My school life at the High School was far from mundane, yet the mere concept of Borneo excited me and was so refreshingly different from a life in Spalding.
There was no way I could get the image of myself trekking through the unchartered jungle wielding a machete out of my mind, and it was this that made me decide to embark on the month-long expedition with 11 other students and fundraise the money needed to make the trip happen.
The aim of our expedition was to explore the unknown territory of the third largest island in the world, whilst gaining a deeper understanding of the need for conservation and conributing to this in some way, shape or form.
Ecotourism is something that we learnt Borneo heavily relies on and has rapidly grown in recent years due to the region’s incredible landscape and diverse ecotourism opportunities. By experiencing both the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the jungle as well as the shocking reality of the vast number of palm oil plantations and despite the glaring sun and due to my forgetfulness; a lack of sunglasses, my eyes were opened to the reality of the major impact we have on our planet and how simple actions we take everyday such as buying a packet of crisps has a consequent effect on our environment.
Our Kinabatangan River cruise was the first highlight of our expedition which enabled us to see the immense biodiversity along the 560km river and gave us a chance to see some of hundreds of different types of trees, mammals and birds that populate it. With our sunhats, suncream and gigabytes of memory we were ready to capture the array of short and long-tailed monkeys, exotic birds and even pygmy elephants.
After our flight to Kuching and staying in possibly one of the world’s coolest hostels, we finally felt like travellers rather than tourists. After being prepped on our next adventure we were on our way to Batang Ai, a very rural community which first experienced western culture in 2009. After setting up camp we met and played with the schoolchildren and sang songs, even in Malay. Days of jungle treks and waterfalls led us to our last night which was one that we will never forget. By staying in an authentic longhouse we were able to immerse ourselves among the locals, taste the traditional food and experience the traditional music and dancing.
Next on our agenda was something that we had all been desperately waiting for: orang-utans. Matang Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, situated in Sarawak, offered the opportunity to see orangutans, bears and many more animals in the enclosure.
Whilst working up quite a sweat volunteering on the farm and helping with the enrichment for both the orang-utans and the sun bears, our group deserved a well needed rest which unfortunately was not on the cards as our next phase of the expedition was climbing the tallest mountain in Sout East Asia.
Mount Kinabalu, which stands at 4095.2 metres was probably the most physically demanding challenge I have ever done and in spite of the blisters and aching muscles it was so rewarding I would do it all over again. The 8.9km trek took two days to complete with an earlier start at 2am to reach the summit for sunrise. Finally we reached the TAR Island’s white sandy beaches and had the chance to relax in the sun before our flight home.