This page will contain progress reports for the Brooke Weston Expedition group who are currently travelling around Borneo. The trip lasts for four weeks and involves, amongst other activities, helping with community building projects, visiting an Orangutan Sactuary, learning to SCUBA dive, as well as traveling and sight-seeing.
As dawn breaks over the horizon, the final day of the expedition begins, we would be departing for the airport in the morning. Awaking in comfortable beds, a welcome change from the tents we had been using for the past few days, we prepared to use our final hours to get some last minute shopping completed.
Many were thankful that we had no appointments to meet or events to attend, as it allowed us to sleep in for the first true time on the trip.
Meeting in the hostel common room, we split into groups in search of breakfast, as well as to find any souvenirs from the local markets and shops.
Some of us went to the local shopping centre, while others wandered through the disparate stalls that could be found scattered around Kota Kinabalu.
We also made sure to purchase enough snacks for the long return journey home.
The hostel showed various films and entertainment from a large television in the common room, so we causally lounged around for a few hours while deciding where to share our final meal.
Eventually, we decided upon a small Italian restaurant that we found nestled between shops on the main road. Arriving shortly after 7pm, we ordered and discussed the expedition, it felt as though it had flown by, looking back upon it.
After finishing our meals, we retired to the hostel for the final time, with night falling upon the very last day of our journey, accompanied by the sounds of karaoke from a bar next door. The trip had been tiring, but while we had all enjoyed it, we were ready to go home.
As our final night at Gaya Island draws to a close, a downpour of torrential rain descends upon Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, as we await the morning and transportation back to Kota Kinabalu.
The morning was quite similar, with fog and excessive rainfall accompanying us as we sped across the waves towards Manikan island, where we learnt about turtles, stingrays and the conservation efforts to save not only them, but also sharks; a critical part of the oceanic food chain.
However, today was slightly different as we had an additional member join our group for the day; Aaron 'Bertie' Gekoski is an underwater photographer turned presenter, notable for hosting shows such as 'Borneo from below' and 'Wildlife Warriors' along with being part of the film 'Shivers'. He is a member of a group known as ScubaZoo, who seek to bring attention to the fact that Sharks are in extreme danger of being hunted to extinction, as many are caught and killed for their fins, which are later shipped to China to produce Shark Fin Soup, an apparent delicacy to those who ignore the fact that they are consuming small amounts of Mercury. He, along with environmental officer David McCann showed us a film known as Sharkwater, where the threats to sharks were shown to us through the documentary, as well as what could be done to help them.
After returning to Gaya Island for a quick lunch, we returned to the boat and prepared to go free-diving, in which we dived without the assistance of a snorkel or oxygen tank, with the fish becoming much more relaxed by our presence, as the lack of bulky equipment or no release of bubbles meant that the fish could swim by without disturbance.
After heading back to our campsite on Gaya island, Myles began to cook dinner for the team, in which we had a vast range of selections, including; Chicken soup and Tomato soup. Not too long after this, we played cards until many in our group felt too tired, and separated to our tents until morning.
We woke today to the noise of an early morning market being held behind our hostel, peering out the window we could see the many exotic fruits and foods for sale. This was our last night in Kota Kinabalu before the Tar islands so we had to drag our bags down the stairs ready to be loaded on to the dive boat for the trip to Pulau Manukan where we would be doing our marine conservation project.
Today's last dive was especially fun as we all got to dive in a big group of 10 (mainly so we could get a group photo) the previous two dives of the day followed in a similar manner to the fun dive the day before.
During the day (shortly before our final dive) the sky's opened and it began to rain, fortunately this was no problem as our bags where under cover and we where already wet from diving. However, the rain didn't let off until the late evening so we had to set up our tents and cook our dinner in the poring rain. As we where on an island we where preparing our own food, we had allocated a meal to each member of the group so everyone got a chance to cook. Tonight Peter was in charge of our meal, he made a chicken curry with noodles in place of rice as you can't buy rice in smaller quantities than 5kg.
Walking up this morning we began to dismantle our tents as we would be moving to another island (Pulau Gaya) later today. After packing up our stuff Mel arrived to introduce us to the conservation officer, Dave, we would we be working with. Over the next few hours Dave taught us about the threats facing our worlds oceanic wildlife such as overfishing and the destructive methods that some people use to catch fish. The presentation was very interesting and enlightening and left us with a new view of the food we eat on a daily basis.
After the presentation Mel and Dave took us to Pulau Gaya so we could set up our tents and relax for the rest of the day. Once our tents where set up and we had moved all of our stuff in we began to prepare that nights meal, in charge of tonight's meal was Amy and we had a nice dinner of pasta bolognese. The sky's once again opened in to a torrential downpour. Luckily we where preparing dinner under the safety of a Gazebo. After dinner we all retreated early to our beds for the night to the sound of raindrops on our tents.
This morning we all woke with similar excitement to yesterday however many of us had much less energy because of the previous day's strenuous diving. Heading off on the boat again we set up our scuba gear without the instructors help as we needed to for our open water diving qualifications this proved surprising hard as we forgot a few important checks (luckily Mel and Kay where there to guide us).
After another shallow dive where we practiced more skills we headed off for another adventure in the coral reefs of Borneo. The colourful coral and fish where mesmerising and our dive time of 45 minutes seamed to flash by in seconds, few of us wanted to leave the water for lunch.
Finishing lunch we once again set out into the ocean to explore. By this point both our groups where using dive computers to track our dive. This was very exiting as it brought us more into the technical aspect of diving.
Finishing our days exploration of the oceans depths we set of for the mainland once again to eat and relax for the rest of the evening.
Tomorrow we have a fun dive day as qualified open water divers!
All where exited this morning, as today is the day we begin our diving in the islands around Borneo. After breakfast we headed down to the pier to meet with our dive instructors Mel and Kay, they where both very friendly and it has been fun being taught by them.
After boarding the boat and donning our live jackets we set off for the TAR islands around Kota Kinabalu. Arriving at a dock we jumped into the sea to confirm to the instructors that we could all swim. We where then taught by Mel how to set up our scuba gear for the dive ahead of us.
Splitting off into two groups we rolled backwards off the boat into the water to begin practicing out scuba skills. This first dive was only a shallow dive, for obvious reasons, reaching a maximum of 3-4 meters in depth.
After completing this dive we got back in the boat to head to a new dive site and changed our used air tanks for fresh ones. This second dive was very exiting and slightly scary as we reached a depth of 12 meters, at this depth we could hardly see the sea level above us.
Finishing this dive we had lunch at a restaurant on the island (everybody's favourite rice and noodles). Finishing lunch we let our stomachs settle a bit before heading back into the water for another 12 meter dive.
Yesterday's traveling was quite mundane, we awoke at 7am to eat breakfast before heading off to catch the bus 2km down the road. We arrived at the bus stop for about 9:50am however the bus didn't arrive until the clock was approaching 11:15am. There was nothing much to report about the bus journey other than the quick glance of Mt Kinabalu, and the place we stayed at during our stay there. We had a few happy moments knowing that the strenuous trek that took us to the summit was in the past and our legs had since recovered.
Waking up this morning we were once again greeted by the wonderful blessing that is air conditioning, this is a luxury we had not felt since our orientation phase back at the beginning. We had bought a crude breakfast of cereal and bread the day before, however another team that where leaving that morning gave us their leftover Nutella and other luxuries we had not gotten for ourselves the day prior. After this feast we left for the dive school a few hundred metres down the road and followed our instructor (Kay) to the class room that we would be in for the majority of the day. We began the lesson with a run through of the more simple aspects of scuba diving (the equipment we would be using; a few simple hand signals and how the breathing systems worked).
The day continued with much of the same, each of the sections followed by a brief recap quiz, until lunch. For lunch our Kay took us to a very nice café nearby.
After finishing lunch and quickly popping over to the local pick and pay shop for some snacks, we continued in our learning, finishing the days lessons with an exam to make sure we knew what we were doing (we all passed, luckily). After our long day, that seemed never ending to some we split into three groups to get dinner, as we all fancied something different. After this we all settled down for the night in preparation for a day of diving tomorrow.
Yesterday we left Howard's place early to catch the 9:45 bus. This was an 8 hour bus journey which took us down to Sepilok.
Today we went to the Orangutan sanctuary. During feeding time we saw many orangutan's from babies to adults playing around and grabbing the food. We went for a walk along the bird trail, where we had an encounter with two orangutans up close.
After the orangutan sanctuary we went to the sun bear conservation centre and saw a couple of sun bears chilling in the shade away from the midday sun. We then walked down a path and had another close encounter with an orangutan, it had one arm on Alex trying to eat his festival band. We all got loads of great close up photos.
This is our last day at Tempat do Aman, working on our community project. Due to lack of materials being delivered we weren't able to finish the whole fence, but we did manage to complete one side. We are proud of our work as we worked well as a team even though things didn't go the way it was planned. We had to organise a sports day with the local children on the beach. Time flew by and kids arrived, we played football, played in the water and talked, it was a lovely way to end the project!
It has been nearly a week here in Kudat and the project is going well. We have now put the concrete in the holes which holds the metal posts in place. Howard is very pleased with our progress. Tomorrow we will put the fence on the posts which will keep the church safe. Every evening this week we've been able to go down to the beach to relax and swim in the sea. It's always a nice way to end the day.
Yesterday we travelled to the tip of Borneo in Kudat, a 4hr bus drive from Mt Kinabalu. Here we are staying at the Tempat do Aman Eco lodge for a week while doing our community project.
Today we started our project which is to build a fence around the local church. We used rope to outline the perimeter where the fence would go, and then made markers every 10ft for the posts. Next we started digging holes at each marker a foot and a half deep. It was difficult as it was really hot and humid. After a hard days work we went to the beach to relax, swimming in the sea and playing games. This was a great way to end the day as our legs still ache from the mountain hike.
On the tenth of July, we began our ascent of the intimidating Mount Kinabalu, in which we would travel over 8km in order to reach the summit. We met our two very experienced guides; Rose and Tai Sing, who would be leading us across the dense jungles that covered the majority of the mountain, before guiding us through the rough, jagged stone that would begin to appear near the summit. A sense of both concern and excitement was present in the group as we prepared ourselves to traverse the colossal mountain before us.
After a long climb we reached a sort of sanctuary in the form of Laban Rata, a surprisingly well equipped hostel, 6km from the beginning of our journey. There, we had time to rest, as well as preparing ourselves for the last 2.5km that would lead us to the summit.
We left at 2.30am, to endure what could have been the most stressful and trying experience of our lives, yet after much perseverance and determination our efforts were rewarded when we finally achieved our goal. Just as we reached the peak, we were greeted by the first ray's of sunshine that painted the distant skies in rosy pinks and bright yellows, producing a breathtaking site across the distant ridges and vistas.
The most trying part of the experience was not the distance, but the altitude, as the peak reached a height of 4,095m above sea level. This was particularly damaging to our cause, as many of the group were affected by it much more severely than expected. Despite this, we managed to push through and reach a fantastic achievement.
This morning we awoke to the initially unrecognisable sound of rainfall, with it being the first time we had seen such a change in weather from what had until now been a constant scorch of heat. It was a much needed change in climate, as we set off rather early to the world heritage site of Mt. Kinabalu. Once we arrived, we underwent a challenging and time-consuming, yet still enjoyable trek through the dense, humid jungle that covered the mountain face, in preparation for climbing Mt Kinabalu tomorrow morning.
We returned to the hostel to have a relaxing rest before departing to a local restaurant for our evening meal. Once we had finished and returned to our temporary abode, to pack and prepare ourselves for the arduous task that would be awaiting us very early in the morning.
While some had no difficulty sleeping under the stars, others suggested that the experience was strange and uncomfortable, as they were not used to being exposed to the elements like this.
After breakfast we were led through the jungle by Mike, who pointed out various types of the flora and fauna which inhabited the jungle. Throughout the hike, we were viciously assaulted by leeches, which seemed intent on drinking our blood. While we removed them throughout the trek through the trees, after arriving at the survival camp, we found that many more had attached themselves to us.
Later in the day, we took part in a range of activities, which taught us various ways to manipulate the environment to our uses. We crafted darts to use in a blowpipe, before attempting to fire them at a target on the far side of a shelter. We discovered a range of survival skills, such as how to make a waterproof shelter from leaves and how to start a fire from only bamboo. Then we crafted chopsticks to use for our meals, as rice and noodles are very popular with meal.
Then, after dinner we went on a night hike around the jungle, in which we found a range of nocturnal insects and animals, as well as finding glow-in-the-dark fungi, which appeared in a range of bright colours. We retired by the fire, before getting ready to leave for Mt. Kinabalu the next day.
We had to begin the day particularly early, as the transport that would take us to Kampong Kiau (and the trail to Miki's Survival Camp) would arrive soon. We had packed our bags the night before and only had time to have a quick breakfast before the 2 hour ride to meet our guides. Mike, our guide led us on a 4km trip to the camp, in the middle of the jungle, were we were greeted by a vast range of sights and sounds, including a huge venomous long-legged centipede that was uncomfortably close to where we were sleeping, as well as a tree frog that's call sounded almost exactly like a Nokia ringtone.
Mike took us through the jungle showing us a number of traps and snares that the traditional tribal people would use to catch squirrels, frogs and wild boar. We also found a number of different types of vegetation, in which the importance of bamboo in the construction of traps was stressed to get the best possible chance to find food.
Today we woke up, had breakfast and set off on a long stroll to the Mangrove Wetland Centre, just outside Kota Kinabalu. We walked around the swamps following a trail on stilts around the trees that grow in the mud. The creatures living in this environment are well camouflaged, but we did spot some birds, some giant moths, turtles, a mud skipper and a lot of crabs so it was a good experience! After the wetland centre heading back into the city and we found a place to have some lunch, noodles are so tasty! After we relaxed for a little while, we all headed up to an observatory building located on the hill side watching the sunset over the city, the view was absolutely amazing!! We ended the evening with a delicious seafood dinner at the night market. Tomorrow we will be up early to go to the jungle camp for 3 nights in the jungle learning bush craft and survival skills. There may not be internet but will keep you updated when we can.
We have just arrived in Kota Kinabalu after a 16 hour flight and it is really humid. Once we got to our hostel we were able to go around and experience the town and what it offers. We were able to see markets that sold meat, fruit and vegetables. We thought that we were completely out of our comfort zone as you wouldn't expect that many markets in Britain. Then after some rest we went out for a meal some people in the group went to Pizza Hut and the others went to the market. The Pizza Hut was very different from England's Pizza Hut, with a different menu etc., after dinner we were all exhausted so we had a quick look in a local corner shop and then made away back to the hostel, which everyone went to bed rather quickly!!