Saturday, 9 March 2013

Updates from Alphas 7,8, & 9

It is difficult to provide a full update on the adventure Alpha groups as they spend most of their time trekking from camp to camp, or completing diving classes, practicals and exams on Dive Island. That said, over the past few days I can confirm the following:

Alpha 7- Dive, Trek

With PMs Sarah and Fred I can confirm that there will be plenty of games and energisers to keep the Venturers active and chirpy during the hardcore 11 days of trekking that they are now nearing the end of. With early nights and starts and long days trekking the group were reported to be in particularly high spirits after being able to drink Coca Cola during the five hour trek they did the other day. 

Earlier in the week they reached the furthest point of their trek at Maga Falls - which is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall area. Over the last few days they have been working their way back to Long Pasia via Rekong, Lake camp and Sinipong camp. Tonight they will be in a home stay before getting their coaches back to Basecamp tomorrow (Sunday). I bet diving seems like a long time ago after 11 days of trekking.

They have also been busy practicing their skits for changeover for the big competition between the Alpha groups and are getting increasingly excited about seeing everyone at Basecamp. 

Top three highlights of the phase:

*Playing volleyball with the locals after scuba diving

*After a 7 hour trek, finally making it to camp soaking wet but happy

*Travelling by 4x4 and towing another 4x4 up a muddy hill

Alpha 8 – Trek, Dive

After a busy start of phase trekking, the group have spent the last week on Mamutik Island. This gorgeous Island is located just off from KK and so prior to going over to the island the group enjoyed a night in KK, paying visits to the night markets and experiencing some delicious Malaysian food. 
As it has been very hot here the group have experienced some stormy evenings but generally very sunny days – particularly towards the end of this week. They have been having a great time learning how to dive and studying for diving related quizzes and the exam. 

The group have also been enjoying some amazing meals – the pancakes particularly standing out in one of their more recent radio sit-reps to us here at Fieldbase.

Today the weather is still hot and sunny (Saturday) and the group are diving and relaxing before returning to Basecamp to be reunited with the rest of the Venturers.

Top three highlights of the phase:

*Nooh the legend (the Jungle Guide)

*Sitting around the fire with Zino singing a passionate Cantonese song

*When on day 4 of the trek we slid down all the steep slopes - muddy but fun

Alpha 9 – Trek, Dive, Trek

This week Alpha 9 have had generally good weather but intermittent rain has made certain trekking paths slightly more challenging than usual. Despite the varying conditions however, the group are in high spirits. On Wednesday and Thursday the group had a few days off and on the first day were challenged to stay out of the rain and rest between treks. However, waterfall camp really was the perfect day to spend some well earned time off. On the second day the guides Hanry, Lundin, Elsie and William took the group jungle shopping for food and materials to make things with.  

On a sunny and calm Friday the group trekked for 6hrs and were rewarded with a swim in the river at their camp. They spent the evening completing their personal development journals in preparation for changeover and having dinner. The group arrived at Basecamp today (Saturday) and will be enjoying a BBQ in the sun this evening with Alpha 4 who are also back at Basecamp after their time in Danum Valley.

Top three highlights of the phase:

*Going to homestay after the trek section and having our first decent wash 

*The team walking onto Dive Island and seeing home for the next few days

*Playing games on the beach 

I am looking forward to updating the blog with some highlights from the rest of the groups first phase next week - complete with photos, so do keep your eyes peeled. 

Welcome to the 7 week Venturers!

I am pleased to confirm that all of the seven week Venturers arrived today (Saturday) safe and sound at KK airport. Joseph, Josh and myself were eagerly awaiting their arrival to whisk them back to the Raleigh Fieldbase to begin their induction activities.

As the group began to arrive at KK airport

J, Andy and Dan

Luckily for this group, as there are only 10 of them we have been a little easier on them and not thrown them straight into a swimming pool however, that swim assessment will be taking place early tomorrow morning.

After going through the essential admin and handing in their valuables, the group were treated to a really tasty Feildbase lunch, courtesy of our Fieldbase chef extrodinaire, Loli. With everyone perking up a little after the long flight we threw them into a challenging hour - the obligatory health and safety and code of conduct talks. Once that was out the way though the group moved on to a crash course in how to put up and use a radio - which will be essential when they are out on phase and radioing in to Fieldbase twice a day with radio checks and their situation updates - a session on tool safety and a one to one with our Fieldbase medic.

Essential Admin picture

Even more essential Admin
After showering and changing into their longs (see Raleigh glossary on the left) - and trying to stay awake - the group are still surprisingly chatty and are currently sat outside on the terrace getting to know each other  and enjoying the warm Sabah evening.

Eagerly awaiting dinner

We don't have too much more in store for them this evening just an introduction to the projects and a bit of cultural awareness by Country Manager, Ellie and Deputy Country Manager, Joseph. The group are lucky enough to be spending their first night here in beds, but from tomorrow onwards these beds will be swapped for hammocks.

Tomorrow will consist of a swim assessment, medic sessions, jungle training and river crossings, but more importantly will be the day the whole of Expedition 13C are all together at Basecamp which we are really very excited about. It will be great to hear more about the groups experiences during their first phase and we are confident that the seven week Venturers will be even more excited about getting out there once they hear how they got on.

I'm looking forward to posting the new allocations and updates on the projects next week before I deploy to Imbak Canyon with Alpha 5.

A day in the life of an Alpha 1 PM

By Alyrene

Drifting off to sleep on the hard concrete floor of the community hall I now call home I reflected on my day. Mid way through the first phase of building a kindergarten, I am woken by our day leader. Each day leader has a different wake up method from shouting at us all, waking us up individually or as Belle, today's day leader did, borrowing some speakers and choosing a song to play as we gradually rise from a not so comfortable sleep.

After a breakfast of porridge and coffee, we do our daily warm up. Today's was run by one of the villagers, Kudus. Kudus has been described by the group as 'the happiest man alive!' Despite being deaf and mute he always has a huge grin on his face. He is part of the kindergarten committee as well as being a dab hand with a hammer.

With not much building work today, everyone jumped at the change to heave the timber from the river to the construction site.

The morning sit rep is one of my favourite parts of the day. Updating Fieldbase on our progress and hearing a friendly voice at the end of the radio always make me smile. The Loop is coming tomorrow so we tidy up and decorate the hall for their arrival. Determined to win the competition of which Alpha group can give them the best reception we put a lot of work in. Our theme is a hotel visit. Everyone has a role from door men, chamber maids, chefs etc and we will make sure they receive a five star Raleigh service. Then there's the evening entertainment rehearsals  I'll not divulge our secrets but I'm impressed with the singing and dancing talents we have amongst us.

We had hoped to put the cement down today but with heavy rain the past couple of nights the ground has been too wet. To make up for the quiet afternoon we arranged a little secret treat for the team. Gathering everyone early for longs o'clock we go for a short walk just outside the village to a waterfall viewing point. Jungle as far as the eye could see, the perfect place to watch the sun set. The look on the groups faces when we then produced bars of chocolate and other treats we had saved from rations was a picture!

Such a lovely start to the evening that followed with yet another delicious dinner. We have some great cooks in Alpha One!

Our daily 'Legend of the day' awards get bigger and better each day with todays clear winner as Kudus for his warm up this morning. And so I go to my roll mat, under my mosquito net, tired and happy after another great day.

Phase One - The Loop!

The Loop - with Kath, Ellie and Josh, with guest appearances from Fiona and Jo.

Soundtrack – Musicals and Willie Nelson - On the Road Again

Alpha 6 made us this headwear!!

Day one – Fieldbase to Imbak Canyon (Alpha 5)

After an emotional goodbye to the fieldbase team at 6am, we set off on our eight day ‘Loop’ trip visiting all the static project sites and Alpha groups  to see how they are all getting on and provide them with blog messages, letters from home and the all important Raleigh shop.  The longest drive of the week from fieldbase to A5 started with winding roads and spectacular views of Mount Kinabulu all the way to the coast.  We reached the town of Telupid in good time, to stop for a famous Roti, and then it was a five hour off road drive made extremely difficult by the days of rain preceding our visit.  A highlight was having two long tailed monkey’s run across our path – which made a pleasant change from the numerous wild dogs.  The bad weather meant that we reached Imbak too late to trek in to see Alpha 5 that night so spent a night in relative luxury at Rangers camp.

Rangers Camp

Ellie, Fiona, Josh and me (Kath)

Day two – Imbak Canyon (A5)

We made the difficult decision not to drop supplies off to Alpha 4 as we wouldn’t be able to see the group who were in the depths of the rainforest.  This meant we could spend the day with Alpha 5 afterall which made the long drive worthwhile. We trekked into the camp at Imbak carrying as much of the shop as we could between us to visit Alpha 5 in their Glastonbury style mud bath.  We reached the group just as the weather closed in again so joined them for games of cards around their newly made table and seating area – very impressed!  Luckily the rain cleared up quickly which allowed the group to put on their organised fun of name games and an extremely competitive obstacle course through the stream which was great fun!  Green team won!

John and Ali - laughing at all the rain


The Venturers hiding from the rain...

... but you can always have fun at Imback
As we were a day late, we missed out on the three course meal prepared (and enjoyed) the previous evening, but after another Raleigh rations cook up we were taken to visit a potential new species of spider which had set up camp across the bridge which was almost crab like and turned into a leaf when scared! The Rangers were unsure what it was so we’re looking forward to doing some research to find out.

Fiona, Kath, Ali and Josh

Day three – Imbak to Sepilok

Awoken by the alarm-like sounds of jungle birds and gibbons, and trekked out at first light to begin the long off road journey to Sepilok – our overnight stay on our way up north to Pitas. We were lucky enough to reach Sepliok just in time for the feeding session at the Sepilok Orangutang Sanctuary so had our first experience of seeing orangutans and macaques.

Day four – Sepilok to Bulud Batu (Alpha 2)

Alpha 2 Venturers Alex, Jake, Hugh 

After a night in a B&B we took the long and windy road to Bulud Batu – with the landscape dominated by Palm Tree Plantations, and the drive broken up by the Les Miserables and Evita soundtracks, much to Josh’s delight.

We met Alpha two at Aunty’s House – the head woman - and were taken on a walk of the GWF route with views across the whole village – also seeing how they currently collect rainwater.

Alpha 2: Lou, Jonny, Andrew, Alex, Nikki, Jake, Cat, Sam, Vinnie, Connor,
Dwana, Sabine, Hugh and Sjoerd

At Aunty's house for Jonny's birthday celebrations

The next stop was their Raleigh house accommodation – which has been made really homely by the village and by the group. The evening entertainment was back to Aunty’s House for an amazing dinner with others in the village, followed by Malay karaoke.  It was a fantastic night, we felt very honored to be there – and was even more special for Jonny (PM) as it was his birthday and Aunty and the group had given him cakes and treats.  Aunty invited everyone to stay the night so we all set up mosquito nets and camped out on her floor – awoken at 4am to the loud sounds of chickens clucking and venturers laughing!

Day 5 – Bulud Batu to Pinapak – A3

After a nice breakfast with A2, we were back on the road towards Pinapak via Kota Maruda to stock up on fresh fruit and veg for A3.  This should have been the easiest journey, but we misinterpreted one of their directions on their route card and ended up off-roading in the wrong direction for over an hour.  Stopping to ask for directions at a Palm Oil Plantation Office was fruitless as they smiled helpfully and sent us further in the wrong direction.  This sadly meant that by the time we found our way again, it was too late to reach A3 before nightfall so we instead had to spend the night in Kota Marudu, and miss out on seeing them.

Fresh fruit on the road!

Day 6 – Kota Marudu to Alpha 6

We were joined in the car by Fiona, and set off accompanied by Eddie, who works for AFC supporting the community projects, and we were guided into the depths of the jungle once more. The off roading was challenging, but fortunately they had experienced a few dry days so the once impassable roads were passable, and we reached A6 in time for a lunch of Raleigh’s finest crackers.  The group has a fantastic set up, and are a really friendly bunch; they entertained us first off by performing two songs they’d prepared for the loop.  We then walked up to check the nets for birds but unfortunately there was nothing in them this time round, though the group can proudly report that they have caught over 30 different species since they arrived.  The photos I saw looked fantastic, such beautiful, colourful birds - we'll post these pics on the blog after we've seen the Venturers (and their cameras!) during changeover.

Fiona with Freddie and Harry

The A6 boys - Freddie, Harry, Rolex, Asher, Casper, Ian, Bjorn (and Bec)

We then set up the Raleigh shop, with arguably the best view of any shop across the valley, and then trekked up to where the traps are usually set.   We had a much needed shower A6 style in the local stream before longs-o-clock, and the group prepared a fantastic 3 course feast from the Raleigh Rations of flat bread and hummus, bean burgers with rice and chili sauce, and an amazing pear crumble with chocolate sauce.  Evening entertainment took the form of a quiz, followed by star gazing – a very tranquil experience.

Day 7 – Alpha 6 – Alpha 1

A 6am wake up allowed us to leave at first light to the backdrop of a beautiful mist filled view of the valley.  After a quick stop in Kota Marudu to send Jo on her way to A2, we set off for A1 but due to the length of the drive to get all the way across Sabah, we made the decision to stop off at fieldbase and spend the night there so we could spend more time with them the next day. Poor A1 had already been waiting a week for us, as they had thought we were visiting the previous Sunday so we hoped the news of another delay didn’t faze them too much!

Jo, me (Kath), Ellie and Josh on our way out of Coupe 1

Day 8 – Fieldbase – A1

The Hotel Bonor Sook - Jude, Connor and Daniel

We drove to Keningau and met two of the group and some of the villagers who had driven out to direct us in as the bridge on the main route in had collapsed.  A less tricky drive in than we were anticipating meant we reached A1 and had a most fantastic warm welcome from the group to Hotel Bonor Sook – and were treated to a 5* reception with porters, chefs and waiters helping us settle in!  We had a tour of the village which is a beautiful place, almost English village like in its appearance with a village green in the middle. We had the pleasure of visiting ‘the crack’ – the name the group have given to the part of the river they wash in, and then settled in for an evening of food and entertainment.  The group performed a special Raleigh version of Bohemian Rhapsody and Yellow Submarine, followed by dancing Arabic style. We then headed back to the village green for star gazing which was stunning, before sleeping under the mossie nets in the community centre.

The staff - Josefien, Lucy, Hatty, Lee, Alyrene, Natalie and James

Day 9 – A1 to fieldbase

Sad to say it’s the end of our loop tour, but ended on such a high with a non-porridge breakfast – scrambled eggs! A few games and warm up led by one of the villagers, Kudos, before we hit the road with a final rendition of Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again winding through the mountains back to Fieldbase.
All in all, a fantastic loop tour, though disappointing not to see Alpha 3 and 4 and looking forward to catching up with them soon – Alpha 3 before changeover for the opening ceremony of the GWF, and Alpha 4 at basecamp for changeover.

Big thank you to all the Alpha groups who were so welcoming to us.  They were all great but unfortunately there can be only one winner... The much sought after prize for best Alpha group visit will be announced to all the groups at Changeover on Sunday night!  

One message from me to everyone reading this blog – everyone loves to get blog messages, it really does give such a morale boost to hear news from home, so once you’ve finished reading, please do comment!

Loop one - Josh, me (Kath) and Ellie

Friday, 8 March 2013

Alpha 2 - Gravity Water Feed Visit

I arrived in Bulud Batu around 2pm on Sunday afternoon and found most of Alpha 2 finishing their 'Sunday Lunch' at the Head Woman, Rodiah’s house.  Alpha two are lucky to be regularly invited to Rodiah’s (AKA Aunty) house for meals and entertainment, such as karaoke. 

Nicki, Jake, Hugh, Sjoerd and Sabine

The Alpha 2 PMs Connor, Jonny and Lou
Raleigh Camp

Sam, Lou, Alex, Vinnie, Connor, Andrew, Jonny

After lunch the Venturers led their first English lesson for the locals. In the 1.5hr lesson they taught them introductions and greetings, how to count from one to ten, some animals, the days of the weeks and months of the year, weather and body parts – as assisted by the song ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’. We were most impressed with how confident and interactive Aunty was. However, despite clearly enjoying the session many of the students were a little less confident and shy. That said, as a few of the group were at university (which is taught in English) in future classes the Venturers felt it would be best to split the group in terms of their level of ability, rather than running a large all inclusive class or one divided purely by age. 

The group were enjoing their day off which had started the day before with a BBQ of fish and chicken legs at the Raleigh Camp, courtesy again of their very generous neighbours. They were very chatty and eager to update me with all the community interaction they had experienced.

Vinnie, Andrew, Dwana and Cat

The community here – despite being spread out over a large area – are very close and cannot do enough to support the Raleigh group. The luxurious camp area is evidence of this. They have been constantly popping by to help the group with their camp improvements including a kitchen area complete with shelving for food, an area for the hob and a table (complete with cloth); a shelving area for their shoes and boots; a covered clothes drying area for overnight protection from the rain and even the instillation of a tap for washing hands after visiting the isle of the long drop. The group have clearly been busy and this is definitely the Raleigh Gucci Camp.

The toilet seat - thanks to Connor, Vinnie and Sam

The actual gravity water feed project itself is also going very well. From photos the group have showed me, they have already made a great start. During my brief visit the group finished digging the four holes that will hold the 400 gallon tanks and reinforced them with steel wire mesh to give extra stability to the concrete – which as I left on Tuesday (5th) was being mixed, ready to pour. 

Lou with Cat, Sam and Sjoerd

In addition to this a second group were working on the area around the small water source that will soon house a weir/dam. This will enable the water to be successfully diverted into the tanks and the village. 

Alex and Sabine finishing off the holes

Hugh and Andrew

The weir will also be constructed with cement and aggregate which will be laid on top of an arrangement of larger rocks which have been strategically moved into place.

Hugh, Jonny and the locals

Hugh, Jo (me), Aunty (the Head Woman) Jonny, Lou and Alex

As you can see the group are lucky to be working under a shelter of trees which provide a little relief from the hot Sabah Sun but the group also have a two hour break for lunch every day which enables them to escape the mid-day heat, chill out and regroup.

Having now seen the small water source, it seems incredible that over the next few months the Raleigh teams will (with the help and support of the locals) provide fresh running water to 107 people, which will drastically improve their lives. The PMs are hoping there might even be possibility of extending the project to even more villages.

The Alpha 2 'Gucci Camp'

It really was a great project to visit and it was obvious how much the group love being in Bulud Batu. I'm looking forward to uploading more updates and pictures after changeover when the next team go in. 

Updates from the Loop's recent visits to the static project sites, the Alpha 3 gravity water feed opening ceremony report and our trekkers and divers to follow shortly.

Visit to Alpha 6's Bio Diversity Project

Selamat pagi!! Hello!

I am finally back at Fieldbase following visits to both Alphas 2 and 6 over the past 8 days.

Last week started with an enjoyable five days in Coupe 1 at the Bio Diversity project with the lovely Alpha 6.

Harry, Scott, Rolex, Elfira, Natasha, Isobel, Rosemary,
 Bjorn, Caspar, Freddie and Asher. 
With PMs Ian, Bec and Harriet
After a delicious roti breakfast in Kota Marudu and a bumpy off road journey - thanks to the lovely Asian Forestry Company (AFC) Partners for their incredible driving skills - I arrived on Tuesday to a sunny and dry jungle camp. The group that rushed down to welcome me had clearly bonded really well during the multiple days of rain that had come before my arrival. In fact, despite their failed attempts to dry boots, socks and clothes (which I can confirm had fully dried out just days into my visit as I experienced nothing but sunshine) the group were really positive and in high spirits.

One of many washing areas
The camp

A usual day here starts at either 6am/8am, when the group of ten Venturers are split into two groups to go on either a mini trek to check the mammal traps or a shorter walk to check the mist nets for birds. AFC Conservation Supervisors, Valter and Will, lead the groups through this process and should anything be caught, they supervise the handling of the birds/mammals and assist the group in naming the species. This process enables us to document everything found in the area.

PMs Bec and Ian with Will (AFC) 
Some of the group on the mammal trek

The routine of setting up and checking the nets/cages repeats throughout the day. The mist nets are checked every two hours and the mammal traps at 8am and 4pm each day.

A small mammal trap
On the mini trek

The purpose of this project is to work with the AFC to catch animals in this protected conservation area of rainforest in order to survey the area and understand how to better protect and develop the area.

Bec and Harry trying to name the bird

Over the six days I spent with the Alpha group, the number of birds caught had risen to 38 species - in just two weeks. However, in the days before I arrived the group caught and saw a Malaysian Civet, Malasian rats and tree squirrels. Their favourite birds so far have been the Little Spider Hunter(s), a number of Kingfishers and a Blue Banded Pitta. I was lucky enough to see and hold all three of these birds and it really was quite an experience as they are quite different from anything I've ever seen before - particularly up so close.

The jungle noises at Alpha 6's camp are beautiful. However, some resemble a French ambulance siren, a car alarm, a bird who laughs and another who sings a scale - to name but a few. A Praying Mantis even joined us for our quiz night on Friday.

Aside from the jungle wildlife the group have been kept busy - because of the first week of rain - with camp construction projects. They have installed flooring, steps, and dug two trenches for the excess water around the sleeping and kitchen areas to help channel it. The camp really is looking good here.

Rosie and Tash - birdwatching?

All in all Alpha 6 are a group of 'Legends' and have a big sense of camaraderie and togetherness. They have formed close friendships and now genuinely look after each other, operating as a really strong team.

As it really has been a lot of fun spending time here, I was interested to hear how Will (AFC) found working with Raleigh and this group as this is her first time working on a Raleigh project.

She said:

"It's a good new experience for me working with Raleigh and doing this project. It is very exciting because the Venturers are very energetic and fast learners in terms of setting up the mist net, getting out the birds from the nets and setting up large mammal traps.

The PMs are very supportive and understanding, which was especially good during the first week here when it rained every single day. In addition, the PMs also do a great job of helping and guiding the Venturers in this project and the improvements to the camp area.

PM - Bec
PM - Ian (with HCV, Rolex)

PM - Harriet

Overall, it is fun to work with Raleigh and get the chance to meet new friends and exchange ideas. I am most happy when I can share my knowledge with others."

Alpha 6 with the Loop before starting the quiz

As the Loop visited the group on Saturday, they bought photographer Fiona in with them and took me out on Sunday, so stay tuned for more updates on all the projects in the Loop post that will follow soon and some fantastic photos. A full update on Alpha 2's gravity water feed projects in Bulud Batu will be posted shortly.