Our very own Tim headed over to our camps in Borneo for a quick trip recently – and he got a lot done in 6 days!! Have a read about his time in our camps, and to get yourself excited about your own expedition!
This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to head out to Borneo and see some of our projects first hand and meet some of the amazing people that make it all happen. In what was an action packed six days I travelled the length of Sabah province taking in the sights, sounds and stories of this stunning part of the world.
Our incredible in country manager Mel was my guide for the whole trip, showing me the hospitality that our school groups enjoy on every trip and that Borneo is indeed famous for. Our first stop off on this magical mystery tour was our largest and longest established camp in Borneo, Camp Bongkud.
Bongkud is a community we have worked closely with for almost ten years now and the impact of our student’s hard work is everywhere you look – from the community centre to the market area to the new kindergarten that overlooks the village you can really feel the difference that these projects have had on local people’s lives. I was lucky enough to spend some very insightful time with our wonderful camp manager Eve discussing all things projects and listening to all the ideas she has for the future of her home community. Listening to her speak with real passion about plans for future projects really reinforced to me the long-term nature of what Camps does – plans are made, foundations are laid and slowly but surely dreams are realised.
After leaving Bongkud we took the long and winding road through the jungle to Batu Puteh, with the towering Mount Kinabalu never far out of sight as we weaved our way through Sabah province. As stunning as the journey was, it was also at times a stark reminder of the very pressing issues that Borneo faces from the palm oil industry. For what felt like hours on end we would pass by perfect rows of generic palm trees which felt like watching the same video on loop. For every row of palm trees planted huge swathes of jungle have been cleared, thousands of homes and food sources of native wildlife destroyed. Arriving at the KOPEL conservation centre on the banks of the mighty Kinabatangan river was a welcome oasis of hope and opportunity amongst this rapidly changing environment.
The reforestation and tree planting work that our students at KEPOL is absolutely vital and mind blowing in scale, matched only by the diversity of wildlife that calls the projects areas home. Almost 600,000 trees have been planted since reforestation began, covering and area size of a small city! As we glided down the river on the traditional long boats the sounds and then sights of primates swinging through the trees hit you like nothing else – this really is the heart of the jungle. That night the immersion into jungle life continued as we left the relative ‘comfort’ of our hammock accommodation to take a walk on the wild side, armed only with head torches and the encyclopaedic knowledge of our local guides. Insects of all shapes and sizes, birds of every colour possible and freshly laid elephant footprints made me realise that night time is really when the jungle comes alive.
The next day was an early start waking up to the sounds of monkeys swinging through the trees. We hit the road for our final destination – Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary. Somehow, we managed to time our arrival to perfection, walking in right on feeding time! Seeing these incredible and vitally endangered species up close and personal yet again made me realise how important the reforestation work Camps undertake is – giving these magnificent animals a new home and a chance for survival. It also made me realise they don’t have much concept of personal space, as the below photo illustrates! They certainly aren’t shy. The sanctuary just across the road from the Orangutans is home to the lesser known but equally threatened Sun Bear. These guys happen to be the smallest bear in the world and what they lack in size they certainly make up for in character, watching them interact with each other at feeding time was a pretty unique sight.
From there it was back to Kota Kinabalu and regrettably time to say goodbye to Borneo. Sitting in the airport it was one of those ‘what just happened?’ moments. The big experiences I have had time to write about here will stay with me for a long time, but it is the small stories in between, places and people that pass by in the blink of an eye that really make Borneo what it is. Unfortunately, I just don’t have time to write about all of those here, so you’ll just have to get out to this absolutely unreal part of the world and find them for yourself….