Nepalese work party!

Well we’re finally off! Sitting at Heathrow now having a cup of tea – and unusually for me, as those of you who know me, we are very early!!
Off to Delhi first where we are staying for 2 nights and then on to Kathmandu, where apparently the Head teacher is already waiting for us to go shopping for the school! And I thought I was early!

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Marang Parang and the gorgeous gazebo 23/11- 12/12/14

Nothing posted for months and then 3 in quick succession…..just like buses, huh!

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So, after a very quick changeover back at Basecamp, the 23rd of November saw us heading off again, this time on our community phase to Marang Parang on the Northern tip of Borneo. An easy journey this time: just 3 hours by coach via the town of Kudat where we shopped in a wonderful market for our fresh produce. We were based at a school called TigaPapan, just a 40 minute walk from a beautiful beach ; Our mission- primarily to construct a reading area for the kindergarten to give the children of the school somewhere quiet to read outside of the classroom, another objective of the project was also to help preserve the language of the local people, the Rungus, by ensuring the reading area will be somewhere that the reading and writing of Rungus books will be encouraged. The school itself is very basic, but was our happy home for 3 weeks: the floors of 2 of the classrooms providing us with a place to sleep and the addition of a tarpaulin to the grotty little dining area creating an area where we cooked, ate and played out of the intense heat and torrential rain that is Borneo weather in Monsoon season. This time we were known as Alpha 1- 12 venturers, my gorgeous fellow pm – Sam – and Gypsy, one of the logs team, who was with us for half of the phase. It was a really lovely group, we worked hard but had lots of fun both working and playing in our time off! We were also supported by the lovely Ellie from Tampat Do Aman. The building plans we were given were for a wooden, octagonal gazebo, 18 feet high with a floor area approximately 12’ square (sorry octagonal.) and it looked bloody complicated! Raleigh rules dictated that venturers couldn’t work above 6’, none of us could use power tools, the tools Raleigh provided were mostly shite and the wood we had to use was soo hard! Add to the mix the intense heat and torrential rain, the mud, our lack of building experience and the fact that there was no nearby B & Q, and even if there had been, we would have had no way of getting there! But hey we did it. We altered the plans, took a few gambles, worked together as a team and with blood , sweat and tears we built a beautiful, wooden octagonal gazebo decorated with traditional Rungus designs It wasn’t all work though, the beautiful beach at the northern tip of Borneo was a40 minute walk away and we managed to get there a couple of times, including – the night before- our day off – staying at the community’s longhouse, which is right on the beach, so that we could watch the sunset. I did expect to go to Borneo and learn about the Malaysian culture, but have to confess the insight into the Dutch culture was unexpected, but nice! With the help of Osker, a Dutch venturer, we celebrated the arrival of SanterKlassen twice (not sure I understood why we did it twice,) and had great fun doing so. The naughty little man hid all our boots but left us a little clog each towards the end of November and then on 5th December we all had to had to write a poem and make/find a present for one of the team who had been chosen Secret Santa style. So on 12th December, Gazebo officially opened, we left Marang Parang by coach for Borneo Paradise Hotel where we spent 2 nights saying goodbye to the lovely ventures and getting into training for our first drink for 10 weeks!

MaliWOW and the burrowing worms 3rd -21st November

Well – we deployed to Maliau Basin, our 2nd phase, as Alpha 3, on 3rd November. What an incredible place, a totally remote and unique conservation area in the South of Sabah. It is beautiful and positively Jurassic, where, in its unspoilt state, you feel the history of the World is still unfolding. Maliau Basin, also called the Lost World, was only discovered in 1947 by a pilot who nearly crashed into it, and so inaccessible was it, that no tribe had ever lived in it. Since the 1980s there have been some attempts to explore it and there is a good infrastructure within it for the Scientists and adventurers who come to play and stare, but it is still very remote and you have to apply for permission to enter the area.
We were there to build a 4’ wide trail between the camp where we were staying, Belian, and Siriya, another camp deeper in the basin. The work involved hacking back the encroaching vegetation and trundling wheelbarrow loads of gravel from where it had been dropped at the beginning of the trail to the point where phase 1 had finished 300metres in. It was hard work but made lots of fun by the great group of venturers that were Alpha 3. One of the venturers estimated that on a typical day each of us was pushing a fully loaded barrow about 12 kilometres.
Under Maliau lurks, dark and menacing, what is thought to be the largest coal seam in the World, which means the basin is constantly under threat, not just from the loggers and the financial temptation that palm oil represents, but also from those who want to access the coal and this potential source of mega money. Maliau is thought to be one of the most bio diverse places in the World and building the Belian trail and helping to improve access, is vital to help the area achieve World Heritage status and the protection that would provide.
Apart from trail building the group were also able to meet, and get involved with some of the work being done in the basin by, the rangers, botanists, scientists and other really interesting people who came there to work; One evening we were treated to a talk by someone from WWF who was there for his own enjoyment, but who gave the talk as a favour to Don, one of my fellow PMs, who coincidentally happened to know him from a previous life!
Towards the end of the phase, and as a reward for all our hard work, the rangers treated us to a wonderful 3 day trek to swim and play in an amazing waterfall deeper in the basin; they think there are about 100 waterfalls in the basin, many still undiscovered. The waterfall we explored, Gulik, looked like something straight out of an Indian Jones film and was fantastic fun. The trek itself was hard work, one of the climbs is called ‘Crying Hill’ for pretty obvious reasons, but it was also wonderful and involved us staying in 2 other brilliant camps – Agathus and Camel Trophy, also known as Nagapanthus.
Oh and that worm? One of the venturers managed to get, not just 1, but 2 of the little things burrowing around

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in the skin on her foot. Gross, huh? No worries, Dr Robinson, with the help from expedition medics over the radio, took them on and won!

Trekking traumas and diving diversions,

Well, if this has been posted, it is because in this very remote, and wonderful, place called Maliau Basin, there is Internet access for the scientific contingent who work here, and I’m on to it!
So, I am now on phase 2 of my Borneo adventure, building a trail with 2 other project managers and 12 Venturers, in the Maliau Basin Conservation Area -and it is amazing. But more of that in another post.
Phase 1, Oct 12th to 21st was Dive/trek for the group, Alpha 5, that I was with and it was many things : hard work, fun, gruelling, relentless and and an a amazing and unique experience.
The dive part was wonderful. We all stayed In a very simple camp, which at times we shared with 2 huge Monitor lizards, on an Island that was visited by tourists during the day, but was pretty much us and the Dive Instructors after 4. A very chilled and laid back experience, with much singing and guitar playing at night, lovely! The best bit- we all qualified as Open water divers, the disappointing bit was that the conservation side of it was not very significant.
After 6 days on Dive Island, we then travelled straight to Long Pasia, a 10 hour journey by coach and 4 x 4, for our 12 day jungle trek in the remote and unmapped area around the village of Long Pasia, which itself is a 4.5 hour 4×4 journey away from the nearest town.
The trek was hard; we carried everything we needed for 12 days with us and made our camps at night by hanging hammocks and tarpaulins, which we slept under, between trees. We collected water from rivers and purified it, dug ‘long drops,’ for toilets and washed in the rivers and streams. We climbed and slithered over rough and precipitous tracks which always seemed to climb upwards., Clambered over fallen trees and rocks and made numerous river crossings, some of which were pretty full on. It rained a lot and we were constantly damp, well it is the rainforest! It was physically and mentally challenging, but what an experience! Our guides Noah, Albert and Ruben were amazing and really taught us so much! not only about how to survive in the jungle, but about their culture. One night dressing us all up in costumes made out of the vegetation and teaching us a warrior dance.
On our last day we returned to long Pasia, a village which still had a tradition of head hunting until midway through last century, and had a homestay, which was an incredible way to finish the phase.
Then back to. Base camp for a 2 day changeover, meet my new alpha group! new project manager team and then travel here! But more about this place later!
Have tried to add photos from my camera to this blog but not having much luck so am posting this without pictures as we are off trekking deeper in the basin tomorrow and my opportunity will have passed! Sorry for those who like the pictures more than the words! Will upload them when I have proper wifi again!
Diane

Deploy to basecamp!

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Well tomorrow the venturers arrive and the PM, (or project manager,) team, leave the relative luxury of Fieldbase for Basecamp,mwhich will be home until we deploy on phase 1, and will be the luxury (see photos,) that we return to between phases!
I have enjoyed the training phase and am amazed, and quite exhausted, at the thought of just how much we have learnt and what new skills we have all acquired in 2 weeks. Not sure where giving an injection or managing a casualty evacuation from the jungle will fit in on my CV but I shall wear it proudly! Along with all the other random things I can now do! Let’s hope I don’t need to use most of them! It’s easy to forget that many things we have learnt herald a disaster of some sort!
So tomorrow morning we all head to the airport to meet the International venturers, we then take them straight to the swimming pool for their swimming assessment, and on to basecamp where we lead their induction and training. Their induction is even more manic and in just 3 days includes a jungle trek and overnight stay in a jungle camp! The 15 host, or Malaysian, venturers arrive today but come here first so that’s going to be exciting!
Looking forward to getting on with it now as most of us are! However, I am full of trepidation at all that we have to do over the next 10 weeks, and still anxious about many aspects of the expedition,not least that both my community project, phase 2, and my environmental project, phase 3, are still up in the air and we won’t know more until changeover when we return from phase 1.
Greatest anticipated challenge at the moment is going for a wee in the middle of the night on the trek! What I am most looking forward to is the chance to interact meaningfully with these lovely people, and being a part of some of the amazing work being done here. It will be great to know that we have really made a difference!
Well despite the pressure of the last 2 weeks and the very full timetable, training has been fun, really interesting and very professionally delivered. The other pms and field base staff are a fantastic group of people and I will miss their skills, support and the fun we have had! But I think we are as ready as we can be for the venturers to arrive, so bring it on I say. Almost definitely no internet connection for the next 10 weeks, very slight chance in dive Island and perhaps on the environmental project but think this is probably goodbye from me until the venturers depart in 10 weeks
Diane xxx

Violated in private places!

Leeches! That’s what will be my biggest challenge on the trek, not the 22kilo back pack, or the 12 day trek in the humidity and jungle terrain, nor the smell from wearing the same clothes for days on end, but nasty , horrid, insidious, blood sucking little leeches! I mean what exactly is the point of them?
4 of us have just returned from doing a 4 day risk assessment and project planning visit for the trek phase of the expedition, and leeches were what dominated our conversation and nightmares, in fact we have even written a song as to how to dispose of them! But hey, none of the others were violated quite like I was, I mean I found wounds, but not the perps, where 2 of the little monsters had sucked my blood…..on my bikini line, I mean how gross!
Anyway, enough of the horror stories, to be honest mine was nothing compared to some of the stories Hanry, our guide, told us about other leech violations!!
So, having had nearly 2 weeks of very intensive and exhausting training, we are nearly ready for the arrival of the venturers next week, and have now been given details of what we are doing in each phase. My first project, running from the 8th to 30th October is the Dive/Trek, which is why the 4 of us travelled to Long Pasia to plan the phase. We travelled by long distance taxi from KK (Kota Kinabalu,) to Sipatang on the coast of Borneo close to the Indonesian border, where we transferred into a 4 x 4 for the 5 hour journey to Long Pasia. The village is very remote, and until relatively recently Head hunting was still practised. The village is surrounded by rainforest and steeped in folk lore.
The 4 of us: Shirin, Oliver, James and myself, were lucky enough to stay both the first and 3rd night in the long house home of Fauzie, one of our guides, which was really fascinating. We then trekked for 2 days into the jungle with our guides Hanry, Fauzie and Nooh, (the legend!) where we built our bashas, or homes for the night. Absolutely amazing trek but it was really hard work, both in terms of the terrain and in the weight we were carrying! The next time I do the trek it will be for much longer, and with 12 venturers!
But I start with the diving which is exciting. Padi 4 day Open water tuition, followed by some marine conservation work on the reef, then off for the trek. We then return to basecamp for 3 days before heading off for the community project, a gravity fed water system in a village in North Sabah. My last phase will be environmental work in a conservation area of primary rainforest where research is being conducted. The whole area is divided into ‘coupes’ and we are working in coupe 1. This is particularly exciting as the public are not yet allowed in these areas. What we have to do there sounds both exciting and exhausting, and includes hacking through dense vegetation and building a track with a very serious gradient, collecting data for the scientists, setting camera traps and helping to present some of what is being discovered about the area.
Well I have probably put anyone reading this to sleep, sorry, but I have done so much in the time I have already been here, I have so much tell and we have so little free time. It is actually now nearly midnight and most of the others have gone to bed. If I get a chance before we go to basecamp, I will write another post and say more about the others in the team! A great crowd, made up of some really interesting people. Tonight’s entertainment by the way, was a land rover pushing competition, everyone is a little excitable, cos we have a day off tomorrow My team won in case you’re interested!
Well that’s it from me, I am off to bed, (a bottom bunk in a room of 12,) cramped but at least there are no leeches…or as far as I know!
Diane 2nd October 2014

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