Borneo Safari 2015 : A Taste of an Off-road Adventure

By Patricia Hului
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I’ve flirted with nature before but my flirtation has only gone as far as a one day hike at a nearby national park or kayaking along Santubong’s shallow coastline.

When I received an email from my editor that I was going to Borneo Safari International Off-road Adventure in Sabah from Oct 25 to Nov 1, my first thought was “Yay, Sabah!”

Having spent three years in the land below the wind during my undergraduate study, our neighbouring state has always had a special place in my heart.

When I found out that Borneo Safari was an exclusive and upbeat eight-day 4WD expedition covering about 1,000km of some of the world’s most challenging and varied off-road terrains, I started to doubt myself.

I had never gone off-road before but I have had my fair share of rough road journeys thanks to my maternal grandmother’s longhouse located in rural Belaga, and the road getting there is not for faint-hearted drivers.

Imagine going up a hill on gravel or muddy roads (depending on the weather) at less than 45 degrees before making a sharp turn to the right – any wrong move would have you plunging into a deep ravine or crashing head on with an incoming car – that was the road to Belaga.

So an off-road journey? Camping for eight days? My confidence in the Kayan blood flowing through my veins had me saying in Cantonese ‘Sap sap sui’.

But the doubt I had on my survival skills rested on the thought – how was I going to be able to share a camp with a group of strangers, most of them full of testosterone?

Still I packed up my courage; together with boots, hiking shoes, dry-bag, camera and other essentials to make off-road camping as comfortable as possible, heading to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, Oct 24.


Introducing the Monsters



Standing next to White Monster during a Special Stage (SS) in Penampang.


Saturday was spent learning about my upcoming trip and people behind the scenes of Borneo Safari 2015.

Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA) has been the main organiser for Borneo Safari since 2012.

Participating teams would compete for points allocated during special stages (SS) throughout the expeditions.



Man and machine in the Borneo Safari Special Stages

The Borneo Safari Off-road Challenge is no doubt one of the toughest 4WD competitions which pushes man and machine in nature to their limits in the Special Stages (SS) challenges where they are judged based on their driving skill, innovation in vehicle recovery, obstacle clearing, cooperation, team spirit and the time they take to complete a Special Stage.


They are judged by recognition of driving skill, innovation in vehicle recovery, obstacle clearing, cooperation and team spirit.

Points are deducted for over-speeding, dangerous driving and vehicle equipment abuse.

There are also the Tag-on cars who are not participating in the competition but only as tag alongs for the expedition.

I was then introduced to other media practitioners who were going to face the next few days together with me.

My favourite part of the ice-breaking, however, was being introduced to the Monsters.

As diamond sponsor for Borneo Safari, Isuzu Malaysia provided three units of Isuzu D-Max as media cars nicknamed White Monster (3-litre model), Black Monster and Red Monster (2.5 litre models) for the expedition.

Each of the Monsters had a roaring face of a gorilla illustrated on its front doors that as you looked closer you could not help but feel intimidated by these machines.

But when you step into the vehicles, you first notice how comfortable the back seats are and how much leg room the D-Max had.

The Isuzu D-Max, with two ‘Borneo Safari Vehicle of the Year’ titles under its belt having performed outstandingly as a standard vehicle, derives its strength and capability from the DNA inherited from its truck brethren.

Thus, something told me from our first encounters, the Monsters and I were going to be good friends during Borneo Safari.



Gorillas emblazoned on the front doors of Isuzu D-Max.


Day 1: Rolling, rolling, rolling


We gathered on Sunday morning in the midst of hustle and bustle of Gaya Street getting ready for our off-road adventure.

Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun flagged off the convoy with the Monsters taking the lead.

Altogether there were 320 modified four wheel-drive (4WD) with 1,198 participants joining the expedition.

To celebrate its silver jubilee, Borneo Safari this year took on various obstacles primarily in the highland interior near Tenom and Keningau.

We were then all pumped with adrenaline as we watched our first Special Stage (SS) at Penampang district.



All the 4WDs parked together on Oct 25 during SS in Penampang.



One of the competitors’ cars during Borneo Safari Day 1 SS.


Throughout the eight-day expedition there would be SS plotted along the route where competitors fight to become the champion of the Borneo Safari.

At the start of my journey, the first word I learned from these 4wd enthusiasts’ lingo was ‘rolling’.

Every time we had to stop for a break and were ready to move again, Chief Media Hillary Francis (nicknamed Alee Boy) would say “rolling, rolling, rolling”.

We headed to Keningau via Tambunan, a valley district with an average altitude of 750 metres.



Hillary Francis (centre) with local vendors in Tambunan.


When I finally noticed the sun start to set, we had reached our first camp site; a clearing near an industrial part of Keningau with a knee-deep stream close by.

We were taught to set up our bed camps and had our first meal courtesy of the Chuck Wagon led by Mustafah Ayub Abdul Rahman whom we dearly referred to as ‘Pak Ayub’.

The Chuck Wagon, however, was parked across a stream, marking one of my many firsts in the Borneo Safari when for the first time in my life I had to cross a water body just to get some food.

My first night on the Borneo Safari had me going to bed with awkward feelings under a roof made of two large canvases full of people I just met a day earlier.



Dinner is served across the river!


Day 2: Where art thou camp beds?


My group comprising local journalists and Isuzu representatives bonded after spending the first night together, thanks to all the snoring.

With our camp beds only two feet apart from each other, we were able to hear each others’ sounds at night, which might have been embarrassing for some but lightened the mood in the camp.

After we had our breakfast and packed our lunches at 7.15am, we departed from the campsite.

I managed to say goodbye to the campsite by having a bath in the river as we were told there would be no natural source of water where we were heading.

Along the journey, I tried to catch as many signs and landmarks as I could that I managed to sight SK Membulu, Kampung Nantabakan, SK Kalampun, Tadika Harapan Kalansanan and Klinik Desa Dalit.

These sites were the last bits of civilisation I saw through the White Monster’s window before I was looking out at nothing but oil palms a few hours later.



Red Monster looking powerful at the Dalit Oil Palm Estate.


By 11.09am, we reached Dalit Forest Reserve, leaving the oil palm scenery behind and half an hour later all the D-Maxes breezed through a dusty and narrow road.

Afternoon came, and the media convoy parked at the roadside to take our lunches inside the comfort of the Monsters.

Full and energised, we were later informed that the road ahead was not a road at all.

What is an off-road adventure without a road anyway?

That was when the hardcore section began. Most of the obstacles were streams that cut through our track.



Teamwork is essential to get a 4wd out of every obstacle.



Hilary working on clearing the road with a chainsaw.


But the media team members had amazing teamwork and skills, making every obstacle passable.

At 4pm, we finally arrived at our D-Max campsite which was full of long grass, but the drivers made quick work of it by flattening the area with the vehicles to build up our camps.



Puddle of mud was no problem for the Isuzu D-Max 3.0 which we nicknamed the White Monster.


Hilary getting the cable ready for winching while Noor Azman Shah Shaharuddin drove the White Monster.


As happy as we were to arrive at our camp site earlier than expected, the bad news was the vehicle carrying our camp beds was still far behind.

We spent our time chatting, getting to know each other and when we eventually ran out of topics to talk about, we turned to our natural surroundings, our attention landing on a single leech crawling along the ground.

Finally at 9pm, our long-awaited camp beds arrived. We stopped paying attention to the leech and bedded down for the night.



Camping in the middle of nowhere.


 Day 3: Cleanest Village in Sabah


A fellow journalist said to me, “Pat, do you know we are going to the world’s cleanest village?”

I cocked one eye and asked how so.

He explained the name of the Kampung Kolorok sounded like ‘Clorox’, a brand for bleach.

“So it is the cleanest village in the world! Get it?” he said.

I found myself chuckling at his joke and yes, the next destination was a Murut village called Kampung Kolorok, Kemabong Tenom.



Our camp beds packed up and getting ready to go.


Before we started rolling, we caught some of the drivers welding a hydraulic pipe powered by a car battery.

Apparently one of the cars delayed last night had a leaked hydraulic pipe.

It was fascinating to watch how the team members make do with whatever tools they had to fix any mechanical problems.



A driver welding the hydraulic pipes in the middle of the jungle.


The journey started as early as 7am where other journalists and I started to hike ahead of the cars to capture the oncoming vehicles tackling the rough roads on camera.

The first obstacle was only 100m away from the campsite but the whole media convoy only managed to pull through two hours later.

We then heard the cars ahead of us were also stuck, and it would be another two-hour wait to get across a small river.



Red Monster going up a steep cliff.


I was impressed by how the drivers and co-drivers managed to winch their vehicles out of the roughest road by tying the ropes or cables to a tree, a ground anchor or even to another 4WD.

Mother Nature was compassionate towards us later in the afternoon as the day passed on without any rain.



White Monster’s front tires rolling its body up a small hill.



Uneven ground no problem for 4WD vehicles especially Isuzu D-Max.


To each of our surprise, we arrived in the world’s so-called cleanest village – Kampung Kolorok – on Tuesday 4pm, two-days ahead of schedule.



Residents of Kampung Kolorok welcomed us with smiles.


More about the Borneo Safari International Off-road Adventure in:

Borneo Safari: The adventure continues

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