Borneo & Malaysia
In the summer of 2014 an unprecedented three teams, made up of forty six students embarked on expeditions to Borneo and Malaysia. These expeditions were to challenge the students both physically and emotionally as they worked together as a team to achieve their goals.
After three flights each team began their expeditions in the city of Kuching, capital of the Sarawak state of Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The teams quickly headed for the nearby national parks to begin their acclimatisation to the equatorial climate and the physical demands they were to face. Day treks within the parks were used to get used to the high temperatures and humidity, not to mention the heavy packs that needed to be carried. These reks were interspersed with dips in the South China Sea and interactions with the local wildlife including many monkeys (who were happy to help themselves to anything left unattended including cameras and toothpaste!) and bearded pigs. There was also an opportunity for the teams to see some of Borneo's most famous inhabitants, the orangutans.
Soon, however, each team made its own way north, by boat, bus and plane towards the location of their main trek in the jungle of northern Sarawak. Here several days were spent trekking and sleeping in either jungle lodges or hammocks. The daily life of an early rise, cooking breakfast, trekking throughout the day across a variety of terrain, over and through rivers before stopping to set up camp, eat and then fall asleep with the noise of the jungle all around was a great challenge. More wildlife was seen but the most attention was probably reserved for the monitoring of leeches who helped themselves to the blood of many a student! By the time the teams returned to their bases, these basic guesthouses seemed like complete luxury.
Next was a flight back to peninsular Malaysia and an opportunity to make a contribution to the local community. Each team chose a week long project and immersed themselves in a different way of life. The projects involved working in an elephant sanctuary, with children and adults with learning difficulties or physical disabilities and working on the construction of facilities for a boarding school for children who would not have access to education in the jungle. The climate remained very hot which added to the challenge but each team was able to help their project hosts and also build strong friendships with the local people. Even after just a week, it was hard to say goodbye.
The final phase of the expeditions involved some well earned rest and relaxation. There is much to do in Malaysia and some of the activities included snorkelling, kayaking, white water rafting, sunbathing on the beach, eating street food, visiting markets and ascending the incredibly tall Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
After an incredible month each team made its way back to the airport for the long journey home with many tales of their adventures and to find out what they had missed during a month that seemed to take so long to arrive but flashed by so quickly.
On the very last day of the summer term thirty-one students arrived at Wheatley Park, not looking forward to a summer of relaxation after a year of school, not looking forward to the spectacle of sport that was just around the corner but instead ready to embark on a challenging month long expedition to India. This was the culmination of an eighteen month build up programme involving fund-raising, team building, training expeditions in the Forest of Dean and lots of fitness work to prepare us for what awaited us on the other side of the world.
A long flight was followed by an unforgettable eighteen hour bus journey into the Himalayas. A couple of days of acclimatisation in Manali flew by and suddenly we were climbing mountains, crossing freezing rivers and camping under the stars (in the monsoon season!) during a two week trek reaching altitudes of 5100m that challenged us in many ways. It was, however, an incredible experience with many highlights and we all felt a great sense of achievement at the end. Without pausing for breath the we headed for the overnight train from Chandigarh to Jaipur where we began our project work, in a school and orphanage. There were lots of opportunities to interact with locals, especially the children, play games and teach English as well as several days of physical labour. We improved the sports facilities at the orphanage and built foundations for a classroom at the school, all in some stifling Indian heat. The final phase involved some well-earned "relaxation" as we spent a few days sampling the sights, sounds and tastes of Jaipur and visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra. Before we knew it the month was over and we were soon on a flight back to the UK to find out what we had missed and to exam results that had been waiting patiently...
Costa Rica and Nicaragua 2010
During the month the students kept a group journal recording their experiences, here are some extracts:
30th July, School Project Granada, Nicaragua
Today we had a productive beginning to the day, a large chunk of both the gravel and painting was completed. I taught a two hour lesson today to 23 students, it was so much fun. We sang heads, shoulders, knees and toes something like five times. The kids appeared to really enjoy it which was fulfilling. After the lesson the kids hung around after and we all became a lot closer to them. So much so that we went and played football with their families at half three and came back at ten to six! We lost but it was still so much fun. We got a picture with the team we played against which I was happy about as I really enjoy those sorts of memories. Tomorrow we’re going to a lagoon which should be amazing as we haven’t swam or showered for a long time!
10th August, Main Trek, Los Maribios Volcanoes, Nicaragua
Today we finally climbed Momotombo, our very last volcano. We had to get up at 4 in the morning and were walking by 5. The first half of the volcano was quite an easy walk, it seems like everyone is a lot fitter now compared to San Christobal. We barely had any breaks and I was actually enjoying myself walking up a volcano, which I never thought I would say! But the next half was the scariest moment of my life and probably everyone else’s. We had to climb a slippy rocky path with gales of scarily strong winds blowing around us. I thought we would never make the top. We all made it to the summit but couldn’t go to the crater because the gas was way too strong. Coming down was hard, everyone slipped over so many times and we’ve all got battle wounds now. When we finally managed to get to the bottom Memo gave us a cold fizzy drink and some watermelon. Beats tortillas and cheese any day! I’m sure everyone was really proud of themselves for completing the five volcanoes in five days. When we got back to the hostel we had to sort out the kit but after that we were able to shower and go shopping. Then we had dinner with Memo who showed us some of the photos of us all climbing the volcanoes. It was a really nice end to the trekking phase.