Another year has gone by since my last travel blog; that must mean only one thing…
On 9th May 2017, it was that time of year again that I grab my backpack, and jet off to one of our regions for a whirlwind tour of our camps and projects. This time on the agenda, Camp Borneo and Camp Cambodia.
After the 15-hour flight from London Heathrow, I arrived in Sabah’s capital; Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. The first thing I always notice when leaving the airport is the sheer humidity, even at 11pm! Coming from England it always feels like you’re stepping in to a sauna.
I met up with the legend that is Abner (one of our locally employed staff) and then on to meet the volunteer group at Step-In Lodge hostel. We got an early night as we were up bright and early to catch a boat over to Camp Mantanani, which is on a beautiful, remote island about an hours journey from the main land. The water here is stunning and so clear – perfect for snorkelling.
The camp manager here is Aida, who is lovely. She’ll brief you on the camp and local teams once you arrive, whilst handing you a coconut with a straw. The camp is really cool, set just back from the beach itself. The accommodation is open fronted houses with triple tier bunk beds (they’re extremely comfy). We’ve been working alongside the community here for around 8 years and have completed some life-changing projects in that time, including toilet blocks and a community centre.
The next day, it was another early start to set off for Camp Tinangol and Camp Bongkud.
These camps use traditional long houses. They are built on stilts which keeps the sleeping area nice and cool and also keeps the floor of the house away from the bugs.
Kenny, the camp manager at Tinangol, is a character to say the least! He’ll have you up at 06:30 every morning with the sound of him banging on the camp dong. He was kind enough to take me on a tour of the local village and see some of the previous and on-going projects. These include a community centre, renovations to the new school we’d help build and construction of a new village market area. I was then invited back to camp for an amazing lunch cooked by our in-camp kitchen team, then it was back to the van for the drive down to Camp Bongkud.
Eve is the camp manager at Bongkud – she is an absolute legend. She’ll have you dancing in true Sabahan style and making traditional banana cake in no time. I stayed the night here in the long house (cracking night’s sleep an equally cracking meal of noodles and chicken), then got up at 05:30am to climb up Bongkud hill for sunrise with Abner – stunning! The projects in this area include construction of a large market area, renovations and improvements to the kindergarten, and the biggest on-going project is the construction of a brand-new school within the village. We’re hoping to complete this project by summer 2018.
Next stop, Batu Puteh! This area is situated deep in the Bornean jungle, with eco camps set just back from the banks of the meandering Kinabatangan river. I slept in a hammock in the jungle on that night, which was quite the experience. Our groups will do this too as well as home stays in the nearby village. Our project work here focuses on reforestation and we have planted tens of thousands of trees in this area, supporting a local eco-tourism group called Kopel. An evening river cruise down the Kinabatangan river was amazing, with the chance to see monkeys, (including Proboscis Monkeys which are unique to Borneo), elephants and crocodiles on its banks and towering trees.
In the next 2 days, I visited Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, whilst staying overnight in Sepilok B&B (a really cool place that our groups use). I was lucky enough to meet with the founder of the Sun Bear centre to talk about the internship programme that we run; a truly hands-on and insightful programme with the Sun Bears.
Borneo, from start to finish, was an absolutely amazing experience. Everybody I met along the way were extremely friendly and welcoming. Certainly a unique country, that I definitely won’t forget.
Independent Volunteering Coordinator (UK)
If Callum’s blog has got you excited to start your own adventure in Borneo, check out all our programmes here. We have a range of trips on offer – from a couple of weeks spent deep in the jungle or on the paradise island of Manatanani, to a 3 month South East Asia adventure, taking in both Borneo and Cambodia.
Keep your eyes peeled next week for Callum’s blog of the second half of his trip in Cambodia.