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Jolt 2010 Diary
Day 2: Arrive Kuching
After about 16 hours travelling, we arrived at our hotel in Kuching, had lunch and showered. As we met again for the afternoon it began pouring down with monsoon-like rain so we played group ball games and later went for a 1½ hour boat ride. During supper on the boat we saw the Kuching houses of parliament, traditional Malay dances and a beautiful sunset.
Day 2 - Safe arrival in Borneo
Day 3: Kuching to Tanjung Datu
We woke at 5am and took a bus to Tematan, seeing churches and Tao and Buddhist temples, whilst learning Malay words, traditions and cultures. At Tematan we boarded four boats which were a ‘bobbing challenge’ to board even in the shallows and then sped out into the South China Sea. We stopped on a Turtle Island and learned about the turtle conservation and protection project there. We toured the hatcheries where the eggs are protected from predators such as monitor lizards and take six weeks to hatch. Some of the JoLters discovered turtle eggs in the sand which had been left out of their nests and many spotted a number of turtles paddling in the shallow shoreline. We continued on at an excitingly high speed to Tanjung Datu and learned camp skills such as how to put up our tents – home for the next two nights. We then paddled in the sea on our stunning paradise beach with white sand, palm trees and warm tropical seas and later sang a whole range of songs around a campfire into the night.
Day 3 - Our first exciting high-speed boat trip
Day 3 - Paddling in the South China Sea
Day 3 - On the beach
Day 4: At Tanjung Datu
We had a lie-in until 6:30 am! After breakfast we learned how to put up hammocks and bashas (shelters) and then went for various jungle walks learning about the wildlife of the area. We saw giant centipedes, ‘sting-less’ bee-hives and heard a local pheasant. Each group worked as a team, overcoming a range of obstacles such as slippery stones, roots, jungle rivers and spiky trees. The route was an amazing eye opener for all, navigating a way which almost everyone thought would be impossible for wheelchairs, up and down the steep hills and streams. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated effort, teamwork and determination of each group. We all finished with a splash in the sea to cool off. Later we walked again to a smaller beach, paddled in the sea, played ball games and painted. We had to leave suddenly as the swift unexpected incoming tide engulfed the beach. After supper we learned and sang a traditional Malay love song with our friendly guides.
Day 4 - Extreme jungle trek
Day 5: Tanjung Datu to Santubong
We rose early again and worked as a team to pack away our tents quickly before boarding our high-speed boats to return to our coach at Tematan. Then we travelled on to our (luxury) Rainforest Resort where we slept in traditional Malay longhouses. After settling, we went down to swim at the beach for an hour and then went to board boats for the evening wildlife cruise where we saw an Irrawaddy dolphin, a proboscis monkey, fire flies and a sea eagle, with an amazing sunset and exhilarating night sail on our return.
Day 6: Santubong to Kuching
After breakfast we travelled by bus to visit Matang Orangutan Rescue centre where we learned about the project and saw gibbons, hornbills, baby orangutans with their mothers and giant adults. We returned to Kuching and had lunch at Kuching Museum before seeing around the Kuching Natural History Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium. We then returned to our hotel and had well-deserved showers before going out to visit some of the shops in the city and have our evening meal.
Day 6 - This alpha male orangutan is called 'Aman' (Peace)
The Permanent Secretary of Malaysia met all the JoLTers during the visit to the Matang Centre and was so taken with the group that he gave us free admission to all the National Parks in Malaysia. There was a full press group accompanying our meeting and consequently we found ourselves in a whole range of national papers the next day. Members of the public recognised us on the boats and asked us all about JoLt.
Day 7: Kuching to Similajau (via Sarikei)
This was a day of travelling. We rose early again and travelled down to Kuching harbour-side. There we boarded a ferry which took us four hours up the mighty Rejang river (the longest river in Malaysia) to the logging town of Sarikei. The highlight of the boat ride for some was watching Karate Kid, eating chocolate and drinking Coca-Cola.
Day 7 - Waiting to board the ferry at Kuching harbourside
We were then reunited with our coach for a further five-hour journey to Similajau which is in the fourth division of Sarawak. Chris, our Malaysian guide, taught us about the pepper plantations along the way, how black pepper is dried in the sun and why white pepper is more expensive - it is washed in cold fast-flowing water to bleach the colour. When we arrived we discovered that we had been upgraded from camping to a hostel because of the weather, which was a pleasant surprise. We had a delicious traditional Malaysian evening meal before a night-time boardwalk into the mangrove swamps to learn about their unique and vital biodiversity. We saw a giant atlas moth, crabs, water spiders and massive crocodiles. We learned how mangrove swamps are indispensable for biodiversity as safe breeding and spawning grounds for numerous species and how they are disappearing at an alarming rate across the world due to the wood’s tolerance to salt water. At the peak of our walk we gathered together and all turned off our head-torches to spend some time in the tidal rainforest in total darkness. It was scary and noisy, punctuated by dramatic flashes of lightening and thunder. Heavy rain started just as we arrived back to our base for hot chocolate.
Day 8: Similajau to Lambir Hills
We had a lie in till 6am and then discovered the beach immediately outside our hostel (which we hadn’t noticed in the darkness the night before.) We were taught the art of Tai Chi by the Bin Tulu, Grand Master of Tai Chi Huang in Sarawak. It was a lovely way to start Fliss’ 16th birthday and it gave our knees and thighs a good workout.
Day 8 - Tai Chi Huang on the beach
Energised for the day, we had breakfast and sang Happy Birthday a number of times. Fliss received her cards from home and presents from other JoLTers. We then travelled by coach for a large portion of the day before arriving at Nia caves where we set out on our four mile walk to the site. Along the route we initially had to cross a river by boat and then walked along a boardwalk snaking through dipterocarp rainforest which had clearly been rebuilt in sections as trees had smashed through spaces. Along the route we saw bright red millipedes, large centipedes and giant stick insects. The boardwalk ascended around giant buttress roots climbing in altitude to the base of the cliff housing the caves, at which point the steps ascended steeply into Trader's Cave, named after its inhabitants who harvested the swift’s nests (for making ‘birds' nest soup’) in the late C19th-early C20th. We were told that 1kg of birds' nests today has a market value of 200 Ringits (£40), a high value for the locals but clearly a risky business looking at the ropes stretching around the roof of the cave.
Day 8 - Nia Cave (great acoustics!)
We then walked on into the giant Nia Cave where the cave floors are made from thick metres of bats and birds' ‘guano’. There was an archaeological site containing a 5,000 year old skull which dated the site as the earliest human settlement in South East Asia. Some of us thought it may have been an early JoLter who arrived 5,000 years ago but Dorothy assured us that she would have recognised him. The cave had beautiful acoustics which echoed our birthday songs for Fliss. We were the first ever people in wheelchairs to reach the caves. When we arrived, the park authorities had strong reservations over the group’s ability to achieve the trek and tried to persuade us to stay in the immediate Visitors' Centre to watch a video of the location instead. This additional ‘first’ boosted the group’s collective confidence and our determination to achieve further challenges. Afterwards we continued on to Mia National Park where we arrived after nightfall. We had further birthday celebrations for Fliss with balloons, singing and birthday cakes alongside our evening meal and then we settled into our tents for the night.
Day 8 - Fliss cutting her birthday cake
Day 9: Lambir Hills to Mulu via Miri
After breakfast we walked the 1.5 km trek across the now familiar host of jungle obstacles and also rope bridges. We arrived at a large waterfall and pool where we swam and played games and races. The water was really clean (indeed it used to be the sole water source for the local area) and was a wonderfully cold relief from the sweaty, hot environment we had been travelling in. We had fun and recharged our batteries before heading out to the airport. Once there we took a brief local flight from Miri to Mulu. This was barely long enough for the hostesses to serve drinks! It was pouring down when we landed and we had the choice of one of two options – either to go directly to our hotels, relax, shower and freshen up or walk the 1.5 km to see the World Heritage Site of Mulu Caves, home of the local Penang and Brauen tribes. The 18 who chose to visit the site first viewed Lang Cave (named after Master Lang from the local Penang tribe who first discovered it). It was low in places with amazing, beautiful calcite formations. We learned how stalactites and stalagmites form over thousands of years from mineral deposits and we spotted some creatures and faces in the formations. The second cave we visited was the Deer Cave. This was spectacular in a very different way due to its immense and overwhelming scale at 150 metres wide and 120 metres high. It was named Deer Cave as it used to attract hosts of deer who came to lick the mineral salts from the floor and walls. We reached a viewing platform which was located to let us view a perfect silhouette profile of Abraham Lincoln. There was an awesome and slightly overwhelming noise as the 2- 3 million resident bats woke from their daytime sleep. We walked outside to see the incredible exodus which gives the Mulu Caves their World Heritage status as each group of thousands of bats gathered in giant circling loops before snaking their way across the sky out for their night-time hunt. We returned down the lit boardwalk during twilight to our plush hotel and delicious supper.
Day 9 - Bats gathering
Day 9 - Watching the bat exodus from the Mulu Caves
Day 10: Mulu to Bandar Seri Begawan via Miri
We rose at 5.30am again for a full day of travelling. After breakfast we worked together as a ‘well-oiled machine’ to load our luggage and board a traditionally inspired ‘dug-out’ canoe. We rode two hours down the river with gentle rapids and beautiful views. We then transferred to a faster (albeit old and rickety) motorised boat for a further six-hour journey to travel close to the Sarawak/Brunei boarder. Mulu is deep in the rainforest and inaccessible by road for our party which is why we flew yesterday and have sailed out from the site today. When we finally arrived at our bus amidst heavy rain, we transferred and headed for the Brunei border where the border/customs police detained us until Joe sang with them. We arrived later than expected and were surprised by our ultra-luxurious rooms. We checked in and had supper before an early night.
Day 10 - Girls on board the ferry
Day 11: Bandar Seri Begawan
We are spending the next two days exploring the capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan. Today we travelled locally to see Shell’s Oil and Gas Discovery Centre (OGDC). The staff at the Centre welcomed us and then we set about tree planting in their grounds. It had rained heavily the night before, so the ground was very wet and muddy. The JoLters had fun and soon their pristine white gloves were covered with mud. We then had a rather substantial ‘snack’ which was closer to a full lunch. Our hosts explained that it was the custom in Brunei to have large regular food breaks and this was no exception.
Day 11 - Tree planting
Day 11- Tree planting
After food, our hosts presented a science demo with liquid nitrogen, setting off explosions and freezing flowers and a tennis ball. They explained the use of liquid nitrogen to condense and transport gas supplies. They then used the nitrogen to make ice cream and ‘slushies’ which the JoLters (and leaders) thoroughly enjoyed. Finally we all took part in a scavenger hunt with various teams going around the science centre to solve puzzles. At the end, we were awarded with gifts in front of a JoLt banner created by the OGDC staff which was presented to us to remind us of our time with them.Two of the highlights were Emily spinning in the gyroscope and Paige testing out the bed of nails.
We then transferred to the six-star Empire Hotel and Country Club for afternoon tea. It was a dramatic contrast to some of our other experiences and we revelled in its luxury. Each of the JoLters savoured different canapés and teas and explored the grounds and the gilt halls.
Day 11 - Group outside Empire Hotel
Day 11 - Abs in Empire Hotel
Day 11 - Jordan in Empire Hotel
We then returned to our hotel and swam, refreshed and played games in the hotel pool. Finally we walked to the local food court where the JoLters were given a set amount of money in teams of four to select their own choice of food at the variety of restaurants. Despite their enthusiasm for local cuisine over the past week, nearly everyone chose chicken nuggets, burgers and chips except for James and Tom who commendably opted for the traditional fare of Brunei. While we were finishing our supper, the heavens opened with a tropical downpour which prevented us from walking back so we returned in our coach.
Day 12: Bandar Seri Begawan
Today we had a lie in until 6am and had a leisurely breakfast with a fantastic range of foods. We then went to the Pusat Eshan Centre for disadvantaged children, with the intention of visiting the children. When we arrived, we found that an elaborate event had been organised with marquees and seating for 200 people. We were treated as honoured guests from the moment we arrived. The excitement built as a police escort arrived and a limousine containing Hajjah Mariam and HRH Princess Fadzilah drove up. His Excellency, Rob Fenn, British High Commissioner to Brunei was also in attendance. We were amazed as we were individually invited up to shake hands with Hajjah Mariam, founder and patron of Pusat Eshan, and we were presented with expensive silver gifts, an unforgettable experience! Then we all joined the presenters for a warm-up, including the traditional Brunei line dance, poco poco, and the Birdie song, all filmed for national television!
Day 12 - Leaders and royalty at Pusat Eshan
Day 12 - Dorothy receiving a gift
After this we transferred into four combined houses for the games, which included a ‘drainpipe race’ similar to our games on the prep weekend in Harrow, a treasure hunt and costume races which were particularly enjoyed by the male JoLt leaders as they got to dress up as women. We ended with a big tug-of-war competition which saw Jenny part company with her wheelchair as she refused to surrender by letting go of the rope. Again it had rained heavily the night before and we all got covered in mud which increased the fun.
Day 12 - Andy's fancy dress race
Day 12 - Races
Day 12 - Boys winning tug-of-war
Day 12 - Showing off our medals
After this we were invited for lunch with the children and staff of the centre and Hajjah Mariam presented us with a generous donation to the charity. We returned to our hotel with enough time for further games and swimming in the hotel pool before changing into our smart clothes for a visit to the British High Commissioner’s home residence. Here we drank tea and ate canapés on the terrace overlooking Brunei Bay.
Day 12 - The JoLt group and guests enoy the luxury reception at the British High Commissioner's residence
Day 13: Bandar Seri Begawan to Pulau Tiga
Today we woke at 5am for a day of travelling. We took a bus to the ferry port and then embarked on a 2½ hour ferry ride during which the group bought snacks and watched the film, Avatar. When we arrived at Sabah, we ate the familiar local favourite, chicken and rice, for lunch and then transferred to another bus for the next leg of our journey. Martha and other JoLters commented that we now have a "funky bus with a psychedelic ceiling". We then transferred to speed boats which carried us to the island of Pulau Tiga, which was to be our base for the next two nights. A large swell was building up and the ride was dramatic with giant waves breaking over the bow and over the passengers.
Our site was where the first series of Survivor was filmed and we all commented on our stunning surroundings, camping amongst palm trees on the edge of the tropical rainforest with white sands stretching into the South China Sea. As we set up our tents we saw the local resident macaque monkeys who cheekily took Emily’s glasses case and a ground sheet. We then had an enjoyable swim in the sea. Abs noted that “the sea here is one of the best we’ve been in because the water is very warm and has the largest waves.” We sang songs and had supper before an early night.
During the day we had been using a ‘buddy system’ where new people have been paired off to make different friends. In discussions with the group, Naomi and Abs recalled some of the stories shared about each other, in particular Nathan’s memories of pretending to be a dog as a child and the fact that James likes to ride bulls!
Day 14: Pulau Tiga
We had a lie in until 6.30am, although only a proportion of the group had any decent sleep as a violent storm hit the island overnight bringing gale-force winds and torrential rain. A few of the JoLters who hadn’t secured their tents before going to bed had to dry out their belongings. After breakfast the group were given two choices: visiting the island’s ‘mud volcano’ or going on a gentle walk along the beach to see the local area.
Day 14 - Jordan training his balance on the paradise island of Pulau Tiga
Becky who chose the beach walk noted that “during the walk on the beach, we watched lizards and crabs, sunbathed and played on the park’s swings.” The mud volcano group had an extremely difficult, muddy and slippery path to follow through the forest. They accomplished the walk through amazing team work. On reaching the mud pools, further team work was required to move bags away from the marauding monkeys.
We took our first tentative steps into mud holding on to the guide ropes. The task was harder than it seemed as the mud was extremely buoyant and more than one JoLter found their feet being pulled out from under them! The entire team entered the mud pools and worked well to help each other in and out and have a “mudtastic” time. Connor described the diving in as being awesome and Henry described Matt’s mud flip as 110% wicked. The way back was even more treacherous, since we were covered with volcanic mud and unfortunately plagued by mosquitoes attracted by its foul stench. We ran straight into the sea to wash off the mud and emerge no longer looking like beasts from the swamp, a fitting reward for all our efforts.
Day 14 - Volcanic mud group before and after mud makeover
Day 14 - 'Mudtastic' Scott and James on Pulau Tiga
After lunch, a number of the JoLters went snorkelling for the first time ever, and were amazed by the different shapes and colours of the coral. Even Nemo (the clown fish) made an appearance. Later the group played the old JoLt classic game of Limball, (like football but where you can use any limb). The highlight was Marcelle and Dorothy and Jenny charging players in a hilarious tackle.
An intense downpour interrupted the game and the rain continued on and off for the rest of the night. We had a wet supper and, although the group gathered driftwood for an evening fire and singsong, rain again stopped play. Nominated for ‘spectacle of the day' were Jenny and Emily’s flying leaps out of their chairs and Tom’s slip landing on to Alan’s head while practicing gymnastics in the sea. The ‘clap-o-meter’ saw Paige win the title for her spectacular ‘human-missile-dive’ into the mud volcano.
Day 15: Pulau Tiga to Tenom
The battering continued on throughout the night with a gale-force 9-10 storm! The past two nights' downpours turned out to be the tail end of a tropical cyclone originating in the Philippines. A number of tents came down in the high winds and JoLters and leaders had to seek refuge in the site’s shelters and toilets for the night. The legacy from the night’s action saw us wake at 6am to a reshaped coastline and giant logs rolling in on large shore breakers. A number of the JoLters were disorientated in the maelstrom, such as Fliss who got into the wrong tent. But the whole group coped incredibly well with the night’s difficult events which also included a number of small furry visitors.
After breakfast we travelled on three boats back to the mainland where we transferred on to our funky bus for a 3½ hour journey to Tenom. We were delayed a little because the aftermath of the night’s storm was still causing a giant swell which made boarding the boats far more difficult. We arrived at the Botanical Gardens in Tenom around 3pm, sorted kit, set up mosquito nets over our hammocks and then caught the tourist train to tour the gardens. We stopped off at the hybrid and native orchid gardens, the ornamental and the evolution gardens. Alex, our local guide, taught us how to make bubbles from a plant used to make bio-diesel, informed us that native bananas aren’t edible and amazed Cherise with the incredible value of orchids which could exceed £2,500 for one plant! We then had supper in the beautiful botanical bandstand and had a relaxed evening and good night's sleep after the recent storms.
Day 15 - Fliss, Laura and Jenny at Tenom's Botanical Gardens
Day 16: Tenom to Maliau Basin
We ate breakfast in the bandstand and had a fantastic lie in till 7am! Then we caught up on some sleep, sang and enjoyed beauty therapy provided by Cherise on the three-hour drive to the entrance to the Maliau Basin. On arrival we had lunch, prepared for the dense rainforest and transferred into our bone-jangling 4x4s for the deep jungle ride and trek.
At Maliau base camp we sorted our belongings and divided into groups to start preparations for our last night celebrations and end-of-trek concert. The groups were planning a variety of comedy, drama and musical pieces as a hornbill flew over to marvel at our activities. We then burnt off excess energy with a variation on our standard limbball, made even more exciting by the specially-built tent platforms. Both teams played brilliantly.
Day 16 - Henry prepares for the winning shot
At sundown, we split into two groups. One half went for a night drive by the light of the full moon to spot wild animals not scared off by our raucousness – sadly, there were not many of these! Highlights were tarsier, deer, wild cat, an owl and a flying lemur. After we’d all been fed and watered, we braved our short, muddy trek into the jungle, where our hammocks were waiting…the leeches saw, and took their opportunity. Doug was their first target, followed by Martha, James and Alan, but they did have a special liking for Dorothy! After some confusion, locating all the hammocks in the dark, and then everyone climbing in, and being tucked in by the leaders, the team settled to sleep, surrounded by the soothing noises of the jungle coming to life.
Day 17: Maliau Basin
We were allowed a lie-in until 7am in our hammocks. No one had fallen out and the night had been uneventful, although some had slept better than others! We did the short trek back to base camp for breakfast and a freshen up.
We then split into three different teams for the day's activities. A brief video on the history and wildlife of the Maliau basis in the luxury air-conditioned theatre was a treat. The fieldskills team then taught us how to survive in the jungle. We built a shelter, lit fires (jungle TV) and a snare for catching small animals. Each group got to construct something of their choice. The first group built a bench, the second, a shelter, and the third built a conservatory extension on to the shelter!
Day 17 - Katie, Tom and Jenny learn how to make fire (Jungle TV) in the rainforest
The highlight of the day was the tree top canopy walk. Two groups conquered the skies, with Emily walking the entire length of the suspension bridge and Amber fighting off the giant bugs. Cherise even overcame her fear of heights to enjoy the walk.
Sadly the weather conditions changed. As the third group started, the rainstorms came in and we all had to run for shelter – not reaching it before we were all soaked to the skin! We rallied around and put on some dry clothes before managing to sneak back into the theatre for a relaxing DVD while the rain fell! After the film, the rain was still pouring down, and the jungle campsite had become a sodden muddy pool, with dripping wet hammocks, and many sleeping bags fallen victim to the rain. We accepted that the best option for the night was to retreat to a dry, warm dorm room. So after a wonderful supper treat of pasta and beef with ginger and potato au gratin we handed in our dirty, wet clothes to be washed and tucked ourselves into our bunkbeds, with the female leader keeping guard on the floor outside our dorms.
Day 18: Maliau Basin (Balung Eco Resort)
We were woken in our dorms at 6am and some were heard to say they had missed their hammocks that night! While the majority had breakfast, those who were rained off the tree top canopy the day before seized the opportunity for an early morning walk. The small team worked incredibly well together, helping and supporting each other so that all did the walk in record time and Fliss and Katie walked unaided, the entire length and height of the canopy. The rest of the group were busy taking down hammocks and bashas and, of course, starting the all-important task of postcards to previous JoLters.
Day 18 - Jenny beginning her ascent into the aerial canopy ropewalk
When we were all back together and had eaten our fill, we returned to the bumpy 4x4s for the bone-jangling journey back to our psychedelic coach. On the coach we started our half-day celebrations by announcing Naomi’s sixteenth and a half birthday and explaining the half theme for the rest of the day! We arrived at the beautiful surroundings of Balung Eco Resort just before dusk, in time for a quick swim in the pool to cool off and refresh ourselves before supper of soup, rice, chicken, sweet and sour chilli fish, vegetables and dragon fruit for dessert. We continued Naomi’s 16½ birthday celebrations with balloons, songs and cakes before settling into our camps.
Day 18 - Naomi cutting her 16½ birthday cake
Day 19: Balung Eco Resort to Bilit (Kinabatangan River)
Today we woke at 6am. After breakfast went on a guided tour of Balung Eco Resort’s plantations, learning about the many varieties of fruits, teas and spices grown and processed on site. At the resort’s lake we enjoyed the beautiful pontoons and water lilies and fed the giant fish. Nathan adopted a small stick insect which stayed with him all morning whilst he trained it to perform tricks such as jumping between his hands. We then returned to the restaurant to share and savour the range of fruits we had picked along our walk, including all drinking the juice from the fresh coconuts. We then boarded our bus for our five-hour journey to Bilit.
Day 19 - Nathan tries his coconut milk, freshly hand-picked from Balung's fruit gardens
We stopped for lunch in a lovely Chinese restaurant en-route and arrived just in time for our evening wildlife cruise down the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah and revered by the local people for its diversity and sustenance. Travelling in three small boats, we saw a stunning range of species, particularly monkeys and birds including a Stork-billed Kingfisher and Oriental Darter, an old orangutan nest, two Wrinkled Hornbills, many Great White Egrets and an almost uncountable number of silvered langurs, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed (or ‘crab eating’) and pig-tailed macaques, all framed by the beautiful backdrop of the setting sun.
Day 19 - Henry and Dorothy spotting wildlfe on the cruise up the Kinabatangan River
Day 19 - Monkey, from dusk wildlife cruise down the Kinabantangan River
Our guide, Kai, taught us that elephants and monkeys are all good swimmers, regularly crossing the river and that the intriguing and slightly comical proboscis monkeys have two stomachs and swim across using their long noses (which grow up to seven inches long) almost like a snorkel above the water . He told us that the long-tailed ‘crab eating’ macaques catch crabs by sticking their tails down crab holes and pulling the crabs out as they pinch their long tails! Three silvered langurs posed for the camera on aerial ropes spanning the river to aid the migration of orangutans. As the colours were fading to deep blue, we returned to our lodges and a delicious supper under canvas on the banks of the Kinabatangan, watching the aerial displays of bats catching insects. To finish off the evening some of the group relaxed and refreshed in their en-suite bathrooms whilst a group of JoLters went fishing off the pontoon on the waterline before bed, Scott proving himself to be the master angler this time.
Day 20: Bilit to Sepilok to Sandakan
This morning we made an early start at 5am to catch the dawn chorus and waking wildlife on the river. We boarded our boats and this time headed upstream rather than down to the small tributary of last night. We saw more monkeys and many more bird species including Brahminy Kites, a Grey-Headed Fish Eagle, an Oriental Darter, many Great White Egrets, a Purple Heron, as well as a water monitor lizard lazing on a branch over the water and two freshwater crocodiles who dived as we approached.
We returned to another delicious breakfast by the river before crossing back over to join our bus and our ride to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.
We made good time and arrived much earlier than expected in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. Rather than kill time and get soaked, we chose to go straight on to Sandakan and return to see the orangutan feeding in the morning. After lunch in Sandakan the group spent an hour bargain hunting in the city's shops practising their bartering skills. The champion barterer seemed to be Matt reducing a watch to an impressive 85% of its value!
After settling into our deluxe hotel rooms and freshening up we put our smart clothing back on and drove out to the English Tea House high on the hill overlooking the bay in Sandakan, where we began by playing croquet on the lawn. Much fun was had by all challenging each other to the best game! Sandakan was formerly the capital of British Borneo and the English Tea House is close to the house of Agnes Keith – a well known author, historian and wife of a former Minister of Forestry for British Borneo. We were then treated to a beautiful three-course meal and were joined at dinner by the Mayor of Sandakan, his wife and daughter as well as an internationally-renowned Bornean nature photographer.
Day 20 - Katie and Cherise enjoying the high life at the British Tea House
Day 21: Sandakan to Sabah Tea Plantation
Today we woke early at 5am and travelled to Sepilok Orangutan Centre which was set up in the 1960s and is the premier rescue and rehabilitation Centre for these beautiful animals in Malaysia. We watched a presentation about the animals' plight and the history and purpose of the Centre before entering the sanctuary. The Centre promotes the animals' self sufficiency and independence from humans by teaching them skills. When or if ready, food supplies are gradually reduced to encourage the animals to search for their own food; if they are able to do so they are then released into areas of remote wilderness.
We witnessed the daily feeding of the apes who still habitually return to the feeding platforms but who are in the process of being weaned off handouts. On ape came alone, first drinking the milk before picking through the fruit. Five minutes later, another two came swinging along the ropes, the first pushing the second away until it had had its fill, all scratching, hanging around and watching the crowd. In the presentation we learned that orangutans are genetically 96.4% identical to humans and that the meaning of ‘orangutan’ in Malay is “man of the forest”. Watching the animals' eyes and graceful, purposeful actions close-up during the feeding session was a fascinating and moving experience. It made us even more conscious of the impact of the hundreds of miles of palm oil plantations we had driven through since leaving the pristine environment of the Maliau Basin.
Day 21 - Sepilok Centre - two orangutans swinging in for feeding time
After the encounter, the JoLters had a short walk along the boardwalk where we encountered a viper on the handrail. Rather than fear and shrieks, the group displayed a calm curiosity, a testimony to their growth. We briefly visited the gift-shop and had lunch in the café before travelling up to the cooler heights of Sabah Tea Plantation where we found our traditional bamboo longhouse which was to be our base for the next two nights. After settling in, the group had some JoLt time where together we discussed our experiences and achievements, and set shared goals for the final week. We then practised our skit performances for the final night before supper and an early night.
Day 22: Poring Hot Springs
After an early night we had a luxurious lie-in until 7am. Waking up refreshed, we travelled to Poring Hot Springs after breakfast to swim and soak in the thermal hot springs. We began by alternating between the hot and icy cold baths which was wonderful for our skin after the weeks of sweat and an invigorating shock to the system. Paige slipped into a shallow but very hot bath which turned her deep pink and Emily leaped into an icy cold pool, gasping with surprise at the temperature difference! After the hot and cold pools we transferred to the lower cool but much larger swimming pools where the JoLters had great fun sliding down the water slides and diving into the depths.
Day 22 - 'Splash Mix' - Fun on the waterslides at Poring Hot Springs
After a morning of refreshing, energetic and relaxing fun, we went to a local restaurant for lunch and then visited the local handicraft market to explore, barter and buy the crafts which included batik clothes, crystals, woven items, traditional jewellery and instruments. In the afternoon we returned to our longhouse where the group were given a chance to write postcards. Each of the JoLters had a 1:1 discussion with a leader to share their experiences and achievements and set personal goals for the final week. Later in the afternoon they spent more time practising their skits before supper in the Sabah Tea restaurant. Before returning to our longhouse, we were privileged to be able to watch and participate in a range of cultural music and dance performances which included traditional dress, musical gongs similar to Gamelan and stepping, swaying dances. The evening culminated in a breathtaking jaw-dropping performance akin to a fast skipping rope but with two pairs of long bamboo sheaths being slammed together rhythmically as the dancer jumped in and out of the spaces between beats, narrowly avoiding cutting or bruising her shins.
Day 22 - Malay music and dance
Day 23: Sabah Tea Plantation to Kiulu Valley
Today we woke up at 6am. and walked down to our now familiar restaurant. After we had finished breakfast, we watched a brief video about the history and production of Sabah Tea and the centre in which we have been staying. This was followed by a tour of the factory, seeing the drying/fermentation belts where workers have to turn and air the leaves every hour during the day and every three hours at night to maintain fresh air around the leaves. After this the leaves are rolled to separate them into fine grades. They are then baked to remove all final water content before they are packaged up. The company sells the standard machine-harvested tea and finer organic tea which is hand-picked. It also exports a large quantity all over the world which ends up as English Tea and 15% of which constitutes Earl Grey brands. Our guide explained how different types of tea should be steeped for different periods to avoid caffeine and tannin build up. He ended with a eye-opening demonstration of how to gauge the colour of teas using cold water or blotting paper and explained how the orange colours we regularly drink are coloured with iodine and/or suntan lotions!
We then boarded our funky bus and travelled two to three hours through the highlands, passing the base of Mt Kinabalu (4,095 m) with its dramatic waterfall falling out of the side of its rock face. We arrived at the river Pilu in the Crocker Range in the early afternoon and transferred into inflatable boats for a thrilling ride downstream. Many JoLters commented that it was their favourite experience on the journey so far. Some points of the rapids were wild, with mountains of water spraying into the boats whilst other points were still but fast flowing. Many of the group jumped or fell overboard and body-surfed the river downstream. A significant number of people, including Laura, Paige, Jenny and Emily, were overjoyed by the fun and proud of conquering their fear of the rapids.
We surfed into our campsite just as another downpour began with flashes of lightning. We sang some familiar and new songs together as a group and had some time to relax between supper and going to bed in our tents.
Day 24: Crocker Rapids to Teluk Usukan
Today we woke at 6am. Our planned tubing and water swing over the river had to be called off as the river was swollen and dangerous from the night's rain, so we gathered into our bus and set off on our descent down through the mountains to our coastal resort in Teluk Usukan. We had lunch around the sun shades outside the resort on the edge of the beautiful sandy bay. We then split into groups to rotate between the three activities of snorkelling, kayaking and fishing.
The snorkelling group donned life-jackets and set out in a power boat to local coral sites. Some people swam close to the boat, others snorkelled out in a wide chain, marvelling at the shapes and colours in the clear warm water. Confident swimmers dived down into and between the formations of hard and soft corals and saw many species of tropical reef fish such as zebra, angel and parrot fish (and the odd JoLter fish) darting around in the swell. There were many personal achievements such as Fliss and Georgie snorkelling for the first time and Nathan teaching Paige how to dive under the water. Martha was so enthusiastic, Buzza had to swim after her as she headed for Indonesia without her passport!
The sea kayaking group began by paddling around the coastline, gradually gaining confidence. At the next sandy bay they pulled their vessels ashore and went swimming and floating in the shallows. After a bit of time paddling around they remounted in different pairs, paddled out into deep water and then rafted the kayaks together to play games to gain even more confidence such as walking between the wobbly islands and balancing on top of the boats competing to see who could stay standing up for the longest. Jordan proved to excel at balancing on the floating kayaks, even while turned upside down, no doubt helped by his earlier training on Pulau Tiga. He commented that swimming and kayaking were brilliant. "When you have a lifejacket on, you can chill-out and enjoy the waves.” The group then paddled out into the deep centre of the bay in a large arc before returning to the shore.
The third activity involved sea fishing, taking another power boat far out into the bay past the jetty. Then each JoLter let out and reeled in lengths of line fitted with bait and weights. The groups caught between one and three fish. Master anglers of the day were Laura (two fish), Becky, Ivy, Scott and Tom (one fish). Unfortunately heavy rain stopped play at the final stage of the three activities so all groups returned to base for hot showers before supper. They watched a bit of TV (a rare opportunity on JoLt) and had some spare time to practise their skits before going to bed.
Day 24 - Abs, Laura and Marcelle fishing
Day 24 - 'Thumbs hanging around' - hammocks on the beach at Teluk Usukan
Day 24 - Buzz and Ivy enjoying a boat ride
Day 25: Teluk Usukan to Maranjak Longhouse
We woke at 6am. After breakfast, four teams competed in a multi-activity treasure hunt. This began on the shoreline with the teams each completing a relay race with snorkels, swimming out to a marker to retrieve submerged bottles containing the second clue. There were ten challenges in total, including orienteering with compasses, shooting shuttlecocks and footballs to set points, and completing obstacle courses which tested physical teamwork and communication whilst blindfolded. Finally the teams were able to dig up their prizes of ice cold fizzy drinks and biscuits buried in the sand.
Day 25 - Snorkel Treasure Hunt - the start of the race
Day 25 - Team 3 Treasure Hunt - digging up treasure
Day 25 - Team 4 Treasure Hunt - planning their strategy
After the treasure hunt, the leaders had arranged for a surprise helicopter ride to take the group on an exciting ride down the coast. Unfortunately the tempestuous weather common to this region on the edge of the cyclone belt set in again with high winds and rain preventing the helicopter from taking off; so we set off on our bus for the traditional Maranjak Longhouse of the Rungus tribe which was to be our next place to stay for the night. On arrival we had lunch and a little bit of spare time to write postcards. Then we split into groups, practised the traditional Rungus craft of jewellery and beadwork and were shown traditional weaving techniques. The group had an opportunity to buy some beautiful traditional pieces in the awesome setting of the bamboo longhouse before we settled to supper, sitting collectively on the floor. After supper we were privileged to witness more traditional Malay dances and music with gongs, lute and nose pipes.
Day 25 - All the JoLters at Maranjak Longhouse with the traditional Rungus dancers
Day 26: Rungus to Kudat
Today we had a lie-in until 7am. After breakfast we sang songs and then travelled to our lovely hotel and golf complex in Kudat. Our plan for the day was to spend the day at the town’s orphanage. The children's school day begins and finishes early – we later learned many of them rise at 5 - 5:30am on weekdays but they also often finish around lunchtime. While we waited for them to finish school, we relaxed by the pool of our new hotel, swam and played ball games.
After lunch we went to visit the orphans. We split into four groups and spent the afternoon getting to know the members of each of the four houses where they lived. Groups chatted and compared their lives such as hobbies, interests, what they did with their social time, etc. Cherise was particularly interested, asking the orphans about their pocket money, discipline, punishments and and finding out how they bought clothes and cut their hair. The groups then exchanged songs, dances, helped with studies or played games. We were surprised by the orphans' grasp of English and some of their skills with the guitar and singing – in particular, Ivy and one orphan sang a beautiful version of a Take That song. Naomi helped one of the orphans with his English, Matt helped another with his science and Tom re-discovered his love for trigonometry. The warmth and humility shown by the orphans made it a really special experience for many of the JoLters.
After a few hours we returned to our hotel to shower and prepare for the evening meal. Then each group practiced their skits for the fast-approaching final night. Leaders collected all the JoLters' gifts ready for our visit to the orphanage the next day before we returned to have an evening meal with our new friends. The girls had cooked a lovely meal for us all. We socialised together, watched a video and asked questions about the centre before returning to our hotel with a little free time before bed.
Day 26 - Meeting the orphans
Day 27: Kudat to Tip of Borneo
Today we had another lie in until 7am – a real luxury! The group were now used to an early start and most had woken up before the wake--up calls. After breakfast we headed right up to the ‘Tip of Borneo’ to complete the entire length of our journey west to east across the country. As we travelled, black clouds above us loomed ominously and heavy rain started to fall as we arrived. We courageously fought our way out to the tip, battered by strong winds and rain - which reminded us of home.
Day 28 - The Tip of Borneo - and the end of the trip
Having satisfactorily completed our quest, we returned to the café near the tip for lunch. Unfortunately the helicopter we hoped to have for the afternoon had to be called off for a second time and our BBQ on the beach with the orphans also had to be cancelled. We returned to swim at our hotel and have our evening games and supper with the orphans at their base. On arrival we were greeted warmly with offers of juice while we waited for the orphans to return from their day at school. We immediately set up various games which people sampled at different times throughout the evening. French cricket and volleyball proved to be very popular, with screams of delight from the participants. James and Jordan, in particular, made a lasting impression with the locals by involving them in all the games and chatting about similar likes and interests between their cultures. Just as it was getting dark, the BBQ was served. It was an easy atmosphere where people felt comfortable to sit and mix as they chose. We were all sad to finish our evening, knowing that we wouldn’t see the orphans again. On arrival back at the tip the weather closed in and we knew it was going to be a long night.
Day 28 : Tip of Borneo to Kota Kinbalu
We woke early at 5am and drove straight off to Kudat where we had breakfast in a local café. This would be our last noodle breakfast. We also sampled roti canai (a type of Malaysian flatbread) which proved extremely popular. As we had started so early, we arrived at our gorgeous five star hotel in KK before check-in, so we left our bags in security and went for lunch and an hour's shopping around the craft markets and along the beautiful old harbour side.
In the afternoon, we could choose between swimming and beachcombing at the Marina or a full body massage. Those who chose the massage found it to be a lovely, timely and relaxing end to our journey, thoroughly de-stressing us all. We all began with a warm flower and spice foot-bath to wash our feet and then our masseurs worked our backs, arms, legs and feet, finishing with a hot towel. We floated out of the salon to meet up with the others and then freshened up in our lovely rooms at the hotel ready for the evening. We held our evening meal, celebrations and Dorothy’s farewell at Kota Kinabalu's Port View Seafood restaurant with a wonderful spread of exciting and unusual cuisine – an experience for many of the JoLters.
Day 28 - Final celebrations
After we had eaten our fill, the skits and final ceremonies began. The last night performances by groups of Jolters is a JoLt tradition but this performance was made extra special because it was Dorothy’s last evening ever on a JoLt trip. To mark this, we read messages from previous JoLters to Dorothy and the whole group sang two of Dorothy’s favourite songs for her. The messages from past Jolters told how, without exception, JoLt had created positive changes in their lives and how inspirational Dorothy had been to them. It was all very moving with lots of tears and hugs all round! For the traditional skits, each of the JoLt groups and the leaders performed specially written songs and/or comedy sketches about the JoLters' funniest moments, news readings, and impersonations of characters. The whole night was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.
Day 29: Depart Kota Kinabalu Airport
JoLt has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people. This is entirely due to the generosity of those who have supported us with donations or organised fundraising events on our behalf.