Saturday, 23 March 2013

A day in the life of a trek leader - with Sarah Blann

Sarah Blann (PM Alpha 7) tells us about life as an Adventure Trek Leader.

Sarah in the jungle

I'm woken up by the delicate bellows of the day leader (each day a venturer volunteers to lead the group and manage the daily tasks and time keeping), it's still dark.  Before climbing out of my cozy basha I get dressed inside my mozzie net.  The days clothes have been carefully kept dry in the sleeping bag overnight.  I emerge from my mozzie net and slip into my soggy sandals and pad over to the long drop for my morning wee.

One of the Raleigh trek camps

The fire, prepared by the venturers, is already blazing (in the later part of the trek, venturers take control and trek leaders can relax into the day knowing everything is taken care of).  Hearing the venturers questioning if chores had been done

  • are the jerry cans full?
  • when will the water be ready to drink?
  • are the 3 bowls ready to use?
  • are the mess tins clean and can we eat?
We thought we'd reached the point where things run smoothly, but often a gentle nagging reminder is required.

Eline setting up camp
But, fire-starting was mastered and optimum level of water required in kettle was reached.  We would breakfast on porridge.  I thought I'd got my porridge making down to a fine art - carefully tipping in my handful of raisins (shake don't take).  I soon realised oat flakes were immensely more enjoyable mixed with the syrup from the tinned pears.

We finish packing up the camp, it was good to see the improvement in the methodical approach to taking down camp and utter delight at un-doing knots in one gentle tug.  Everything packed away in it's specific dry bag,  fire dried socks into mud encrusted boots, application of DEET, shorts chosen over long trousers so leeches could be detected, rolled and flicked away.  

Before we leave we have a quick stretch/exercise to get warmed up and energised, led by the day leader then we buddy up, load on our back packs, strap on the group kit ready for the last checks.

Pre-trek warm up

  • Long-drop filled in - YES!
  • Slops pit filled in - YES!
  • Poo paper bag burnt - YES!
And we're off...

Along the way calls for breaks and snacks interrupt the pace of trek, quite often only 10 minutes after leaving.  How long are we trekking for?  Are we crossing any rivers?

River crossing
We safely make our way through what can only be described as a mine field of hazards, each step carefully chosen to avoid mud slips, roots, rocks, tree trunks etc  We quickly start games to help us along our way, particular favourites are listing A-Z's (football teams, sports personalities, actors and actresses) and lots and lots of singing.

Eventually we arrive at camp despite trips and slips, leech rolls and flicks, aches and pains, difficult terrains.

Then we spring into action.  Despite the hunger, despite the rain.  Most days it would rain from around 4 in the afternoon so we want to arrive and set up camp before the rain came.
  • Group tarp up
  • Firewood collecting
  • Put up radio and let field base know we have arrived
  • Identify safe place to access river
  • Fill up jerry cans (wait 30 minutes for the water to be ready)
  • Who has lunch and what is it - crackers, cheese, tuna, sandwich spread
  • Hammocks and tarps up ready for sleeping
  • Long drop dug, slops pits dug, AWAS tape up
  • Mess tins and cutlery 3 bowled and ready to eat
  • Fire started, collect more wood
During the trek the PM roles changed from initially overseeing the camp set up then putting our personal basha's up to letting them take the lead and get on with it, managing camp set up themselves.

PM Fred expertly put up basha
Once the chores are complete it's time to swim and wash in the river (if we have found a safe place).  We check out the days bumps, lumps, bites and scratches. At 6 O'clock its longs O'clock, we get into our long trousers and long sleeved tops (to keep the evening mosquitos from biting).  It's nice to see everyone getting into their routine, finding the bamboo for their hammocks and testing it out for strength. Chef's start to prepare our evening meal, then we are called to dinner.   After 3 bowling we sit down to fine dining Raleigh sytle.  Black pepper beef with rice and tinned peas is a particular favourite.  Then it's kettle on for the Milo and yarn around the camp fire before we depart for bed.  One last thing to do before sleep, inspecting feet.  Climbing into my basha I sit sideways on the hammock and wash them over the sides, then dry and talc.  Head torch off!  Into the mozzie net and get tucked in, making sure the mozzie net is tight under the roll mat.  Head torch back on for final leech inspection as you don't want any unexpected friends in the night. 

Then head torch off and all you have is the sound of the jungle which is quite spectacular, and masks my tinnitus!

Friday, 22 March 2013

World Water Day

Observed annually on 22nd March, World Water Day aims to raise public awareness of issues around fresh water and to encourage sustainable management of water resources.  The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recommended an international day celebrating freshwater; leading to the inaugural World Water day being held on 22nd March 1993.
Each year, the UN assembly identify an area of specific focus, with 2013 being the year of Water Cooperation. Water Cooperation is essential at all levels – local, regional and international, to ensure that water resources are managed in a way which allows equitable access to freshwater.
Raleigh have been working on water projects in Borneo for the past 10 years and in that time, have completed 37 Gravity Water Feeds, providing clean drinking water to communities in rural parts of Sabah. We have also repaired 8 existing Gravity Water Feeds, helping to ensure that local people do not lose their access to this valuable resource. In the last 2 years alone, Raleigh volunteers have laid over 47km of pipe, piping clean drinking water into 288 houses and 8 community buildings. See the link below for our 10 year slideshow with details of all our projects and achievements since our arrival in Borneo 10 years ago.
On expedition 13C, we have 3 Gravity Water Feed projects, providing 3 more communities with access to clean, safe drinking water, something that we and our volunteers are incredibly proud of. Our groups have been celebrating World Water Day today and we will be updating you in the next couple of days with details, photos and video of what they’ve been getting up to. In the meantime, below are some photos of their progress on the projects so far.


In addition, we also have 2 bespoke groups also working on Gravity Water Feed systems in rural Pitas. The groups are engineering students from Newcastle Uni and so bring some valuable knowledge on water systems with them. In addition to their hard work on the project, they have spent today teaching in the local school, educating the children about filtration systems and the benefits of water filtration. We’ll have an update and some photos of them and their progress soon.

Dive Island – Alpha 7

Kath’s trip to Dive Island with Alpha 7

The Fieldbase team are on duty 24/7 to deal with any issues that crop up on project sites, so when I was made aware that someone was needed on Dive Island for a few days, I gallantly stepped forward.

Kath - The Raleigh jump shot expert
I joined Alpha 7 on day 4 of their Dive/Trek phase, so they had already done most of the training dives and were studying hard for their open water or advanced open water when I arrived.  Later that day, they all came back having passed their exams, and we celebrated with a slap up Raleigh Rations meal and cards into the evening!

Setting off to plant some coral

Returning from their dive

Nikki with her diving equipment

The next day was one of the Venturers birthdays, so after watching a stunning sunrise over Mount Kinabulu from the Island, I awaited the Venturers to awake to begin the chorus of Happy Birthday.  Having passed their open water qualification, the group was taken out for a final dive to help plant coral on the reef, whilst I took the opportunity to relax, snorkel and enjoy the beautiful setting I was so graciously helping out in.
It was the group’s last day on the Island, but spirits were high and they were looking forward to trekking so had a lesson in putting up the hammock and tarps on trek and minimalist packing.  It was then great fun listening to Radio Raleigh from the other side for a change, and we then all gathered to watch the sunset and film some of the Raleigh 13C Music Video (to Marvin Gaye’s, Aint No Mountain High Enough) in this stunning setting.

Stunning sunset on Mamutik Island with Alpha 7

The evening meal was topped off with some fantastic donuts made from Raleigh rations in celebration of Beerend’s birthday and then it was early to bed to prepare for the 5am wake up and pack up camp ready for the 7am boat off the Island.

That also happened to be my birthday, so I felt incredibly happy and lucky to be waking up to sunrise in such a fantastic setting with a great group of Venturers.  I was sorry to wave them off at the jetty as they headed off for their trek, but it was nice to be there to greet Alpha 9 as they simultaneously arrived to head over to the Island for their diving week.

Alpha 7 at the harbour before leaving for trek

Alpha 9 leaving the harbour for Dive Island
*Radio updates from Alpha 7 since this visit inform us that the group are enjoying their trek and its a physical challenge.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

An update from Alpha 9

On the boat to Dive Island
Enrique, Duco, Rolex, Sabine, Clara, Becki, Dido & Sarah
Alpha 9 are currently enjoying the dive element of their trek-dive-trek, so I went over to the island with the group on Monday to catch up with them about how they were finding the phase so far.

When I met up with them, the group were really enjoying life on dive island. They were really happy to be able to relax a bit, do some washing and couldn't wait for the diving. Mamutik Island is a gorgeous little island just a boat ride away from Sutera Harbour in KK.

After setting up the bashas the group were straight into a briefing session. Prior to arriving on the island they had spent a day in the classroom with Borneo Divers. This session taught them all about safety and the equipment they would be using. Then after a briefing session on the island - explaining what they would be doing underwater and a generally providing some useful how to tips such as how to communicate underwater and what to do if your regulator comes out of your mouth or if it happens to your buddy, and what to do if your mask comes off - they went out on their first dives. Dressed in wet suits and each paired up with a diving buddy, off they went.

The group were absolutely reeling from their first day diving on the island - which finished with an absolutely gorgeous sunset. For many this was their first time and they were really impressed as they went down eight meters in the morning dive. For others they were still making up their minds as it is an unusual sensation being able to breathe underwater. However, despite being a little nervous these people were looking forward to trying it again the next day.

When we reviewed the day in the evening, aside from experiencing diving itself, the groups highlights were seeing the corals and fishes (including a sea snake) - and dancing underwater. However, much of the coral seen off Mamutik Island has been damaged by tourists and so at the end of the week they will be planting coral and going to visit the coral that Raleigh planted several years ago to see the impact. The group were particularly excited by this element.

They were excited to have these five days on the island to break up the treks and were looking forward to more quality, bonding time as an Alpha group on the island, getting their PADIs and celebrating Guy's 19th birthday on the 23rd.

Sunrise on Mamutik Island

Having enjoyed the day so much I had to ask how they were feeling about returning to trek after five days on this 'paradise' island. I was impressed by the groups optimism. They were really looking forward to their eight day trek back to Basecamp - providing it doesn't rain too much as the rain, their extremely muddy camp on their second day where they had to put up their tarps in torrential rain had been a few of the challenges they had previously endured. In addition to this not washing for days, dealing with wet socks and leeches and learning how to put up their bashas has been challenging for them.

Nevertheless, when asked what they had enjoyed during their trek they said:
  • The mountain views.

A9 trekking
  • The groups pace, as usually they were a good hour ahead of the guides' expectation.

Dido, Becki, Clara and Sabine
  • The homestay - eating tapioca and deep fried food including banana fritters.

  • The river near the homestay as they had their first wash in four days.
  • The food in KK's Filippino market the night before Dive Island where they bought far to much food including chicken wings, chicken bums, scampi, noodles, burgers, fresh veg, bean fritters, calimari, sausage, goughnuts, fresh mango, apam balic, cha kueh (fried dough with cream in it) and lots of fresh fish.
PMs Fred, Nat and Xenia at the market

Filipino Market
For the meantime, I have left the group on the island excited about the week ahead, well bonded as a group and feeling so lucky to have the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful location.

A9 on Dive Island - Rolex, Enrique, Duco, Connor, Nigel, Natalie, Guy, Sabine,
Xenia, Sarah, Becki, Clara and Dido

This is the sunrise we woke up to

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Update from Imbak (Alpha 5 - phase 2)

I’ve just returned to Fieldbase after a lovely couple of days at Imbak Canyon with the new phase 2 Alpha 5 group.  

Alpha 5 and their new PMs at Imbak Falls
Hatty, Alex, Nicky, Sam, Daniel, James, Joost, Zino, Nav, Vinnie and Dwana
The team is doing really well and they are already getting on like brothers and sisters. After a 4am start, a long coach ride and some off road 4x4ing we arrived at the Imbak Rangers camp around 3pm last Wednesday. It was a real treat for the group to have a night in bunk beds as most of them had been trekking in the previous phase or sleeping on the floor. After unloading the cars and setting up the radio we were treated to a delicious first night dinner by Hatty and Daniel.

Rangers Camp bunks

Hatty and Daniel about to serve dinner
After dinner the Imbak Rangers gave us a presentation about the conservation area and history and put on the first Expedition Borneo BBC episode – as it was filmed and set at Imbak at the BBC camp (Big Belian Camp – named after the types of trees there). Unfortunately, we were all so tired that we couldn’t watch the second episode (and we wanted to be able to get up at 6am on the off chance we spotted a gibbon as we were told between 7 and 8am was the best time to see them)

On Thursday morning we trekked for an hour into the jungle to Raleigh Camp and PM Ali gave the group a guided tour of their new home. As the PM for all three phases here at Imbak, Ali is now quite at home here and was really excited to be welcoming a new group.

The rest of the day was spent carrying in all our food and equipment 1.5km (as the bridge had evaporated during changeover and preventing closer access for the 4x4s). However, despite the task at hand the group was not deterred and through a hard day shuttling actually grew stronger as a team – and increasingly excited and amazed by their new home as they saw elephant footprints and beautiful views. 

Vinnie and Connor setting up the radio to establish comms
Unfortunately, the 1.5km shuttling was not the group’s only challenge as setting up the radio to establish comms with Fieldbase also proved difficult in the dense primary rainforest. Fortunately, with a rotation system in play the group got there in the end and slept VERY well - despite the sounds of the jungle and rustling of trees in the wind - on their first night at Imbak.

The Raleigh Camp at Imbak is dived into different areas. 
The bashas:

The kitchen area:

The communal eating area (also used for cards, reading, writing and team meetings- like the one below):

The fire pit:
The bathroom:

And it is looking really good – or as James (Alpha 5’s resident comedian) would say, 'Raleigh Raleigh good!' Get it??

The group have been doing a lot of planning and established a rota system for Rota for cooking, washing up, water duty, radio and day leader. This was something the group all agreed had worked really well in phase one and they were keen to keep in place for phase two. They also quickly carried out a food inventory of their Raleigh rations. The PM’s were really impressed with just how organized the group is – the boys even made some shelves for the tins.

After a busy morning we all headed down to Imbak falls and suspension bridge just five minutes’ walk away and took in its beauty. The group is buzzing and delighted to be spending a phase here. Swimming whilst looking up at such an amazing waterfall was really special and I know the group have already taken some amazing photos to bring home with them.

The PMs - Sarah, Connor and Ali
We also paid a visit to the BBC camp, home of the Big Belian trees and the project site. The first phase was spent doing up the Raleigh Campsite and so the actual project details within the conservation area are still to be determined by a meeting with the Engineer. However, initial conversations indicate that the group will be establishing the foundations of a new suspension bridge, enabling better access in and out of the Imbak site for conservationists, scientists and visitors. In addition, the team will be working to improve an old pully system which will enable the trees to be moved into place.
Through these trees will soon be a suspension bridge across the water

The fallen trees/logs will be moved into holes like this one and will provide
the foundations of the new suspension bridge

This is the pully system which will need renewing

When I left the group were having a day off and planning to go on a nature trail to see more of the area. I am looking forward to providing more details about their progress when the Loop return to Fieldbase next week.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Hello from Maliau Basin (Alpha 4)

Alpha 4 update

Well, it was a last minute challenge but due to unforeseen political circumstances the original Alpha 4 project at Danum Valley had to be changed. We’re being cautious, but safety comes foremost at Raleigh and the replacement project we've got organised is brilliant!

Consequently, 12 of our intrepid Venturers with their dedicated and fearless project managers have now set up camp in Maliau Basin. This is an area of primary rainforest that has been likened to Jurassic Park, albeit minus the dinosaurs. Spectacular jungle, waterfalls and flora and fauna all surrounded by cliffs soaring up to a height of 1,700ft. 

The team will be based at the Maliau Basin Study Centre. The work is still being finalised, but  it will involve work on a gabion wall and the creation of a new nature trail. The group are sure to make the most of the incredible opportunity they have been granted in gaining access to this remote and highly protected area and when they left Basecamp were hoping to be able to visit the rainforest canopy observation platform, the skywalk jungle path and to trek into some of the other camps deeper in the conservation area.

Sam at the Maliau Basin viewpoint
Updating us on this unique experience is an account from Sam who paid the group a visit during the loop visit on Friday:

I've been really excited about the road trip that all Fieldbase staff take part in; driving to all the static project sites we have scattered around Sabah in our land rovers, delivering post, messages from home and bringing the highly popular Raleigh shop where Venturers can buy treats, toiletries and medical items.  There is also a come dine with me challenge which the loop decides; so you are treated like royalty and cooked a fantastic feast!!

We set off on the loop part one very early on Friday morning and drove for 8 hours south east to the Maliau Basin; a designated conservation area of primary rain forest which has a study centre to provide facilities for environmental research and education.  Our group are there to work on a variety of projects such as building gabion walls (large wire cages filled with rocks) to stabilise nearby land, and creating new wildlife trails.  

Alpha 4 making a start on the gabion wall
It was a brand new experience for me entering this area. It felt like we were driving into Jurassic park and the driving was fun too.  The trees were huge and green, and the noises from the jungle were crazy.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I am so grateful to be given this opportunity.  We even saw monkeys run across the road in front of us and found some fresh elephant dung but sadly no elephants.

Kathryn, Jo and Sam welcoming the Loop to Maliau Basin

When we finally arrived at the site the group treated us to noodle soup lunch and then a short walk to the area they are working on.  Its great to see their progress already and they seemed pleased and excited with their work so far. Mike and Rachel, the PMs, hope to take them trekking into the jungle before the end of the phase.  

The group are all sleeping in tents  in a designated campsite and they do seem to have quite a bit of luxury here with toilets and showers and a designated kitchen area.  

The site

The Venturer camping area

The Loop's beds for the night

Alpha 4 treated us to a three course meal of fishcakes, stir fry and Trio of pudding which included pineapple upside down cake - it was delicious and I was thinking I could get used to this!  

Trio of deserts

They also made giant Ralieghopoly (Monopoly Raleigh themed) which was so much fun and the games went on for hours.  We had to leave very early the following morning but the group were up to make us eggy bread before we left.  

All in all we had a fantastic experience - an incredibly beautiful location, and a great welcome from the group. They've set a really high standard so we're looking forward to seeing how the other groups match up!

We will be providing an update on how the rest of the static project sites are getting on and the experiences of the second phase loopers when they return to Fieldbase next week.