Borneo, Experience Reviews, Reviews, Thoughts, Travel

Seven Years After My Raleigh Experience…

I can’t believe that seven years about today, I had just set out on my first “big” adventure. I say big, because it was my first time out of Europe without my parents. Also, my first time away for more than two weeks, ever! After months of saving, preparation, buying kit and getting stabbed with needles, I was setting off on my volunteer experience in Borneo with Raleigh International.

Our first few days were spent at “Tac”. Here we learnt about the different systems we would be using in order to be economical during our time in the country (such as the “Three Bowl System” to wash our dishes), a few essential trekking tips (such as setting up a hammock and tarp – effectively!) and also getting to know our new travel buddies. During the ten week program, volunteers go on three separate expeditions, each time getting put into new groups.

The girls from phase 1
The girls from phase 1
Team building exercises!
Team building exercises!
Setting off on our first trek.
Setting off on our first trek.
Late night cards with new friends.
Late night cards with new friends.

Phase 1 – Kampung Mananam

After a few days, everybody set off on their new adventures. I found myself headed to Kampung Mananam – a little which had new had foreign visitors before. We were there to help build a water gravitational system. It required a lot of physical work, but it was great fun! We laid pipes, carried stones to help with the systems and places tanks half way up a big hill (mountain!). We not only helped with that, but we were lucky enough to get involved with some activities with the locals, too.

Watching the locals play music and get drunk as part of a welcome ceremony thrown for us.
Watching the locals play music and get drunk as part of a welcome ceremony thrown for us.
Burning our "poo bags"... Nice.
Burning our “poo bags”… Nice.
My first long-term squat toilet. Little did I know, it most definitely wouldn't be the last!
My first long-term squat toilet. Little did I know, it most definitely wouldn’t be the last!
Not bad for a view from the "back garden".
Not bad for a view from the “back garden”.
Axing away
Axing away
Getting stuck right in.
Getting stuck right in.
Bob the builders
Bob the builders
Transporting those tanks weren't easy!
Transporting those tanks weren’t easy!
Dabbling in my first bit of Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Dabbling in my first bit of Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Making new friends!
Making new friends!
Uno!
Uno!
Hey, Macarena!
Hey, Macarena!
Mud / chicken poo fight!
Mud / chicken poo fight!
Washing hair in the rain? Why not!
Washing hair in the rain? Why not!

Phase 2 – Trek/Dive

I was well aware of the “12 day trek” before I’d sign up, but that didn’t mean I was anymore prepared! A trek in the deep rainforest is pretty daunting, and, now speaking from experience, is hard work! It’s mentally and physically draining. Throughout the trek, I think it’s safe to say that everybody experienced their highest highs and lowest lows. We were on the moved constantly for 12 days straight. Every night, we put our hammocks up and set up camp in a new spot, and took everything again every morning. We smelt… bad! The feeling of completing the trek though was amazing. And eating some home cooked food during our home-stay the night after completing it was incredible.

After a hardcore trek, we were rewarding by spending 5 days living on an island. Only us and the dive staff could stay their overnight. It was like a little piece of paradise. Not only that, but we learnt to scuba dive and got our Padi certificates! Completing a trek and a scuba course in less than three weeks is a pretty good achievement! I’d never have achieved all of that back home.

Making friends with the locals before setting off.
Making friends with the locals before setting off.
Dirty, sweaty, muddy and jungle hair!
Dirty, sweaty, muddy and jungle hair!
Keeping the communication systems (aka long range walkie talkie) dry after a long (wet) day trekking.
Keeping the communication systems (aka long range walkie talkie) dry after a long (wet) day trekking.
Bunk hammocks means one less tarp to put up, and two less suitable trees to find! It's not laziness... It's creativity!
Bunk hammocks means one less tarp to put up, and two less suitable trees to find! It’s not laziness… It’s creativity!
Reaching the waterfall made for a big change of scenery.
Reaching the waterfall made for a big change of scenery.
Leech bite wounds. At one point there were 30 spread across both of my feet, at the same time!
Leech bite wounds. At one point there were 30 spread across both of my feet, at the same time!
Speaking of leeches... Day two into the trek I decided to break whatever ice there was left within our group by discovering a leech nestled between my cheeks. Bum cheeks. Thanks to Em the medic for recovering that!
Speaking of leeches… Day two into the trek I decided to break whatever ice there was left within our group by discovering a leech nestled between my cheeks. Bum cheeks. Thanks to Em the medic for recovering that!
Creativity - making birthday decorations out of toilet paper and condoms!
Creativity – making birthday decorations out of toilet paper and condoms!
Completing the trek was one of the best feelings.
Completing the trek was one of the best feelings.
Our host family for our night after the trek.
Our host family for our night after the trek.
Our first "proper shower" in nearly two weeks!
Our first “proper shower” in nearly two weeks!
Our island home.
Our island home.
Hard not to have fun in paradise!
Hard not to have fun in paradise!
Sun, sand, sea, mountains, scuba diving and friends!
Sun, sand, sea, mountains, scuba diving and friends!

Phase 3 – Batu Puteh

My last phase was spent helping some locals build an eco-lodge. We used natural resources to create the lodge which would help the community by bringing in money from tourism. We made our own temporary “house” for our stay there, but I clearly remember one night in slightly breaking and a few of us ending up on the floor half out of our hammocks! We were, again, sleeping in rainforest, surrounded by wildlife. There were monkeys near our camp, komodo dragons in the river we used to travel to and from site (and the same river we used to wash ourselves with!) and also a mouse in my friend’s hammock one night! Cosy.

Hard day at work
Hard day at work
Riverside drumming
Riverside drumming
Riverside bonding
Riverside bonding
Building an eco-lodge requires a lot of physical work!
Building an eco-lodge requires a lot of physical work!
And physical work makes you very sweaty!
And physical work makes you very sweaty!
Health and safety rules were followed...
Health and safety rules were followed…
...sort of.
…sort of.
Getting up close and personal with the orang-utans on one of our days off.
Getting up close and personal with the orang-utans on one of our days off.
Trying on traditional dress on our last night in Batu Puteh.
Trying on traditional dress on our last night in Batu Puteh.

The End

After ten weeks, everyone had made the best friends and unforgettable memories. I did things I never thought I would, and even now, seven years on, I remember it all as if it was yesterday. I’d recommend the programme to anyone. I wouldn’t change any of my experience there for the world.

If you’ve been on a Raleigh expedition, are going on one or are considering let me know in the comments below!

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