Rory goes to Asia: Borneo

Travel is a beautiful and benefiting adventure, something over the past 2 years a lot of us have missed and a lot of countries and local communities have suffered as a result of no visitors and tourism.

Excitedly, our Asia Director, Rory, set off at first opportunity for his first international trip in 2 years in June to visit our camps and teams in both Cambodia and Borneo.

We were luckily to get an insight into Rory’s first impressions of being back, a little bit of reminiscing and reconnecting with the brilliant and generous people of these two countries.

Part 1: Borneo – “Home to some of the world’s most diverse rain forests.”

It was with much trepidation that after nearly 2 and a half years I set off for my first visit to the camps and staff teams of both Cambodia and Borneo. Even queuing up for the flight was nerve-racking, while I wondered if I had completed all the relevant paperwork required to board the flight? It turned out I had but a few other people in the line were not as well prepared and were seen hurriedly pulling out laptops trying to register and log into various websites.

I started my trip with 4 days in Borneo with the obligatory team lunch down on the waterfront in Kota Kinabalu. We visited the restaurant that we often use as a last night treat for school teams in town (Tuscani’s). The restaurant staff were excited to see us having had virtually no customers for several years and were slowly just starting to open up. This was the story across the board, wherever I went. The lunch was the usual clammer of chit chat as we caught up on each other’s news. Some new babies were on the way, different haircuts were being sported, and some new pets had been obtained.

Camp Tinangol

The next day was a trip up to our first ever camp in Borneo, at Tinangol. It was great to be out on the road again and I was excited to see all the sights and sounds again. The cattle wandering along the road, getting in the way, the various food stops and swollen rivers that we crossed. The paddy fields fresh from harvesting, the abundance of green everywhere I looked.

After the usual tasty lunch grabbed at a busy local café, we arrived at the camp. The track leading down to the camp was overgrown with huge red hibiscus tress, with the flowers dangling everywhere I looked. It was so green and lush. I was filled with a happiness as the memories of all the good times at this camp over the past 10 years flooded over me, as if the huge red flowers were the memories themselves.

Unfortunately, this euphoria didn’t last long as I stepped out of the truck and started to look around the crumbling camp. Those that have visited Tinangol know of its traditional style longhouses which are dominated by their huge grass (atap) roofs. These roofs were now in a state of serious disrepair, looking very forlorn and in places had collapsed completely.

I was buoyed to bump into a gang of the camp staff and community youngsters who were returning from their lunch to resume working on our upper longhouse roof. We chatted and joked for a while before I was reassured that it would all be finished and in tip top condition within 5-6 weeks’ time when we are expecting our first UK teams to arrive. It seemed like a lot of work to me but there was an un-erring confidence about them which reassured me it wasn’t going to be a problem. (We are pleased to add that they are indeed now in tip top shape!)

Sitting with Man at TinangolAfter a fresh coconut to drink and rehydrate, we popped up to see our old colleague, Man.

Man has worked with us since we first started in Tinangol, and at the start of Covid we had to downsize our staff to get through.  This included Man taking his retirement, and this was my first time to see him since he had retired.  Everyone who visits Tinangol knows Man, they work with him on our projects and chat and giggle.  Whilst it was awesome to see him again, it was actually very sad.  I can see him getting older and starting to struggle a little with his health.  We reminisced about days gone past, and it is definitely a poignant end of an era not having Man working with us anymore.

Camp Bongkud

The following day we drove the 3+ hours to Camp Bongkud, in the shadow of Mt Kinabalu.  This camp is our largest and often busiest and it was poles apart from Camp Tinangol I had seen the day before.  It was again green and lush, but it almost felt like a school team had literally left that morning.  I remember vividly when we first built this camp way back in 2010, and the camp felt like a very open and muddy car park.  Now its beautifully green, surrounded by trees and plants, dotted between the longhouses.  It looked amazing and the many varied team murals secured around the communal area elevated it further.

It’s all about the people

But as great as our camps are physically, it’s really all about the beautiful people we employ and call our colleagues and friends.  The cheeky monkeys had been scheming and laid on an awesome surprise birthday lunch for me (and the company – 20 years!!).  I was overwhelmed with emotion as I spoke to the team, and all the troubles of the past 2+ years and Covid seemed to wash away.  Like the whole company, many had been on reduced pay or even stood down temporarily, and yet here they were smiling, chirpy, full of life and hopeful of what the future held, rather than worrying about what had passed already.  We ate like kings with loads of tasty local food, all sat together, including my favourite winter melon soup and other veggie treats.  We had cake, sang, and laughed.

People come to our camps to do project work, see a different country and culture and what they don’t realise is that it’s the camp staff and local community that really make their trips special.  I feel truly privileged to work with these brilliant and generous people.

Part 2: Cambodia – ‘Rory goes to Asia – Cambodia

We can’t wait for those travelling to Borneo to experience first-hand the local community’s generosity and friendly nature. If you would like to see what our current student travellers are up to then visit our twitter page.

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