It was to be our last volunteering camp in Borneo. We had already done the lowlands, the jungle and the paradise island and now it was time for the mountains. So in the shadow of Mt. Kinabalu (SE Asia’s highest peak) we found home in the little village of Bongkud.
The Project Work
On the first night we met the Chief of the village who was also our project foreman. He explained to us that we’d be building a new kindergarten for the village.
The current kindergarten is a one room building which can only school a total of 20 children and isn’t adequate enough for the village’s future needs. The new kindergarten would have 3 class rooms for different age groups, a kitchen, reception area, staff room and large outdoor area with a pond. A huge and much needed upgrade.
Previous volunteers had already started the construction of the kindergarten but it was the chief’s expectation that we finish the final layer of concrete flooring in each room.
It was with a spring in our step (usually due to the bounciness of “Death Bridge”) that we set off each day for a hard day of labouring. As with previous projects, there was no luxury of a cement truck dropping off a load of pre-made cement or even a cement mixer on site. So every batch was hand mixed – something we got exceptional good at – and then barrowed into place.
After the light volunteer work on our paradise island it was good to be doing something much more physical again. And as we were all doing the same activity the team really came together for the first time which led to a fun, social and productive environment. So productive in fact that despite two surprise bank holidays we got the job done early and had time to also plaster the entrance gate walls. A really good effort by all to get through 30 bags of cement and lay a 75x20ft floor in 5 days. The Chief was very impressed!
We did pop into the current kindergarten one morning to sing songs with the children. They were full of energy and pleased to have a mess about.
As usual it wasn’t all hard work. Highlights of the R&R include:
Dancing: We got to try our hand at traditional dancing including the dance where you have to quickly move through snapping bamboo sticks. Watch your toes!
Motorcross: On one of the bank holiday days there was a Motorcross competition 5 minutes walk from our camp. The level, for the vast majority of entrants, was extremely amateurish. There were four contestants which gave it a good race and made the others eat dirt.
Sunrise trek: we woke up early one morning to set off at 4.45 to catch the sunrise at the top of Bongkud Hill. This was a 30 minute trek up a steep mud path. At the top we found the clearing and sat back to wait for the sun to rise. It was an absolute stunning view seeing the valley light up slowly and the mist blow through the hills. However, at about 6 we still hadn’t seen the sun and it was at that point we realised we were facing the wrong direction!
Handicraft: we had the usual handicraft lesson of braclet making and also basket weaving and banana cake making. On top of that we made little envelopes for our fellow campers to post us little notes.
Excursions: We had a day trip to the War Memorial for the Sandakan death marches which you can read about here. We visited Poring Hot Springs and had images of a Zante-esque pool party occuring. However. No hot pool. No booze. Just old people sat in luke warm bath tubs. The Hot Springs also houses a canopy walk which is fun and there is a waterfall at the end of one of the paths. This was our first waterfall of the trip so we all got down to our speedos and dived in. Beautiful.
Weddings: On our final night there were two weddings happening and, as light skinned, fair haired strangers we were guests of honour at each. The ceremony at the community hall was a very dull affair. The receptions were then held in the gardens of the family. The first one we attended got off to a slow start but then a grinning uncle came over to us with a bucket of beer and the promise of plenty more. Absolutely brilliant and this made the karaoke great craic. Unfortunately we had to leave this wedding to show our face at the other wedding which was a lot more of a sobering affair.
Back to Kota Kinabalu and Rob’s Birthday
After our last camp we headed back to KK for our final nights in Borneo which also coincided with Rob’s birthday. As it was a special occasion we went to the Sky Bar and had a group meal in El Centro where Rob tried not to embarrass himself too much with his birthday speech.
That brought our time in Borneo to an end. So we said goodbye to some great new friends (Sammy, Theo, Ewan, Luca, Bjorn, Amber, Polly, Ella, Ione, Heather) and traveled on to Cambodia with Jack, Megan, Emma, Matt and Lexy. Here we’ll meet a new bunch of characters to volunteer with and be reunited with Jessica Storm.