Primetime In Borneo
The crisp almost clinical air-conditioning was vaporised the moment I stepped from the airport concourse. The humidity hit me hard, wrapping me in its sopping embrace, leaving me gasping in the 36 degree heat. It felt even hotter in the local fruit and veg store - a vast sprawling market selling many fruits I recognised and many that have clearly never travelled to the UK.
I was in Miri picking up any last minute essentials before entering the depths of the equatorial rainforest on my journey around the third largest island in the world - Borneo.
Miri, an old oil town in the north of the island, is the gateway to Mulu National Park. Since touching down I had been eager to encounter Borneo’s most popular native and one of my (and the rest of the human race's) closest relatives. Excited about the prospect of prime time with a primate, the visit to the world-famous
Set in 43 square kilometres of beautiful rainforest, the sanctuary offers a safe haven for once-captive orang-utans. Some of them can even be re-introduced back onto the wild. We watched these young orphans honing their climbing skills by swinging their way around their lush surroundings. Moving up on a high platform, we were lucky enough to see a group coming in from the forest to tuck into their next meal – a colourful banquet of tropical fruits.
The time spent intimately with these gentle creatures in their ‘almost’ natural habitat was an immense privilege. Their dark, inquisitive eyes… their playful nature - it was far too easy to anthropomorphise them – I felt a connection with them in just a few hours… they must be like family to their dedicated conservation team.
A few days later we visited Sabah tea plantation – the largest of its kind in Borneo. This was like stepping back a hundred years, the long house, the tea factory, the walks through the plantations and rainforest and picnic on the river, it was like entering a Bronte or Dickens novel. It also did a good job of distracting everyone from the main challenge ahead.
At 4,101 metres, Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain. This two-day summit trek was always going to be the other main highlight. On the first day of the climb we set off early walking through differing layers of vegetation and cloud forest. Weary and ravenous, we arrived at Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,300m around lunchtime. I loved this place as it was full of exhausted but excited trekkers, all with one shared goal – to climb the summit the next day.
Summit day began with a rudely early start - 2am! Donning my gloves and trusty head torch, I set off at a slow but steady pace – the key to a successful high altitude trek. As we ascended higher my lungs were working harder to adjust to the thin air. A few times I reluctantly gave in and used the guide ropes for extra support.
I reached the summit feeling elated at around 5am. Though we were pretty unlucky with the weather - the spectacular sunrise we had so desperately hoped for eluded us - it didn't matter. It felt amazing to be stood on the highest point of Southeast Asia; a few inky clouds were not going to dampen our spirits.
The certificate of my summit success now sits proudly on my desk to remind me what I achieved on that very special day. No matter how stressful my day gets, it always makes me smile, as does the photo next to it, an infant orang-utan.
By Joanna Zubr, Customer Operations Executive