Sunset over the South China Sea

Sunset over the South China Sea

Though I‰Ûªd spent time in the Malaysian state of Sabah before, three months back in 2007, the previous seven days have brought home to me just how little of this part of Borneo I had actually seen and what I‰Ûªve been missing! Thinking of coming? Well I‰Ûªve just traversed North, South, East and West of Sabah in an effort to get to know my new home, my new job and all the great Camp Borneo staff I‰Ûªm going to be working alongside… let me tell you what I saw; it might help make your mind. We‰Ûªve all had inductions into a new job… boring things. The correct way to lift a cardboard box…? check. The naming convention to be used when filing documents…? check. The exact strength the dreadfully tedious middle manager you report to likes his coffee…? check. Having worked for Camps before I should have realised that wouldn‰Ûªt be the case here… Nup, for an induction I got to spend a month racing harum-scarum across South East Asia, including a week seeing all we have to offer here in Borneo for the adventurous traveller. The first port of call for my colleague Fendy and I was obviously KK (Kota Kinabalu) the State Capital of Sabah and a place I was very happy to return to. For those coming here as Gap or Life clients, this will be the place you startåÊ and end your adventure with us as well as the location for some letting off of steam after some hard work in the sun. There are pubs, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping opportunities aplentyåÊ and much fun to be had all nestled neatly next to the South China Sea with stunning sunsets almost every night. Not much chance to sit in the sun for me though as we were soon whisked off to Camp Tinangol, near the Northern tip of Sabah where I was met by Camp Manager Zul and is great staff. The camp itself is centred around a traditional Rungus stilted longhouse, a large wood and bamboo structure with sleeping areas along one side and a long open communal area on the other. It will certainly be an experience living there for a few weeks… hope you weren‰Ûªt expecting tents. The community at Tinangol was extremely welcoming and I could already see the wonderful work the previous gappers had completed was åÊmaking a difference. (I found the current group covered from head to toe in paint and looking very happy with themselves.) With future projects likely to include the building of a new Kindergarten as well as finishing off the Bio-gas collector (NB, a large nipple attached to the toilet… more on that at a later date), it will be exciting times at Camp Tinangol for quite some time.

Some cultural dancing... I may or may not have taken part.

Some cultural dancing… I may or may not have taken part.

So after a lovely meal, some cultural dancing and the odd (ahem) sip of rice wine, it was time to climb under my mossie net for an early night before an early start heading to… …Camp Mantanani. Ever wanted to live on a tropical island? Well here‰Ûªs your chance. OK, so the ride over to the island can get a little hairy; but whilst other boats were turning back due to rough seas, we soldiered on bouncing from wave to wave for an hour and getting soaked into the bargain. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Rest assured the trip is normally quite sedate and the boat never sets out if the seas become dangerous.) Mantanani itself is a Loch Ness Monster shaped island roughly 3km long and 1.5 wide with a forest covered head at one end, stretching to a thin tail like tip at the other. There are two small communities on the island with a school, a shop and some stunning beaches. As the boat nears our camp the first thing you notice is a large orange structure with the Camp Borneo logo emblazoned on the front… yep, we‰Ûªre in the right place. A much simpler camp than Tinangol, Mantanani doesn‰Ûªt need a swanky longhouse to be impressive, when you‰Ûªre only ever 20 seconds from warm clear seawater and an impressive view of Mount K back on the mainland a hammock will do for your accommodation… which is good because that‰Ûªs all you get. Well, I say hammock, it‰Ûªs actually a sturdy wooden structure with roof and places to hang your net, but still, essentially hammocky in its nature. At Mantanani , Sil, our Camp Manager and her excellent team have plenty of scope for working alongside the local community and school, helping with some restoration work, doing some marine conservation on the beach and in the seas and even helping to build a huge pirate ship out of driftwood and beach debris! (shhh! *checks behind him…* Keep it mum! More on that soon!) And of course this is the perfect location for your introduction to scuba diving through our expertly delivered PADI course. But… ALAS! There would be no sunbathing for this intrepid adventurer.åÊ No siree! After a much less bouncy trip back to the mainland me and my faithful Passepartout , Fendy, (any Verne fans out there?), set off for Batu Puteh to check out the great eco-tourism, environmental and community awareness projects our friends at Mescot are involved with. With the opportunity to help with re-forestation, take part in a jungle trek, sleep amongst the monkeys in a basha and stay with some of the amazing local families who all seem keen to adopt us into their welcoming brood, you will never get bored here.

How about a river cruise to see an Orang-utan?

How about a river cruise to see an Orang-utan?

And those keen wildlife experts out there will be thrilled by the dusk and dawn river cruises to try and spot all manner of monkeys, birds, insects and even crocodiles! Not to mention the extremely rare and ‰ÛÏonly to be found in Borneo‰Û Orang-utans, Pygmy Elephants and Proboscis Monkeys. (That, of course, is no guarantee that you will see them… they‰Ûªre elusive types!) From Batu Puteh we set off to Utan Paradise deep in the Crocker Range and home to some of our jungle treks. From the impressive little camp our clients can set off to taste jungle living, an experience not to be forgotten (especially if it rains.) Trekking through steamy and humid jungles can be a challenge, but is surely nothing that our fearless Gap Year types can‰Ûªt best! But how about sleeping in the jungle, slung neatly between two trees in a hammock with only a mossie net and a tarp between you and those eerie noises? Is that a monkey? A bird? An insect? A bearded pig? Or perhaps some sort of jungle spirit? It is truly a privelage to lie and listen in the pitch dark to the ever changing music made by the creatures of the jungle. Some find it a little daunting… others revel in it. Our final destination on this trip into the heart of Camp Borneo was our charming Home-stay in Kipouvo, where our great team led by Regina were on hand to welcome and show us around the community based projects that we are involved with in the village. Set in a valley with beautiful mountains on either sideåÊ and wonderful trekking opportunities it is a great place to relax into Sabah life. Which you will… you‰Ûªll soon be speaking like a local. So basically, I spent a week getting muddy, sweaty and sun-tanned. Hard work, amazing beaches, wonderful people, wildlife you will see nowhere else on our planetåÊ and a view from the top of a Mountain you will never forget (I didn‰Ûªt even mention Mount Kinabalu!) So, does that sound like something you might like… ?