Wednesday, 13 February 2013

HCV arrivals and the start of Expedition 13C

So today is the day. 

With the safe arrival of all the Host Country Venturers (HCVs) today, Expedition 13C has now officially started. 

This afternoon following a swim assessment, a selection of Project Managers (PMs) – Ian, Kris, Natalie and Kat - will be taking the HCVs to Basecamp for the night to settle in and eagerly anticipate the arrival of the additional 90 venturers and entire volunteer manager team (including Fieldbase staff) tomorrow afternoon.

The 13C Host Country Venturers 
For the International Venturers, their induction starts as soon as they arrive with a swimming assessment at Likas pool – which after a long flight and arriving in this heat, is probably going to be very welcome. The venturers will then head to Basecamp – in their assigned delta groups (induction training groups) – to meet the HCVs and continue through an intense couple of days of training and information sessions. These sessions will include specific medic slots, river crossing practice, how to put up and communicate using the radios, jungle camp craft, how to use navigation tools, cultural awareness, life of project, using the personal development journals and of course the 13C Raleigh Olympics – an event not to be missed. 

The static 'bashas' at Basecamp
The induction will also include the Venturers first trek into the Bornean jungle. This trek will act as a learning opportunity so they will know what to do and not do during their three week adventure phase. It is also their first opportunity to build their own basha – a jungle bed, made up of a tarpaulin, mosquito net and a hammock and usually hung between two trees - and experience “Raleigh Rations”.  Fear not though, during the planning stages the groups will quickly learn that the food goes a long way if you’re creative and that when you are carrying everything you are going to eat on your trek, this is essential. 

The Chinese Dragons at Fieldbase

That summarises the forthcoming five days of induction. So what have the PMs and Fieldbase been up to? Well, whilst there have been presentations and training and report writing, it has also been Chinese New Year here in Sabah and so we’ve been fortunate to have seen some amazing parades. The dragons and samba bands have been heard and seen all over KK and yesterday they even came up to Fieldbase. 

Fireworks and firecrackers are also a big part of Chinese New Year.  Every evening during this period the sky has been lit up with fireworks on similar scale to Guy Faulks Night - some were quite the disruption during our Fieldbase quiz night, but we were all really impressed by the efforts the local community went too in celebration. 

The 13C Expedition Volunteer Managers
Last night we celebrated the end of our training and induction and were all in high spirits, singing our hearts out in groups at a local karaoke bar, before an early start to welcome the HCVs this morning. We are eagerly awaiting the rest of Expedition 13c and really excited for the start of what is set to be the best Borneo Expedition to date!

I look forward to updating you on how the Venturer induction went at the beginning of next week. Don’t forget to sign up for email alerts to follow the blog during Expedition and please do feel free to leave comments as I will make sure all messages are passed on. 

Adventure PPVs - Alpha 9

Alpha 9: Trek, Dive, Trek
Barry, Rachel and Fred

So. It’s 9am in the morning and we’re sitting in jungle camp. We’ve just realized that we have made the ultimate mistake. We are about to head into the jungle at the complete mercy of two local guides and we’ve forgotten their food. Not only are we about to face a grueling two day trek to get further acquainted with a few of the routes we are going to be treking, but now we have rations for three to share between five.

Fred, Barry and Rachel

Fortunately Hanry, our lead guide, is a font of local knowledge and directs us to the local shop. Fully laden we set off on our rainforest adventure. 
It’s hot and humid, but Hanry is incredibly adept at distracting us from the physical discomfort. He frequently stops to point out interesting things. We are given a brief introduction to traditional herbal medicine, but rapidly decided to leave well alone after being shown just how similar the curative and poisonous vine leaves are. 

He points out wild ginger, chili plants, jack fruit and the exotic spiky red Rambutan fruit. His sinuous movements with his parang (the local name for a machete) as he clears the path ahead lead to a new nickname of Hanry Solo, as he could easily be wielding a lightsabre. 

Around midday we reach our first camp. With only the occasional mishap we succeed in setting up our hammocks with tarpaulins above to shelter us. We then have a team dinner. We cook the Raleigh rations inspired Chili con Carne with pasta and cheese, and Hanry brings rice with sardines in a soy sauce. We then sit watching the fire slowly die down to glowing embers, with the sounds of the jungle filling the night around us.

Next morning is an early start, with a trek to another of the camps. Here Hanry disappears off for a while to go ‘jungle shopping’. He returns with bundles of Rambutan for us to take back to Fieldbase. As we swim in the pool at the bottom of a beautiful tropical waterfall, he cooks us a surprise lunch of fresh ginger noodle soup.

Barry, Hanry, Fred and Rachel
It’s only been two days, but it’s already sad to say goodbye. Laden down with necklaces, bracelets and bamboo cups that Hanry and his assistant have made for us along the trek we head back to basecamp. 

We’re hot, tired and I at least am a bit achey. It’s a chore, but we decide we really have to man up and go and check out Dive Island to make sure it’s ready for expedition. Jonathan welcomes us onboard the Borneo Divers boat, and we speed across to Mamutik island. White sand, clear blue water, schools of stripy fish… It’s a hard job. Can’t wait for all the venturers to arrive and for us to get going with the real thing!

Adventure PPV - Alpha 7 & 8

Alpha 7 & 8: Trek and Dive/Dive and Trek
Beth, Sarah, Refat and Kris

Our PPV to Long Pasia started with a 3 hour drive to Sipitang, where we had a quick lunch stop before continuing the 5 hour 4x4 journey to Long Pasia. The length of the journey was bearable but unfortunately the driver’s Eurotrash tunes weren’t! However, there were a few Venga Boys tunes thrown in to the mix, much to the delight of Beth.

Upon arrival in the surprisingly modern village we were met by one of our guides, the self entitled ‘Nooh the legend’. He’s certainly a character, more than making up for his lack of English with his wicked jungle skills. The four of us crashed at Nooh’s pad for the night, and had some food cooked for us by his wife, although, with two veggies on the team we had a good laugh trying to find out what did and didn’t have meat in.

Refat, Sarah and Beth

The next morning we were met by our other guide Fauzie, a really humble guy who speaks English well and also knows the jungle like the back of his hand. Together we embarked on a trek into the jungle, which we smashed in good time. Physically, the trekking wasn’t too hard but the terrain was challenging, with a few trips and slips happening from time to time, and an amazing superman dive/face plant from Kris. After Refat’s initial horror and screaming, we soon got used to finding leeches all over our bodies and accepting the fact that the little blood suckers get absolutely everywhere. One of the hardest things about the trek was pulling them off!

 When we reached our camp for the night Nooh and Fauzie had built a kitchen area, put up their bashers and fallen asleep in them for a power nap whilst we were still trying to get the dipole up so that we could radio through to Fieldbase. We then spent an equally long time erecting our bashers before sitting around the fire for a nice meal courtesy of Raleigh rations (probably not the birthday meal Sarah was hoping for), listening to tales of jungle spirits from the guides. The guides really do believe in these spirits and follow strict jungle rules to avoid upsetting them. Certainly, the jungle is a strange place at night. In pitch black darkness your senses are sharpened and every intricate sound heard, as we swayed in our bashers thinking about spirits constantly watching us.

The next day we learnt how to make a fire and use a parrang (machete) correctly, a highly important jungle survival tool. That night we met the village JKK (head of the village) to thank him for the local hospitality and ensure a strong relationship with Raleigh is maintained.

Overall it was a fantastic and productive three days away from Fieldbase, a unique way to spend a birthday that Sarah will never forget, and we’re all really looking forward to returning with the venturers.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Environmental PPVs - Alpha 6

Alpha 6: Biodiversity project
Harriet, Ian and Bec

Alpha 6 will be based in the Pitas district of Sabah working with the Asian Forestry Company (AFC) on a Conservation Project.

Harriet, Bec and Ian
AFC manages 60,000 hectares (25x25Km or 15x15miles) of forest around Pitas in northern Sabah on a sustainable basis. Approximately 35% of the area has been identified and protected for conservation purposes.  AFC is keen to use the conservation area, and data collected from it, to enhance the education of both young people and adults relating to the protection of this biodiverse environment and the sustainable production of timber via managed plantations.  AFC is hoping to ensure that the boundaries of the various ‘Coupes’ that they have identified will meet to create complete conservation corridors that enable mobile creatures to move around undisturbed and find suitable conditions in which to thrive.  


Alpha 6 will carry out a Biodiversity Research Project identifying the flora and fauna that occupy “Coupe 1”. We will be living in the rainforest in a camp built from materials salvaged from our surrounding area. One of the aims of the project will be to adapt and further improve our camp and make it a home from home. There is a permanent long drop and a gazebo for evening activities. We will be working alongside guides and representatives from AFC to photograph and log small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. 

The information we collect will go towards protecting the Coupe where we will be living and further support the important conservation work that AFC carry out. This is a great opportunity to get up close to the indigenous wildlife of the jungle. 

The Project Managers that the 13C venturers will be working with are Harriet Riggs a doctor from Manchester England, Bec Troode a student Teacher from Perth Australia and Ian Rowe a University Lecturer and Life Coach from Salisbury England. 

Environmental PPVs - Alpha 5

Alpha 5 – Imbak Canyon
Nat, Ali and John

Our adventure began with a 6am start and trip to the bus station where we got a four hour bus journey to Telupid – ‘The Centre of the Universe’ –  the middle of Sabah and the crossroads to everywhere! We were met by one of the Imbak rangers and travelled by 4x4 over very bumpy roads to Imbak Canyon’s Ranger Camp. We had a warm welcome from everyone in the camp and ate delicious food with the Rangers on our first night, who were excited to discuss our project. 

John, Nat and Ali (looking a bit sweaty)

Working in partnership with Yayasan Sabah, the Alpha 5 project team will continue to establish a basic infrastructure within Imbak Canyon. This will include the second suspension bridge construction but may also include the construction and repairs to BBC and Rangers camp, along with trail clearing.

We are very excited about the project as it is in one of the last untouched and relatively unexplored primary virgin rainforest in Sabah, if not the whole of Malaysia. Located in central Sabah, it is a 25km long valley with a self contained ecosystem surrounded on three sides by sandstone cliffs reaching 3674 feet.  It is the largest expanse of pure lowland dipterocarp forest remaining in Sabah. An exploratory expedition was held here in 1992, supported by Raleigh, in which a new tree species was discovered (Dipterocarpus megacarpa). As such, the 13c venturers will have the opportunity to not only learn how to live and survive in the jungle but to also complete mini treks in the area to local points of interest whilst researching the presence of flora and fauna.

On our second day of our PPV, we trekked into the jungle with two guides and surveyed the site for the new camp we’re going to build. We also checked out the site for the new suspension bridge, which will allow researchers to cross the Imbak River into the Class 1 protected rainforest. The aim is to ensure and promote the environmental conservation of this protected rainforest as it is due to working with Raleigh over the last eight years that Imbak Canyon achieved Class I protection in December 2008 which now prevents any logging from taking place. It is unlikely that this would have been achieved without Raleigh’s presence as we are responsible for ¾ of the infrastructure at Imbak.

Whilst trekking we saw monkeys and a gibbon swinging in the trees around us and evidence of Pygmy Elephants. We also had a great view of the incredible waterfall of Imbak falls, but we were joined by lots of leeches which had a feast on us! At dusk our guides lit fires around our camp to let the Jungle Spirits know we were there so that they wouldn’t come to the camp; this meant that we slept with one eye open!

All in all it was an awesome visit to a magical place and cannot wait for the venturers to join us and begin the vital work in the area, we’re counting the days until we can go back!

Environmental PPVs - Alpha 4

Alpha 4 – Danum Valley
Kate, Michael and Sarah M

Working in partnership with Yayasan Sabah and local rangers who manage Danum Valley for Sabah Forestry department, the Raleigh International Alpha 4 project team will rebuild the cabin at Kuala Sabran (Raleigh cabin site), originally constructed in 1987.

Michael, Kate and Sarah
Danum Valley conservation area is a Class A protection primary rainforest reserve, situated in south east Sabah. The Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) is situated beside the Segama River and provides facilities for research, education and wilderness recreation in one of Sabah’s last strongholds of undisturbed lowland rainforest. The DVFC is run by the Sabah foundation (Yayasan Sabah) under the control of a management committee including the Sabah Forestry Department, the Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Science and Technology, University of Malaysia Sabah and other agencies with interests in forest research and conservation. The unique nature of Danum Valley attracts high levels of interest from the international scientific community including members of the Royal Society, due to its unique diversity of fauna and flora. 

The project worksite only accessible via trekking, and is situated approximately 22Km from the Danum Valley Field Centre. Once complete, the cabin will be used by scientists and rangers who patrol the area. The proposed building will offer separate male and female accommodation, with sleeping space for 12 people in total. In addition to the sleeping accommodation an extension to the building will be constructed for kitchen facilities if time permits.

Michael, Kate, Fiona (photographer) Sarah
The main bollards for the building were helicoptered into site in December 2012. The remaining wood to make the structure will be sourced on site. Additional building materials will be carried in by Alpha 4 Raleigh volunteers, who will also complete the construction. All materials and funds for all projects are being organised and managed by the partnership organisation Yayasan Sabah, however Raleigh will supply tools as well as kit for their own camp. 

As a key safety requirement of working in the area is the clearing of the established Ulu Purut and Kuala Sabran helicopter landing sites (with assistance from the rangers), further tasks may consist of: improving Ulu Purut and Mengaris camps and projects within the Danum valley field centre.
After visiting this beautiful area of primary rainforest we are really excited to return. It really is a unique opportunity.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Community PPVs - Alpha 3

Alpha 3: Gravity water feed project - Pinapak and Boribi
Xenia, Ali and Kat

Our recent project planning visit (PPV) we started at the first site of Pinapak. En route, we took in stunning views of Mount Kinabalu, local flora - including tapioca, birds of paradise, hibiscus', local chickens -that do actually cross the road - and an abundance of native butterflies. When we arrived in the 4x4's, after a bit of offroad driving and a suspension bridge crossing over the river into the village, we spent two nights in the JKK's home (the head of the village) that he'd hand built himself out of wood. 

The JJK's house
We were made to feel very welcome by all the villagers, especially the children and although some folks were a little shy about practicing their English at first, they soon came round. We were invited to play volleyball so if anyone has any football skills you will definitely be called upon to play on the village pitch. Not everyone in the community speaks English, especially the older generation, so a few Malay phrases will come in very handy.

Xenia, Kat and Alison
The conditions are basic (remember that we are installing running water!) and so bathing will be in the river. We saw the house we'll all be staying in - it'll be a squeeze and we'll be sleeping on the floor under a mozzie net but we will definitely make it a home from home very quickly - Venturers, don't forget your roll mat. Any electricity is via a generator but we won't have one at the house, so spare camera batteries are essential. It's also worth noting that karaoke is a big deal in the villages, so we'll be brushing up our singing voices!

The second two phases of this project will take place in kampong Boribi is a village consisting of about 50 houses with a population of 140 people. Raleigh, last summer put in a gravity water feed to half of the village and now we have been invited back to complete a new gravity water feed to give the remaining half of the village taps of water to their homes. 

Alison, Xenia and Kat
The accommodation in the village is great. We have use of a community hall and a separate communal area for eating and socialising. There is running water from a tap outside - thanks to Raleigh last summer - and electricity for lights! Luxury! It's an amazing village, with really friendly people who are keen for us to get involved through our project and sports. They are also keen for homestays for anyone who is interested. The community are very organised and have clear plans of what they want and will be providing help to us during the project which will take two phases to complete. Exciting times.

Community PPVs - Alpha 2

Alpha 2: Gravity water feed project - Bulud Batu
Lou, Jonny and Connor

Alpha 2's PPV took place at Bulud Batu which is a small community of 150 villagers in the Katong region of Sabah. Along with our project partner PACOS – the Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah - we spent two nights in the community assessing the viability of a gravity water feed system. 

Jonny, Lou and Connor

Bulud Batu is an unusual village for many reasons. Instead of the traditional JKK system they have chosen to elect a leader (rather than it being an inherited position). Even more unusually, the leader they have elected is a woman. 

The head woman - Rohida is responsible for four other villages in addition to her own which means she represents over a 1000 people. Rohida is one of eight children and despite having older brothers, she was elected because she is so passionate about their land rights. She spent a lot of time with her father and grandfather when she was growing up and as a result as inherited their knowledge and passion. 

Our house
Bulud Batu means village at the foot of the rock. There is an enormous rock in the forest which is extremely sacred to the village. The full name of the village is actually Bulud Batu Montueon. Montueom refers to a mythical horn-billed creature that lives in a lake near the rock. The villagers are extremely respectful of this area and have many practices to ensure they don't disturb the spirits. 

The villagers
We were welcomed into the village so warmly and representatives from each of the five villages were there to greet us when we arrived. We introduced ourselves individually (with PACOS help translating!) and learnt a bit about each other. We were extremely pleased to find out there is an actual 'David Beckham' in the village! 

This Raleigh project is in-keeping with one of the Millennium Development Goals to cut in half the number of people without access to running water and achieve safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 2015. As such, with funding from Coca Cola, Bulud Batu, was a clear choice for a sustainable gravity water feed system and our days were spent assessing the water sources with PACOS and the villagers. This community of approximately 150 people (and neighbouring villages totaling approximately 1000 people) currently rely heavily on collecting rain water or nearby wells for water. However, the village have identified three possible water sources approx. 2km away, one of which currently has a pipe lying in it, so when it is full, water does flow to the Head Woman’s house.

The community were fascinated by our attempts to put up the radio and were kind enough to help us set it up. After several failed attempts they offered us their mobile phones!!! After the jam packed days we were lucky enough to be treated to amazing dinners cooked by Rohida and the women in the village. Despite their best efforts, the Raleigh rations didn't quite match their amazing chicken curry, banana leaves and anchovies, and, as it was a special occasion... lizard!!! 

The whole experience was extremely humbling and really brought to life how important the work we will be doing there is to ensuring the village are able to protect and live on their land. We were welcomed so warmly it was quite hard to leave after only two days... I can only image how hard it will be after 10 weeks!

Community PPVs - Alpha1

Yesterday our Project Managers (PMs) returned from their project planning visits (PPVs) absolutely buzzing. As they have now been to the various sites and met the communities and people they will be working with, I have asked each group to write about their experiences to give you an idea about what each project is all about. Over the next three days their accounts will be published, starting today with the community projects. 

Alpha 1: Kindergarten and community learning centre- Bonor
Alyrene, Jude and Natalie

We started the PPV with the question how do we build a kindergarten? We are pleased that this is a question we are slowly finding the answer to.

Pre-school education is vital in Malaysia. Free schooling is available, but to enter primary school at seven the children need to be able to read. Government pre-schools for children aged six are available for larger villages but unfortunately Bonor doesn’t have enough children to fit this quota. Fortunately the village founded a committee and applied to the Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (PACOS) for support. 

PACOS  is a charity supporting the rights of indigenous communities in Sabah. After assessing the needs, PACOS in partnership with Raleigh - and funding from Raleigh's continuing partnership with Nestle and funds from Mac McCarthy’s (Country Director) triathlon - will support the construction of the kindergarten, provide teacher training and ensure the buildings are available for other community activities such as adult education and craft skills.

Natalie, Alyrene and Jude - Project Managers
Following a four hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, the village was a welcome sight, particularly after the last hour on a windy dirt road. We were overwhelmed at our welcome with a constant supply of food and coffee.

One of the many meals prepared for us

We discussed the plans with Yoel, the head of the kindergarten committee and John the lead carpenter.

Project discussions
 Touring the small village we met some of its 300 residents as we assessed the two potential sites for the construction. The Village Head made the final decision to construct the Kindergarten next to the community hall. This meant John had to change the design as the space is narrower than we had originally hoped but with the added bonus that the long drop toilets are already constructed. With our original plan altered, the quotes at the hardware store in Keningau (about an hour away from the village) proved challenging but we are getting there…

Bonor village
We divided some of the planning tasks between us with Nat writing an Environmental and Cultural Impact Report and Jude leading on the materials discussion. One of my tasks was the Risk Assessment. With eleven young people working and living in the village, I assessed all the possible risks. 

Jude organising and discussing the materials
Our team of venturers can look forward to being a vital part of the construction of the kindergarten, providing language lessons and interacting with the local community and gaining a cross-cultural experience whilst learning about the local environment and kampong life. As the locals hope to open up their village to tourists in the future to share their culture, life and traditions, this cross-cultural interaction will be beneficial to both the Alpha team and the village.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to Bonor next week with the Venturers. Until then there are lots of reports to write, planning to do and of course to meet the volunteers we’ll be taking with us.