Saturday, 12 November 2011

Jungle Living with Alpha 5

Alpha 5
Jess, Min, Ru, Siger, Wiesteke, Hannah, Ollie Cowling, James, Alex, Lydia and Sophie Pluck
Alpha 5, have arrived on Mamutik Island for 5 days Dive Course prior to their second trek in Kiulu.  Isla the photographer reports back on their jungle trek experience in the Crocker Range.

Within a couple of hours of leaving basecamp we were in the hills of the Crocker Range, despite being only  140km south  Kota Kinabalu it felt miles from anyway. Once Ru and James had ensured equal distribution of weight in the bags, and the most ergonomic fit,we were ready for trek.  We were met by our guides Florian and Genus who made offerings of rice to the jungle spirits and sought their blessing of the group to enter their jungle world.

Rice offering and a Parang
Florian performing ritual ceremony
On entering the jungle it soon became apparent that this trek was not about distance but the challenge of staying upright, easier said than done. Jess did spend a lot of time on the floor but always got back up smiling despite the group chorus of 'another one bites the dust'.

Jess and Sophie make the descent
Our guides were always on hand to help and provided the group with sticks to aid the descent, and James set about naming his new item of equipment.

James marking his kit

After the long descent we arrived at camp however the end of the trekking day is not a time for rest and relaxation as we need to construct a camp. In order to survive we need the essentials; water, food and shelter.  In addition we need to erect the radio antenna - dipole and provide a Situation report to Fieldbase.
Siger collecting water
Soon a communal kitchen/dining area is created
Min erecting the radio dipole
Ollie on the radio
Wietske and Hannah testing the hammock
Group dining
There are pros and cons of camping by a river.  Pros - plenty of water to drink and a great place to wash and swim at the end of a hard days trek.  Cons - the following morning the only way out, is up.  Our second day was a very steep climb, and we all got to the top with a sense of achievement and rewarded ourselves with a share of peanut brittle.  Unfortunately there was no panoramic view due to the tree canopy.  'What goes up must come down' so  we embarked on a steep descent involving the use of ropes due to the gradient and mud.  The river provided another great stop for lunch and a quick wash before heading to our next camp.  

Lydia making a rope descent
Eating crackers with a spoon
The guides told us that this was the area where a clouded leopard had once been spotted.  During our contribution to radio Raleigh on Sunday, this got lost in translation and became a clouded shepherd... The only clouds spotted that night were the heavy rain clouds providing a deluge of rain and a lot of wet kit.  

The jungle was alive with the sounds of insects and on one of the days, a very angry monkey.  Our wildlife sightings however were limited to; a poisonous spider, a river turtle with a nasty disposition (biting) and butterflies who seem to like the Australian Flag.  There were of course the leeches too. Everything in the jungle takes on a enormous scale, ants are massive and the leaves and trees are giant.

Ben with a butterfly
River turtle with a nasty disposition
A medium sized leaf
After more trekking involving river crossing, shoes off sandals on, negotiating streams, we arrived at the magical waterfall.  A place to wash and relax - a natural jungle spa.

Ru the seasoned jungle trekker
Guides provide a supporting hand
Alex and Jess washing jungle style
A good drying spot
Min takes the time to sketch
The group sang their way to the end of the trek although I thought it a little early for the Christmas song section. The finish line was Utan Paradise where the group had the opportunity to learn how to make jungle jewellery out of Rattan and to practice their hunting skills with some blowpipe target practice.  Hannah was a natural, although rumour had it that she had been practising on the community project.
Anton showing Jess his jewellery making skills
Hannah the blowpipe queen
Dive Island here we come.....

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Video message and a special report from Alpha 2

As they settle into their new home in Lingka Bugan for the next three weeks, here is a video message from Alpha 2.

Hello from Alpha 2
Alpha 2's Elliot Simpson gives us an insight into their first few days on project...

Elliot loves 11K so much, it is shaved into his head!
After phase 1, which for all venturers comprised of either trekking or on environmental projects, we arrived at Lingka Bugan excited to build on the previous group's progress both in our relationship with the community and on the kindergarten.
Foundations laid at Alpha 2

The Raleigh house, our accommodation for the 18 days, is located halfway down a hill, just across from the building site. Fresh from a summer working as a house painter and several contracts under my belt, I was excited to get started.

Jean, Jemma, Elliot, Julie and Meg getting cement ready
Meg gets stuck in

Before that, however we put on our 'Sunday best' (only slightly due to tattered trek trousers) and headed to the local church to meet the community.
Making friends: Julie above and Elliot, Maurits and Jonathan below

Our PM's warned us that this particular hamlet was very shy and reserved, but the reception we got was anything but. Over the next few hours we did our best to make a good first impression and put on a slightly shaky performance of Oasis' Wonderwall (converted to a gospel song) with myself on guitar, Katie on keyboard and everyone else singing and got an amazed and horrified reception! It wasn't my idea of a typical Sunday morning but it was amazing nonetheless.

Ben and Jonathan play Lingka Bugan style air hockey and PM Claire below with local children who will benefit from the kindergarten

I'm writing this two days after that episode (and coincidentally one month since this expedition began) and since then we've made a cement base for the staircase leading to the kindergarten, replaced some floor supports and most importantly made Raleigh House feel like home. What was empty at first is now complete with a schedule, mess tin rack, an etiquette for Sunday Dinner (e.g. side parted hair, tucked in shirts for men) and my favourite pictures from home above my mosquito net. We've played a lot of football, played lots of games, learnt Malay and got to know this community really well already.

Jean, Sophie, Claire and Sara line up for Sunday football.

Elliot with photos from home by his bed

Jemma preparing the first Sunday dinners.
So, over the next few weeks there is a kindergarten to be built but in the near future there is also a radio check to tell fieldbase that we are well, happy and getting on the with project.

This is Alpha 2 out for now - check out our video with a message from everyone. With much love from Elliot.