Malaysia – Borneo

Back in February I flew to Malaysian Borneo to do a project run by a company called Camps International. Massive props to these guys, the way they run their show is brilliant. For two months I was fed, watered and provided with a crazy amount of inspiring and challenging tasks, not only to teach me something but also to help the people I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by.

On my connecting flight from Kualur Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, there were a couple of lads sat in front of me. I was tired, they were loud, I was getting more tired, the were getting louder. I couldn’t be bothered to deal with that and I began to form a negative impression of these complete strangers… I really hoped I would never see them again. But…

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From left, Nikki, Me and Remy. Glorious sunrise on the day I turned 19. Mantanani Island, Borneo

This is us a month later, watching the sunrise of the best birthday I have ever had. These are now two of my closest friends, and I consider it a privilege to have met them… Those damn Dutch skin heads. Lesson 1: NEVER judge a book by it’s loud, annoying cover.

We stayed in Kota Kinabalu for a couple of days, at a hostel called the Step In Lodge, before driving north to a village called Tinagol. The beauty and greenery of this camp blew me away. Set in the jungle, a 30 minute walk from the town (ask anyone that’s been to Tinagol about the walk from the camp to the town and you will get the same groan) this peaceful oasis became our home for two weeks.

Tinagol - it's a hard life...

Tinagol – it’s a hard life…

We were building market walls and helping to finish a nursery project which was started by the previous hoards of volunteers. Making concrete by hand is bloody difficult, especially in 30 degree heat and 90% humidity, but it makes that cool water coming out of the hose pipe that little bit sweeter…

The nursery project - Coconut tree pillars and a whole lot of wood.

The nursery project – Coconut tree pillars and a whole lot of wood.

This is Man... he likes rice wine and smiling. You will never see him without either.

This is Man… he likes rice wine and smiling. You will never see him without either.

Some of the work that we did in this town really changed the way I approach things. Especially things I don’t want to do. We were asked to clear a mountain of litter from underneath their football stand. When I say a mountain, this football stand had about 150m2 of broken bottles and plastic wrapping which had been there for god knows how long. All the village children were just running through it and playing in it. It was disgusting. At first I didn’t want to go near it, I was angry. Why should I clean up this village’s rubbish if they can’t be bothered to pick it up themselves? They just sit there and watch…

Not a bad pair of bin men... Catt and Harriet

Not a bad pair of bin men… Catt and Harriet

But as we got close to finishing, the kids that had been playing in the rubbish started picking it up and putting it in our bags, and running under the football stand without swimming through rubbish, I didn’t care that the villagers did nothing. I saw what an amazing thing we did for those kids and I was happy. Now if I do something like that again I will go into it with a completely different mindset.  Lesson 2: No matter how awful the task is, if it helps someone, it’s worth it.

Just hanging around.

Just hanging around.

Bit of traditional dance.

Bit of traditional dance.

Tinagol

This kid was an exact Asian replica of my little brother.

From Tinagol we took a 7 hour bus to a small fishing village called Batu Puteh. We stayed in pairs at a Muslim home stay. I was with Oscar for mine, and we had a lovely family. The food was great, and the mother was a primary school religion teacher, so filled in as many of the gaps in my knowledge as she could. She spoke very little English and I spoke even less Malay, but through empathy, broken sentences and body language we were able to communicate while her daughter (who spoke incredible English) was at school studying. We did river cruises, jungle trekking, landscaping and reforestation while we were in Batu Puteh. I also slept in a hammock 100m away from a 5m Crocodile… I cherished it like my last, it was a good night sleep.

River Cruise

River Cruise

He is an unstoppable jungle warrior. You do not mess with the jungle warrior...

He is an unstoppable jungle warrior. You do not mess with the jungle warrior…

Getting up close with the wildlife...

Getting up close with the wildlife…

Remy getting his Ray Mears on.

Remy getting his Ray Mears on.

Just a bunch of swingers.

Just a bunch of swingers.

Getting told to watch out for pure white jungle guardians. And not to pee without apologising.

Getting told to watch out for pure white jungle guardians. And not to pee without apologising.

From Batu Puteh we took a long journey to paradise. This is an island called Mantanani, and it is one of the most beautiful place I have ever been. We spent two short weeks here (SHOULD HAVE BEEN LONGER) And in that time we built notice boards and toilets, taught English, watched many ridiculous sunsets, I had a fight with the most poisonous fish in the world (stone fish – oww…) and got to know our hammocks extremely well. I’m not going to write more about it, I’m just going to show you. Lesson 3: never get used to paradise.

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These were good days.

These were good days.

From Mantanani we went to a town called Bonkud. In this town we were helping to build a community centre to house the fire, police and mayor’s department’s. It would also be used as a teaching facility and a place to have small town meetings. This camp was next to a river and run by a tiny lady with a massive heart, her name is Eve. We went paragliding and hill running. We also climbed a massive hill before sunrise to watch the mist roll over the jungle. That was pretty spectacular. Lesson 4: no one looks good taking off in a para-glider…

On the way to paragliding

On the way to paragliding

Just landed

Just landed

Sunrise from the hill, with the mist rolling over the Jungle.

Sunrise from the hill, with the mist rolling over the Jungle.

Remy loves hill running.

Remy loves hill running.

If you want to understand how I felt on the last day, when I got on the plane for Indonesia, after leaving the people I had spent 24/7 of the last 2 months with, then look at this picture… no words describe how I felt.

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Camps International provided not just an incredible experience to broaden my mind, but also provided me with a group of friends who I will cherish forever. Some of these people know me better than the back of their own hands, and I will see you very soon.

To read my tips on not getting ripped-off while travelling, click here.

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8 responses to “Malaysia – Borneo

  1. No way! Me and some other people had a look at the exact same program a few years ago and were so close to going, things fell through in the end but I’ve always had that little island on my mind, looks like you had an amazing time, made a really good read!

    • Hey Chris, I would recommend it in a heart beat. When you look at the price on the website its a bit daunting, but there was not a single second the entire trip that I thought about the money. Also going with Camps is the best way to see that island because they are so connected with the community. The chief of the island works with camps! And thanks very much!

      • Hi Alex! The minute I booked you on this trip I knew you would not regret it! Absolutely amazing blog it looks like you had a blast (Even with the stone fish). Thanks for sharing this with us! Sarah Ci 🙂

  2. Alex – great blog and really chuffed your trip made such a lasting impression on you!! Hope the Stone Fish sting is now all sorted out and just an awesome story to tell people! Hope you don’t mind me tweeting your blog and also sticking it on our website blog – thanks and enjoy the rest of your travels! Rory

    • RORY! How are you? Ahh the sting is settled and will not get any worse so it is now a story! Of course not, thank you very much! How was the summer madness with the schools?

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