Life on trek is like living in a different world. Although we know that the cogs of everyday life keep turning, we’re so immersed in our little bubble that it seems an odd concept that things like days of the week still exist. We haven’t seen anyone beyond our team or guides for the last week. Civilisation seems alien and we have left it behind us.
Our coach dropped us off, literally on the side of the road, with nothing to do except don our walking boots and heavy rucksacks and start our long walk into the waiting arms of the jungle. It had been sunny back on the road, but underneath the dense canopy of the rainforest and with a sky rapidly clouding over it became darker and more mysterious. Tendrils of mist snaked around the trees, like something out of a jungle fairy tale. That very first day, we experienced our first rainstorm on trek. It started lightly but quickly became torrential and by the time we arrived, slipping and sliding, into our first camp, we were absolutely drenched. The first evening, after having set up the group kit and our own hammocks, was spent as a whole group, damp and cold, huddled around the fire. But there was something nice about everyone being together, a tangle of limbs, as everybody vied to get the best spot to dry their feet as the rain hammered down on the tarp overhead.
The camps so far have been pretty variable. One that stands out, although not necessarily for good reasons, is the infamous ‘mud camp’ which, as its name suggests, was incredibly muddy. Walking around (if sliding can be called walking) was an absolute nightmare, especially if you were unlucky enough to have your hammock set up on a hill which, by the end of our time there, was more like a mud slide. My rucksack cover is still covered with the mud from mud camp, lest I forget all the muddy memories.
But for every mud camp, there is a stunning camp with magnificent views or perfect trees or a beautiful river close by. At ‘mouse deer camp’ there is a place you can walk to where you can find incredible panoramas of the surrounding scenery. The night we arrived, there was a full moon and we all went down after dinner to have a look. It was a sight that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. A perfect full moon hung in the centre of the night sky, bathing all the trees in a pearly glow. We could see the bold silhouette of Mount Kinabalu standing proudly against a velvet sky, fluffy clouds resting in the valley, glowing softly by the light of the moon. Other clouds, pale silvery wispy things, skimmed the tops of the ridge and streaks of silver nudged the base of the mountain. On one side, a huge threatening roll of cloud lit up occasionally with flashes of lightening from a storm, but there was no thunder to break our semi-stunned silence. Stars shone out from where the clouds were fewer, signs of a rainless night for our team. The only evidence of human settlement came from three pinpricks of light; apart from that, there was only soft darkness all around. We felt so isolated but in a good way. It kind of felt special that we were the only ones out there in the middle of that massive expanse of Bornean rainforest.
The rainforest itself has much to offer, which compensates for its slippery paths and huge hills for us to trek up. We have swam in crystal clear rivers and sat underneath waterfalls, something that is blissful after a long day walking as we let our sore limbs rest in the deliciously cool water. Rare moments of feeling clean are a definite luxury here in our trek bubble. Luxury comes also in the form of the food that the jungle provides. Pretty much all food on trek tastes amazing despite all coming from a can – in our trek delirium, we are all now devoted fans of chicken luncheon meat, something which definitely shows the level of jungle madness that we are all at! But we have been lucky enough, too, to find fresh food – wild ginger, chillies, long beans – that have elevated our meals to the next level. Our incredible guides have also cooked us some things, including jungle palm soup and sweet tapioca and milk. Yesterday we were treated to jungle donuts, which were absolutely phenomenal – the whole team was buzzing, especially after our guide told us that we had achieved the trek record for that particular day. We had beaten the time taken by all other teams to walk between the two camps by 11 minutes.
The foreseeable future also looks good, especially on the food front, as we sit in one of the best camps yet alongside a beautiful river waiting for trek resupply (a visit from Fieldbase staff, with our food rations for the rest of the phase). Alpha 5 are feeling positive as we look towards the next nine days, which may be both mentally and physically challenging, but which we hope to cover with long bold strides and a spring in our step.