Petr Hubacek, and our Administrator, Shana de Silva, while I was representing our proud Logistics team on the Phase 1 Loop. We each shared a passion and eagerness to visit 11K’s four static Alpha teams and also a sense of curiosity regarding just what we would find.  My time at field base was short lived that morning. After a rushed breakfast and detailed vehicle and equipment checklist (check, check, check)  it was almost time to say our farewells. The remainder of our Fieldbase team also woke up early and gathered outside to wish us well and say their goodbyes (Thanks Guys). As the sun began to rise we started the engine of Bravo 3 - its rhythmic mechanical noises would be our soundtrack for the next 7 days, and began our journey heading south-east towards the mysterious Danum Valley. 
Bravo 3 overshadowed by Mount K
Stopping to admire the magnificent views of Mount Kinabalu along the way, we seized a photo opportunity in honour of the picturesque scenery before us. Feeling newly inspired and refreshed from our early start we continued our journey along the twisting mountain roads towards Rannau.

Palm Oil Plantations for miles
After passing through Rannau the roads and scenery began to change. Our team, now on route towards Lahad Datu, found the mountain scenery and twisting roads replaced by palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see. The steep climbs and twisting roads were replaced by a straight road stretching into the horizon reminiscent of the famous Route 66. Between 2000 and 2005, 86% of the total deforestation in Malaysia was due to palm oil plantations. Witnessing such views served as a powerful and effective reminder of the importance of environmental projects such as those under way in Danum Valley and Sepilok.

Upon reaching Lahad Datu, Petr parked the Bravo by the local market in order to collect some fresh fruit and vegetables - a gift for our soon to be hosts Alpha 3. Petr was no stranger to these parts having served 5 previous phases in this area and navigated us through the crowded markets and street merchants easily. The chance to stretch our legs was welcomed even in such a crowded environment, but it was time to leave and once again we found ourselves back in the Bravo.
Picking up fresh fruit and veg at Lahad Datu's market

As the roads turned into dirt tracks I found the scenery once again transforming, this time into a rich rainforest. Finally we had arrived at Mengaris Camp which a part of Danum Valley Field Centre in order to keep our appointment with the patiently waiting Alpha 3. Watch the loop's arrival here.



In perhaps the most memorable and inventive welcomes of the Phase 1 Loop, Alpha 3 had declared Mengaris Camp and themselves, The Peoples Republic of Danum (PRD). I found myself on the outside of a mock border control gate being ordered through a baggage and immigration check point. Unsure if this was an award winning performance by the team or if they had simply spent a little too much time in isolation in the jungle, I said nothing and instead held back my laughter and concerns simply glancing at Petr and Shana occasionally for reassurance while complying with the border control official’s orders. As it turned out, we were in luck. The team performed a hilarious rendition of the newly created national anthem of the 'PRD' before declaring us their guests of honour and providing us each with a jungle leaf head dress, which the entire Alpha 3 was also wearing. The camp dressed for longs, and dinner (side partings ensuring) in a form of a 3 course meal began. The night was all too soon over though as the team prepared for their trek into Ulu Purut camp the next morning.
Ed prepares drop scones for pudding

The Loop gets sworn into the PRD
with ceremonial headdress
I had made a point of taking my guitar with me on the Loop, but was greatly disappointed when I realized we no longer had time for a full performance with Alpha 3 before trekking out that morning. I rushed off a few chords from the well known hit “Wonderwall” which the team had rewritten the lyrics to and I promised to perform the song in full with the team at Changeover to make up for the missing performance.

The PRD's Loop menu

Jean ready to tuck into drop bear scones

PRD together
For the last few days Alpha 3 had been trekking half way to the Ulu Purut Camp carrying vital equipment and materials for their project. If you have ever seen a colony of ants marching in tandem while carrying supplies back to their hive you will get the picture. Raleigh Venturers truly are the biggest ants in the rainforest. Today was a very special day, Alpha 3 had now managed to carry all of their equipment to the half way point and would be trekking the full distance to Ulu Purut for the first time. As honory members of Alpha 3, Petr, Shana and I packed as much team equipment as we could into our rucksacks and marched with them.

Stretch for trek


The trek was long and hard and were it not for the energy supplied by Alpha 3’s singing and occasional bite of Peanut Brittle we might not have made it. After 6.5 hours of trekking, the rainforest finally gave way into a small clearing occupied by a row of bashers and large tarps - we had arrived at Ulu Purut Camp. Beyond the camp an impressive timber structure stretched out before us.  Staring at the future research facility the team would be working on, I was taken back, so impressed that this level of construction and materials could be found this far into the jungle in such a remote location.
The evening was pleasant as the team built a campfire and served their evening meal. My souvenir, a custom made Parang bearing a Borneo 11K logo across the sheaf, was finally christened as we cut deadwood in order to finish our bashers and create kindling for the fire. We thanked Alpha 3 for their hospitality before bed knowing this would be our last chance. Our day would begin early the next morning as we would have to trek back out at first light to continue our journey. 
We left not just with fond memories and leach bites, however,  Comms Officer Katie Ellison had been with Alpha 3 since deployment and would be joining our Loop team until our rendezvous with Alpha 4 in Sepilok. Our numbers and moral now increased and we trekked on.
Danum Valley truly is an inspiring place with much to offer. We made a point to visit just some of these wonders as we left, including a 40 meter high canopy tree platform and a Global Atmosphere Observation Tower located on a mountain side. Only at this point could we appreciate to true scale and size of the rainforest surrounding us in all directions.
Looking out over Danum Valley
By the time we had left Danum Valley behind us and returned to Lahad Datu, the sun was beginning to set and an orange haze filled the evening sky. Too late to travel on we were spending the night at one of Lahad Datu’s simple and basic, but clean hotels. I had been behind the wheel since our departure from Mengaris camp that day and Petr directed me through the busy roads. There was an impressive mix of cultures occupying the humid streets and the sounds of a Mosque speaker filled the air as we made our final turns and parked the Bravo for the night.  We were greeted by street merchants and beggars everywhere that night, many just children. As my attention was drawn to a young girl perhaps around 7 or 8 sitting by herself on the corner of an almost deserted street selling cigarettes my thoughts turned to Raleigh’s community projects, attempting to reduce the poverty margin.
Lahad Datu's port

In a consistent start to the next day, we left early and travelled to Sepilok. Once again the scenery consisted of nothing but palm oil plantations for large stretches of our journey. We made excellent time and arrived to meet with Alpha 4 early catching them slightly off guard. They invited us into their camp in a warm but relaxed fashion, perhaps the very opposite of Alpha 3’s energetic but militia styled enactment. It was Sunday by now, but also Alpha 4’s day off. Their usual routine of heavy lifting and construction work temporarily put to one side in favour of conversation and relaxation. We discussed the team's work so far as well as our news from the outside world while treating ourselves to a cup of tea in the camp's shaded dining area.
The jungle camp was situated approximately 30mins walk from the team's project site at the Orangutan and Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre, but as we were conscious of the time we elected to travel there utilizing the Bravo once again. As well as the centre's tourist and visitors sections we would be allowed travel further into the actual rehabilitation grounds in order to see the project underway. Orangutans could be seen everywhere as we walked through the open air facility. Their almost human mannerisms created a conversation point for much of the day. We saw less of the sun bears, the need to create areas for this lesser appreciated species becoming very apparent. The project site, a walkway to be used by visitors and researchers created from largely reused materials lay just ahead. Once again I was impressed with the level of work which had already been achieved. The support beams already positioned looked heavy and I could see the team really had been working hard.
Quizmaster Ted
Rowan serves up Alpha 4's Loop custard to Maurits and Evelein

Curtain call for Alpha 4's movie night
It wasn’t long after our return to Jungle Camp before it was time to dress for longs. My previously fresh and ironed shirt worn with Alpha 3 was looking slightly less impressive but I would be dinning with a team living away from launderettes for long enough for me to still appear overdressed. Entertainment began with a movie themed night. Special credit must go to one of Alpha 4’s Project Managers Ted Down who put a lot of effort into writing the night quiz and directing the round of movie scene re-enactments. I lifted my guitar out of the Bravo and with the team accompanying me played and sang a handful of well know songs.  Catching the team on a day off was really a great chance to talk with our Venturers and establish their reasons for joining Raleigh and hearing how they achieved those goals to date. But despite the warm and social mood, the energy of the team and rewarding conversation, my mind was begging to drift elsewhere, once again we would be leaving in the morning and it would be time to say goodbye to another Alpha team.

Us at Sepilok

We also sadly parted company with our honorary Loop member Katie that morning as we travelled to Alpha 2, the first of our community sites which is located in Kg Lingka Bugan in the mountains of Pitas region. The roads to Lingka Bugan were challenging to say the least, but Petr, who was driving at this stage and the Bravo accepted their challenge well. As Petr engaged the 4 wheel drive differential lock and the Bravo’s engine began to roar I grasped the Bravo’s roll bar and planted myself firmly into the passenger seat in an attempt to stay stable. Shana sitting in the back was not quite as fortunate and I turned around somewhere close to the half way point just in time to see her being flung into the air as the Bravo navigated through a particularly rough section of terrain.  
Bye Bye Katie.
  
Hello Alpha 2: Barbara, Daisy, Renske, Ali, Jess and Joe
We reached Alpha 2 close to three o’clock that day. The sun was still high and intense, however, a welcome mountain breeze could be felt passing through the village. Alpha 2 welcomed us in numbers and presented us a sign stating “No Chocolate – Go Home”. We laughed and ensured the team we were carrying a full supply of Loop shop chocolate available for purchase. After giving us the grand tour of their living space the team went back to their project site, an area of levelled ground with several floor supports already in place overlooking an almost too idyllic mountain scene. Approaching Project Manager Joe Arthurs I jokingly asked “who’s the commanding officer around here?” he pointed at the appointed day leader, Venturer Jess Ewart. I asked Jess if the team would appreciate some help before the day was out and immediately found myself in the company of Venturers Cyrel Gabil and Gordon Proctor. They were bolting the supports together but had turned down the use of a generator and electric hammer drill as were instead competing for the best time using just a corkscrew style hand drill. I stepped up to the challenge, “1 minute 6 seconds to beat, come on” I thought. A satisfying  1 minuet and 5 seconds later I had preserved my pride. The old lion had stayed ahead of the young lion’s on this attempt, experience had prevailed above youth, the new top time wouldn’t last in this competitive environment but I had done enough.
Phew! The shop is fully stocked with dairy milk

We were treated to another 3 course meal made from the Alpha team’s rations before we made our way to a clearing near the project site where a campfire awaited us. The perfect location to break out the guitar I thought and with the assistance of project manager Nick Mannering we performed a few more songs. The night concluded with a round of movie based charades, a great team effort from Alpha 2.

Campfire: check; guitar: check; cheese: check


We woke in time to watch the sun rise in the same idyllic mountain view space just above the project site. I sat and watched the sky change from grey to orange before returning to blue and with it my thoughts returned to the inevitable goodbye I would have to give again. It had only been a short 10 minutes since Alpha 2 waved us farewell and we drove away over the shortened horizon marked by the next hill. It was my turn to navigate the Bravo through the challenging roads, and I was finding them challenging. “Revs! Now!” shouted Petr, but it was too late. The Bravo was stuck in half a meter of mud.

I'm a Looper, get me outta here!

We spent the next hour or so with spades in had digging out the mud from under the Land Rover. At several points I found my foot so encased in mud I had to dig that out too. I was covered in mud by the end, much more so than Petr or Shana. They laughed at me and questioned why. I said nothing and simply shrugged my shoulders while laughing too.
Later on, the roads turned to dirt tracks and visibility became worse as large HGVs threw yellow dust upwards into the air. This was a sign we were close to our final appointment with Alpha 1. We arrived in Kg Alab somewhere close to 17:00 – Alpha 1 immediately knew from our appearance we had been digging out the  Bravo on some previous inhospitable road. They greeted us with hugs despite our muddy sense of fashion before guiding us to the nearby river where we could swim and bathe. We hurried back for dinner and were treated to another luxurious three courses. All of the meals I enjoyed on the Loop were of the highest standard, however Alpha 1 was perhaps just that little bit extra special with their home-made humus and flat bread severed with garlic butter, the perfect additions to an already fine meal. Entertainment was different from the other Alpha groups. They utilized the location and communities' strengths and instead we walked to a nearby village house where the locals conducted a lesson in the local dialect. An over all more cultured approach.
We waited till morning to see the project site in more detail. I had been at this site one week before hand and was amazed at the level of construction that occurred since that time. The framework of a tall structure now stood before me, where was only levelled ground before was now something very recognizable as a building. Very impressive Alpha 1.


Alpha 1 on their lunch break as we head back to fieldbase.
Great progress on the kindergarten in Kg Alab
Now, I have never been good at or enjoyed goodbyes, so in some ways I was relieved that’s this was to be the last goodbye of the Phase 1 Loop, it wasn’t any easier though.

The journey back to Fieldbase was quieter than any of the other stretches, there was a slightly sombre mood in the Bravo. I spoke little and preferred to reflect on the experience we had just shared over the last week. I smiled, we had stories to tell, had travelled the length of Sabah and would be returning to an awesome and welcoming collection of people at Fieldbase we had all missed.


20 comments:

Ann said...

Rowan Alpha 4
Sorry me again!! PDF offer is hopefully coming to you at changeover as you wont be able to access internet. I have emailed Yalumba with what we are trying to achieve. P.S your on custard duties when you get home. Mum.x

Anonymous said...

Hi, just read the recent blog. It was good to see what all the Alpha teams have been doing since there time on projects, just a little concerned as to why there were no photos of any of Alpha 1. Haven't had a group photo of them on project either. Last group photo was at base camp. If at all possible could we please have some photos of Alpha 1. Thanks.

Daisy's Mummy said...

Daisy - Alpha2

Hey Daze, good to see some more photos of you and glad that you are getting some wear out of the crazee striped trousers! Hope they aren't still turning your legs a funny colour! Mills and I had a good week in London and Mills has a list of famous faces she saw.... You'll have to listen to all the anecdotes when you get back just like we did : )
Also saw Auntie Bette, who sends her love and has been on the blog to look at your pix.

Hoping its 'all good with you' much love Muzzy xx
an extra kiss as I can't do the right smily :-P (typical tongue sticking out smiley)

Adam Zapple said...

Message for Jennifer Smith.
I hope you are doing well out there young one. Spreading joy and good will. We are all missing you terribly back here, but looking forward to our reunion in December.
Best wishes to you and all your new friends.
God Bless,
Adam

fez said...

Hi Ryan Alpha 1 just looking at you eating your lunch you should put your boots back on you will put all the others off their food. i know because I wash your socks lol. just remember son I will always be here to embarrass you love MUM XXX

guy :) said...

hellllo dazzy (daisy)! its guy, just writing to say that i'm back from my camping trip to the blue mountains and didn't get eaten by snakes or bears. been thinking about you all the time and gonna try write another letter to you tomorrow! really dying to hear from you and what you've been doing and loving you more than ever baby! :) The pictures on the blog look amazing and i hope the project is going well. Thinking of you always and sending all my love to you :) stay safe, guy xxx

Anonymous said...

Gordon Proctor Alpha 2!

hey Gordon, good to see that your being useful while your gone ! Winter is now officially here and its freezing. Went to see Katy Perry and she was amazing but now i cant hear properly due to the flu :( hopefully you'll get my letter soon as i sent it ages ago!
Hunners of love, Grace :D xxx

Anonymous said...

Thanks for photo of alpha 1, can see they re ok and can now relax.

Kate said...

Matty - Alpha 1
Were you responsible for the garlic butter? :-)
Mfxx

marianne said...

Hee lieve rens! hier het moedertje! heb zonet een berichtje gestuurd maar is volgens mij niet gegaan dus ik doe het nog 's.
Blij te horen dat je voorzien bent van chocola, alles komt goed! Zag dat je een een prachtig berggebied zat. Ben benieuwd hoe ver jullie met het bouwproject gekomen zijn. Moet wel raar zijn nu de mensen daar achter te laten. Op naar een nieuwe uitdaging.
Nederland is vandaag in een herfstige mist gehuld. Coen is ondergedompeld in eindexamentoetsen. elina is bezig met lootjes trekken en Sam heeft z'n rasta kapsel verruild voor een korte coupe en is altijd vrolijk en blij. De parents genieten van alle verhalen en foto's op de site. Veel dikke kussen en knuffels van ons allemaal, mam

guy :) said...

Hey daisy, its me again. sorry if im being annoying and needy by writing on here all the time! hope your day has been okay :) bought some lemon pudding today from a coles supermarket, rest assure i thought of you and will be thinking of you tonight when im sat in my van eating it. just don't think it'll be the same though sadly :( i'll be writing to you again soon daze, missing you and thinking of you as always. all my love gorgeous :) xxx

Anonymous said...

Hi to Rufus, we all loved your letter and are dying to see more photos of Alpha 5. Do you like trekking yet? Is Dad going to have a new trekking partner on your return?
I am sorry our letters are boring, we have beeninstructed not to send parcels but shall create something lovely for you to enjoy soon. love mum

Daisy's Papap said...

Choooo choooo - choo choo chiffinch!!!!

There I was, sleeping soundly and drooling on my pillow when I was rudely knee'd in the back by my wife.
Having been married for 23 years it's been a long time since I've been woken up past midnight for anything less than an emergency.
So, panic stricken and ready for action I leapt out of bed like a sloth on a go-slow and said "what?", this seemed the most sensible response to a rude awakening.
Slowly but surely, like an old transistor radio my wife's voice got louder and louder, sparking some life into this dull brain of mine, I could hear her saying "your phone, your phone". I wasn't sure if this was a statement or question to be honest.
Trying desperately not to irritate my wife further I came up with the genius response of "what are you on about?". Oh dear, wrong answer!
By now my wife was getting rather angry and it seemed that I might have done something quite awful without even realising it (sadly this is not uncommon) but thankfully on this occasion I hadn't.
Lovingly and reassuringly my wife said "You're phone is ringing you idiot!".
Mmmmm? now that I look back at it, it seems obvious, "Your phone, Your phone" couldn't really mean much else but when you're half asleep - you know.
Anyway, so after a small degree of realisation (and a dressing down from the wife) I grabbed my trousers and found my mobile still glowing, I'd missed a number of calls. That's odd, who the heck could be phoning at this time of night?
I then thought I heard my home phone ringing downstairs, for some reason I stopped... and held my head high... like a meerkat on the lookout.... I was right.... It was my home phone! Then it stopped. Oh Bugger!
At this point I was awake, I was ready to pounce on the very next ring, would it be the mobile?, would it be the landline?
Ring ring, It was the landline!!!! I ran downstairs as quick as I could and grabbed the phone, "Hello?.....Hello?......."
Eventually a response ...."It's me!"

It was the sweetest sound any man can here, the sound of his daughters voice.

I'm so sorry I didn't answer the phone quickly and made you worry, I love you baby Daisy, We all miss you very much and look forward to seeing you soon.
Take care and enjoy it.
Daddy X

Annemiek Roos-Weseman said...

VOOR OLIVIER ROOS
Hé Ollie, Was gaaf dat je belde vanmorgen. Fijn om je stem te horen en je enthousiasme. Wat heerlijk dat je zo geniet van alle indrukken. Komende tijd zal wel heel anders zijn, in een klein dorpje in plaats van tussen de hoge bomen. Mensen en kinderen als gezelschap in plaats van wilde dieren. Maar 's nachts een dak boven je hoofd is misschien ook wel eens lekker. Tot snel, Annemiek
P.s Verheug me op een nieuwe brief, blijf schrijven!

Annemiek Roos-Weseman said...

For al the Raleigh people

Thank you for all the writings on the Raleuigh Borneo site. It really gives us, at home, a good impression of what our children are experiencing. It is lovely to know that you and your organisation are taking such good care of them and giving them such a wonderfull time. Thanks for all your hard work!
Annemiek, Olivier's mum

Annelies Berrevoets said...

Ha die Nicolien,

Hoe is het er mee? Ik kreeg een hele enthousiaste mail van je moeder dat de eerste maand er nu op zit en dat je genoten hebt van de mensen in en buiten de groep.
Het project is afgeronde n nu op naar een nieuw project. Gaan jullie ook nog iets van het land bekijken? Wat in Borneo leven die grote mensapen, het zou leuk zijn als je die ziet.
Lieve schat heel veel plezier en zet 'm op!!!
Kus Annelies

Anonymous said...

Private/Personal Message for
ED GREGORY

CCM,
How are you? I think I heard your voice last night, but I'm not sure if it was a dream. I hope you are amazing (I'm sure you are). Your drop scones sound delicious, no quiche? Please be safe. Xoxo.
schmae.

guy :) said...

Daisy Cooke - Alpha two

Hellooo Daze! hope you're all good. Spoke to you're mum and she said you are having an amazing time! so pleased that its all going well and you are wearing a smile! loved you're dads blog post haha. wrote you a letter the other day so that should be with you fairly shortly i should imagine :) loved you're letter for the 4th of November , was so sweet daisy! brought a huge smile to my face. stayed up and read it exactly on midnight! looking forward to hearing from you and all about your project! stay safe my beautiful princess. speak to you soon and i'll keep writing. i love you more than ever you know xxx

Peter Hartley said...

Message for Andrew Hartley (alpha 6) I think from trying to work out the blog.

Hey Mate i guess its time to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

I think the world should mandatory IPhones with face book connection to make it easier.....

So from Peter and Eric we wish you a great Birthday.. loved seeing all the photos. Did you get a haircut?? You need to be in more!!! Where is my post card??

Love you lots

Peter Hartley (junior)

maarten said...

Lieve Steef,

happy b day en nu al 19 dat gaat snel.heb je je rijbewijs al?Ik hoop dat je een TOP verjaardag hebt xxx maarten

Ik wens je een fijne 19de verjaardag! Heb je nog een lekkere verjaardagstaart gekregen?
xxx Philip.

Happy, very happy B'day!!
Wat lijkt me dat cool je verjaardag vieren op Borneo!
Hoop dat je een heel gezellige dag hebt en als je weer terug bent liggen er hier cadeaux op je te wachten!
Heel dikke verjaaarszoen,
Pieter en Martine.