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SOS Rhino : In the News : The Adventure Ahead

The Adventure Ahead

DECEMBER 4, 2004
By Grace Chen

Imagine a three-month holiday where you get to rough it out in remote villages in Sabah, track a heumul (an endangered deer species) and build a children’s playground in Chile.

Three Raleigh International venturers (participants) recounted what it was like to spend three months doing community and conservation work.

Aisalli J. Ayub, 27, a customer services executive, who was part of a Raleigh International expedition in February this year, said her experience was fun.

She took leave from her company and joined 150 other Raleigh venturers from Germany, New Zealand, Chile, Wales and Scotland for an adventure in the Danum Valley and Kampung Gana, an indigenous settlement in the Ningkabau region, Sabah.

"We laid about 4km of water pipes in rough terrain so that the Danum research centre could have access to fresh water," recalled Aisalli who spent three weeks there.

"There was no proper track and it was muddy everywhere because it rained a lot. To go to the toilet you had to dig a hole in the ground, and there were so many leeches!"

"We were in a forest. Some of the trees were wider than a car and 40m to 80m tall. We were enveloped by mist and the surroundings were beautiful. There was no television or radio so we took the time to interact with the locals."

The valley, in the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, near Lahad Datu, is home to an amazing diversity of fauna, including the highly endangered Sumatran rhino, elephant, sun bear, orang utan and clouded leopard, explained Aisalli.

Some 275 species of birds have also been recorded, including eight species of the Bornean hornbill.

The flora is no less diverse with tree species numbering over 200 per hectare. The Nenga Gajah, a small arecoid palm, is also found here.

Since 1987, the Danum research centre has hosted Raleigh International members who have helped to construct campsites and cabins, and cleared new trails. Aisalli also spent another three weeks in Kampung Gana installing water pipes for 400 kampung houses.

About 8,000m of PVC pipes and some 120 taps were installed, providing clean water of up to 193,200 litres a day. Before this, rain was kampung Gana’s only source of water. During the dry season, villagers had to walk 2km up a hill to get water from the small stream there.

"My first impression of the place was that of a concentration camp surrounded by very thick forest. What the government had done was to level the land which left the topsoil bare.

"The villagers live in wooden shacks. The land was hard and unsuitable for farming so the villagers had to walk 10km to 15km to their former farming plots and tend their crops which consisted of hill padi and vegetables," said Aisalli, who stayed in a kampung.

There she made friends with Jalis Kutin, a church member in his late 40s who taught himself how to read and write.

"Jalis was happy with his life even though Rahman Marine Park.

"The experience on Crocker Range was exhilarating but tiring. We had to carry canned rations for 15 people plus our own equipment. Some of the paths were very narrow and we had to tread carefully while balancing the weight of our backpacks. I only had three pairs of clothes, a sleeping bag and a mosquito net.

"There was no electricity so we used hurricane lamps. Most of the time we slept by 8.30pm or 9pm on a tarp on the ground. By 6.20am, we would be awakened by cicadas. I managed to spot a civet cat and an orang utan in the distance."

A member of Raleigh International Kuala Lumpur since her college days, Aisalli had to raise RM4,000 for the expedition in Sabah, of which RM2,000 was sponsored by her employers.

"It was a tough three months and I missed my family, bed, a proper shower and for some reason, beef noodle soup. But I made many friends and gained confidence when I found out that I could do things I never thought I could do," said Aisalli.

When Teh Le Vin, a 27-year-old copywriter heard that Raleigh International was going to Chile in 2002, he quit his job and joined the expedition. He was the only Malaysian among the 120 Irish, Scottish, English, Austrian, Singaporean and Kiwi participants.

The expedition cost Teh RM15,000 which he raised by organising a go-kart race.

"I joined because I have a passion for the outdoors and enjoy teamwork. I knew that this would be a good way to develop myself as well," said Teh.

Chile is the thinnest and longest country in the world. It is 4,329km long and 180km wide from the Andes to the Pacific. It has deserts, volcanos, glaciers, geysers, rainforests, pampas, steppes and varying climates.

During the expedition, Teh helped a local scientist research the heumul, an endangered deer species in La Baguala, and built a playground for the farming community in Coyhaique.

"La Baguala, on the edge of Cochrane lake, 9km from Cochrane town, was practically cut off from civilisation. I felt like a National Geographic explorer and it seemed like I had the whole forest to myself. The water was freezing so I went without a bath for two weeks," recalled Teh who spent one month there.

Teh had to record the elusive heumul’s (Hippocamelus bisulcus) movement and feeding patterns by following it through a GPS tracking device that was connected to an electronic tag on the heumul.

"I managed to spot the heumul after tracking it for nearly two weeks. It was hiding behind a bush so I crept up slowly. It looked like a cross between a llama and a mouse deer with a reddish brown coat. That was really exciting because sightings of the heumul are rare," said Teh.

They took a boat back to their base camp in Cochrane and were hit by a storm. Teh nearly got hypothermia.

"Water was seeping into our boat and the waves got bigger and bigger. We neared land and had to wade to shore in freezing, waist-high water.

We were far away from the nearest hospital. Luckily, the group doctor built a fire and calmed me down before calling for emergency help on the radio. Help arrived four hours later. This incident taught me not to panic during emergencies," recalled Teh.

In Coyhaique, southern Chile, Teh lived in a quiet farming community surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers and greenery for a month and helped to build a playground.

According to Teh, the nearest hacienda was a day’s travel. The hacienda where he lived had sheep and cattle and housed two families with five children. The playground was a place for the farmers’ children to play.

"We built two swings, a see-saw, a sandbox and a little castle using mostly wood and ropes. To make it safe for the kids, we put down sand to cushion the kids if they fall.

"It was physically demanding because we had to carry the wood out from the forest to the playground site. We also transported river sand in wheelbarrows from Rio Paloma, 1km away. I lost count of the number of trips we made. My hands were covered in blisters and calluses.

"Twelve of us completed the project in a week-and-a-half. It was a challenging task. But it was fun because everyone was willing to communicate and share ideas," said Teh.

Though communication with the local farmers was limited because they only spoke Spanish, the venturers managed through sign language and everyone was warm and friendly.

The adventurous phase of the expedition was an adventure trek to Argentina through the Andes mountain range.

"Thirteen of us were dropped way off from the nearest frontier town called La Tapere with food and necessities. From there, we had to trek through the mountainous wilderness to reach Argentina in a month.

Adriene Leong with edible wild vegetables collected from the jungle.

"We had to cross rivers, swamps and lakes. It was fun and I even got to fish for salmon and trout," remembered Teh.

"That was our only source of fresh food as we got tired of eating instant cereal and muesli bars.

"We trekked in knee-high snow as we neared Argentina. One guy nearly suffered frostbite. The hardest part of the expedition was that I missed my family," said Teh.

Teh credited fellow venturer, Mark O’ Neil, a 26-year-old Scotsman for moral support.

"Mark made everybody laugh. We became good friends because we had the same interest in music and we both love a good joke. He is an inspiration to me because he wants to make something of his life despite coming from a broken home.

"Like me, he joined Raleigh to discover more about himself."

Teh, who is now helping to organise workshops in teamwork and survival skills for Raleigh International Kuala Lumpur, said that the experience had given him leadership skills and helped him to work more effectively with people.

Adriene Leong, a 25-year-old copywriter, had always wanted to do environmental and community work. In October 2002, she fulfilled her dreams when she joined the Raleigh expedition to Batu Puteh, an orang sungai village on the plains of the Kinabatangan River.

"We helped to build a boat shed and an archway (so that the Batu Puteh community would have a village symbol) and organise the nursery for their forest regeneration programme," said Leong.

The Batu Puteh community is made up of orang sungai (riverine people), who are 100% Muslims, and over 15% of the population are under 18.

They were very hospitable and inquisitive. They were keen to know more about the outside world. Together with the other venturers, Leong worked on carving orang sungai designs on an archway. The designs were copied from a prehistoric coffin found at an archeological site a few hundred metres up a hill.

Leong learnt how to collect food from the jungle, and how to identify edible leaves. She also acquired a taste for tapioca and jungle vegetables.

"We had a party and invited the villagers. There was no electricity so we used candles to light up the place. Some of the Scottish venturers showed them how to do a Scottish dance and they taught us their traditional dances," recalled Leong.

For Leong, the whole experience was an adventure.

"Imagine climbing Mt Kinabalu, trekking up the Crocker Range, and spending the night on top of an observatory tower overlooking the Danum Valley. That was the first time I saw a shooting star and made a wish."

Leong also saw orang utans eating breakfast near her campsite.

"We woke up to them pelting fruit skins at us. Some wild boars also came to our camp and ate up our garbage," recalled Leong, adding that the experience had taught her to love the great outdoors.

"At first I was scared of trekking as I have always seen myself as unfit. Carrying 20kg of equipment, I felt nauseous on the first day of trekking. I wanted to quit. Once I overcame the difficulties, I realised that it’s not that hard and even lots of fun. It’s amazing how your body acclimatises," says Leong.

Leong, who is the president of Raleigh International Kuala Lumpur, explained that the country director, Drew Boshell, chooses the location of each expedition.

Each expedition is accompanied by a medical team, project manager and assistant. All participants must raise their own funds for the trip. Venturers go through a weekend camp to give them an insight into camping, team-building games and jungle trekking. W

If you have a taste for adventure and are 17 and above, call Ng Siaw Chian at 012-6326177 or visit for more information. There will be having an introduction weekend camp from Dec 17 to Dec19.

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