Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Welcomes, farewells and back to base camp

One day more of phase one. We are drawing phase one to a close with the foundations laid at two kidergartens, six posts in place for the Sun Bears' boardwalk and a quarter of a tonne of cement has been trekked and used to build the satellite camp in Danum Valley.

Tomorrow all our Alpha groups will be heading back to base camp for changeover.
Each project will be performing their highlights in a group 'skit' for expedition tomorrow night. Something to remember the first phase by and give a taster of what's in store for the next group.

Skit judge fieldbase medic Dr Jen with her score bats

And we'll be saying goodbye to Carrie, from Raleigh Hong Kong who is well and truly hardcore from three weeks with Alpha 3 in the Danum Valley, will be leaving after completing her four week expedition - complete with a megamix of Dutch trekking tunes.

Carrie with Shaun and Oli at the top of a 40m climb into the Danum canopy.

On to phase two and a big warm welcome

24 hours after of arriving back to base camp, each Alpha project will have a new set of venturers, ready to start phase two.

The new Alpha groups will compete in the Raleigh Olympics on Friday afternoon and leave for their projects early on Saturday morning.

And they'll be joined by our 'explorers' - venturers Sophie, Lisa, Killian, Ben and Natalie who arrived today at fieldbase for their 7 week expedition.

Killian, Lisa, Sophie, Natalie and Ben were greeted by smiling Raleigh t-shirts at KK airport earlier today.

All the changeover news and who is going where will be up posted when we're back from base camp. The loop will be leaving fieldbase to visit the projects on 10 November to deliver your blog messages and post. We'll also get more news back from Katie on the community projects and Isla trekking so watch this space.

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.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy birthdays and Happy Halloween

Happy birthday to Elliot for yesterday who celebrated with Alpha 6 on the beautiful dive island. And with news from last night's Radio Raleigh from Canadian ice hockey of the Maple Leaf's win over Penguins and Rangers they had a triple celebrations.
Happy Halloween birthday to Johnathan in the People's Republic of Danum. Hopefully the leeches will give Johnny Walker a day off and join in Alpha 3's birthday Halloween celebrations (who needs fake blood?!).

Happy Birthday

400 years ago the Danum Valley was home to humans  - the River People's coffins were found close to the Mengaris camp that Alpha 3 stayed at the beginning of phase one. Watch the PRD's report from the caves here.

Halloween also means that it is Shadowe'en for everyone who is taking part in 11K's Movember challenge.

We've seen some impressive furry faces out there already but on Shadowe'en the complete moustache region, including the entire upper lip and handlebar zones, must be completely shaved.

Goodbye goatee: Ted cheers for Movember.

For all of November our moustache growers will allow no hair must to grow in the goatee zone, allowing moustaches to get a life of their own and in time for a showcase at our second changeover.

We'll keep you updated and post photos on the blog.