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Intrepid Journeys

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Borneo: Tim Shadbolt


Day One - Kota Kinabalu
Woke at 6am in KK, as everyone seems to call the capital. The streets were remarkably quiet - it reminds me of Japan. I then realise the Muslim religious day is today, Friday. Most of the shops are closed but I do get a coffee in a café downtown - a strange mix of instant and condensed milk. I met some concreters on the streets.  They were good enough to let me have a go. I must say it felt good to be back on the job even in such a strange location. The city is not what I imagine - it's bigger, well not as much of a village as I expected. It is about the size of Dunedin and Invercargill put together.

Day Two - Kiau village
Jet lag or the state of my bed meant I woke at 3am. I tried to read my book on Stalingrad and it made me realise I cannot moan about a lumpy mattress when immersed in the suffering of the Russian Front. The village I am staying in is very basic.  An Australian woman has volunteered to come here and teach the women English.  They seem eager to learn. I don't know if the men aren't allowed to learn or if they have no interest. The local lethal brew, a kind of rice whiskey, seems to be more their language. I meet my guide for the mountain climb, Sopingi, a small but very resourceful chap.

Day Three - Mt Kinabalu
I was told to train for this climb so I stepped up and down on my back step for a few minutes each day. Now, looking up at the peak I am supposed to conquer, it doesn't seem so smart. It takes me most of the day to get to the base hostel while locals race up and past me. Some runners pass me on their way up and then again in an impossibly short time going back down again! It is an exhausting and painful climb. I cannot possibly reach the summit in my state. My dicky knee has swollen up to almost twice normal size. After some Deep Heat and a hot plate of noodles, I start to feel a little better.

Day Four - Mt Kinabalu
Never underestimate your own stupidity. I get up at 2am to see the others off to the summit. I then figure I can go a little of the way - to the top of the steps where the ropes start (you pull yourself up rock faces on ropes which are anchored in place). It is pleasantly cool, unlike yesterday's sticky heat. I don't have any cramp and once I've swallowed some Neruofen, I don't have pain either. At the ropes, I find my shattered legs get a break since my arms bear my body weight and I decide to keep going.  Sopingi is right there telling me I can do it so on I go. I guess once you've invested in something like this, the human spirit just doesn't want to give up so easily. It takes me much longer than the other hundred or so people on the mountain, but I make the summit. I have bought a Kiwi and a Southland flag - just in case - and am happy to plant them at the top. Unfortunately, the trip down is just as hard as coming up& the pain in my knees is indescribable. Every step down has my legs screaming. Oh how I wish I had trained.

Day Five - Labong Labong
Sopingi has taken me to stay with friends near the base of the mountain. Very hospitable people but unfortunately my bed is a thin mattress on the floor. Not ideal after a mountain climb that feels like it has shattered every bone in your body. I am pleased to find some concreting going on at the edge of the village. The roads are all metal and the rain in the wet season turns them to mud. The locals are cementing the steeper bits into the village. They have to hand-mix everything so it is slow going but they seem to have the right idea. One step at a time&. the only way to knock off the big jobs!

Day Six - Poring Hot Springs
There's nothing intrepid about this place but it's just what the doctor and physio would have ordered. I have to hobble down to the pools& my muscles haven't quite recovered so they feel like jelly when I walk downhill. The hot water does a little to ease the aches and pains but Neurofen is still the order of the day.

Day Seven - Village
After five hours on the road and several interesting market stops (they all sell very smelly dried fish), I am glad to arrive. To be honest, it's the car travel that worries me more than Muslim terrorists. I passed an accident on the way here. I am surprised I haven't seen more. There is little tread on their tyres and the driving, and observation of any road rules, is erratic at best. The locals here are trying to help fight another worry - Palm Oil. Thousands and thousands of acres of native forest has been replaced with Palm Oil plantations.  It has taken away the orangutans' habitat and threatens all kinds of bird life. It's the great enemy of humans too - experts call it tree lard since it is so bad for you and it is added to lots of food here. A small group of eco-minded people are taking native seedlings and planting them and then cutting the undergrowth back so the forest can grow back quicker. I will help them tomorrow after spending a night at a jungle camp. A small boat takes me in and it certainly feels like I am deep in inhospitable jungle.

Day Eight - Jungle Camp
It's getting hotter and hotter then the monsoon rains sweeps in during the night. I have a life-jacket for a pillow and am sleeping on little more than boards although sleeping is a grand statement. I think the lack of soft beds is what is holding back the third world.  Without a good night's kip you can't get anything done. After breakfast, I vent my frustration on the undergrowth at the re-forestation project. There are plenty of jungle creepers and weeds that need attacking. I really think eco tourism is the way to go. As places get dirty and over-populated, like the Greek Islands, tourists will become more fickle and search for beautiful and less spoilt places. I hope that's what this place remains.

Day Nine - Homestay
It's raining again, coming down in sheets of water. I am staying with a lovely family but I have to sit on the floor - pure hell since my legs are still hurting. It is rude to point your feet at people, but right now I am not in control of my feet!  I get a shower and am over-joyed at the prospect until I realise it is just a tub of cold water that I have to throw over myself with a small jug. Nothing much happens at my homestay but that is what makes it so lovely. It is all so reassuringly normal. I enjoyed playing with the kids and left them with a Kiwi I brought with me from home. 

Day Ten - Sepilok
I am back in the land of luxury with my own room and ensuite. It has a sit down toilet!  While I know squatting is better to do the business (and the British Empire is built on regularity) my legs still ache and I live in constant fear of requiring assistance to stand after the event! Here another environmental project is trying to save Orangutans whose habitat has been destroyed. Farmers call them when they find Orangutans on their plantations and the team relocate them and try to rehabilitate them back into the jungle.  They are fed on feeding platforms in the jungle which they visit when they need to. The idea being that they venture further back into the jungle over time and gradually learn to survive on their own. At the risk of offending every Green MP, I have to say I was just as happy about visiting the Orangutans as I was about my sit-down toilet!

Day Eleven - Sandikan
Sandikan was where the horrific Death Marches left from in the 1940's. A handful of soldiers survived the forced march into the jungle - all Australians. There's nothing much here - a nice garden and a tiny museum doesn't really to justice to the horror this place saw.

Day Twelve - Turtle Island
After the roughest of ferry crossings, I land on Turtle Island. During the Monsoon season, the sea cuts up rougher than the crossing to Stewart Island. A few on the boat lost their lunch over the side. Forget trying to eat breakfast if you are considering the trip! A team of workers here wait on the beach at night for the turtles to land, then they take the eggs and re-bury them in a hatchery they have set up to protect the precious offspring from predators. I get to watch a turtle land and lay her eggs and then the hatchery workers take me to help release a batch of babies that have just hatched.  It's a prehistoric ritual that man positively interfears with - in a similar way to our Tuataras.  It is a good way to end this trip& with hope that we're not all doing harm to our environment.


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