Alone in the jungle, our morale at its lowest ebb since we embarked on our journey we were faced with a brutal choice. Crack on into one of the last unexplored corners of the planet, knowing we were too short on food to cover the ground, or admit defeat and call it a day. The seriousness of our situation cannot be understated, our lives could potentially be relying on what decision we made. We would have to head around 40km as the crow flies on a bearing through mountainous jungle, whilst living on 2 packets of noodles a day, carrying bergans laden with 40kg of supplies.
Once the extent of our challenge fully hit home, we did what any bootneck worth his salt would have done. We stopped and made a hot wet. Completely dejected and miserable from a disgusting day clearing our path we both weighed our options.
Whilst sat inspecting the map we realised the river running past the settlement we were aiming towards was only 25km away. Looking at this the beginnings of an extremely audacious plan started to come together.
We set to camp as the heavens unloaded on us and our minds focused on the path we had decided upon.
What followed was 4 of the hardest most brutal days of our lives. Following a magnetic bearing over a jungle clad mountain range and descending into “Kal-Bar” (West Kalimantan). The sheer number of rivers, ravines and extremely steep ground we were covering meant our rope was permanently top flapped in our Bergans for quick access to help us in covering the ground.
Any time we stopped an army of insects would descent on us, with most of their bites being similar or worse than a wasp sting, it soon started to take its toll. Constant wet, hot conditions meant extreme vigilance was required keeping on top of our numerous cuts and injuries to prevent infection. Each morning we would be woke by a cacophony of insects, birds and primates all vying to be the loudest creatures in the jungle.
On the evening of our 4th day trekking we reached the river we had been aiming for using nothing but a bearing. We set up camp ready to embark on one of the most insane plans of our lives in the morning.
For those of you that haven’t guessed yet, the plan we had gone all in on was to make it to the river, and from there we would construct a raft to head to the next settlement which was 35km downstream.
Luckily for us both, I have experience in raft building from the Port Patrick charity raft race, and Louis could remember a Ray Mears episode where he jacked up a bamboo raft.
Unfortunately for us both, the raft I made sank in less than a minute of casting off, and Louis couldn’t remember that episode very well. But between us we were sure we could “cuff it” by this point, we didn’t have any other option.
The night before we had stumbled upon a series of bamboo bushes by the river, ideal.
After 4 hours of hacking, splitting and lashing the bamboo together the “HMS Elson” was complete. Bergans strapped down, makeshift oar complete, bananas sourced, the only thing left to do was the obligatory Chad phot (photo).
Nervously we cast of into the headwaters of the Sungai Melawi. The first 10 minutes were brilliant. Smooth and fast we could feel the distance slipping away to civilisation. That was as long as the river played ball. Soon the flow picked up intensely and with no way to steer we were left at the mercy of the “Sungai” (river). She wasn’t the forgiving sort. A fallen tree channeled the river into a funnel of dangerously fast flowing water. We managed to hit straight into the tree. Fighting with the current we had to use all our strength to wrestle the raft free. This happened on several occasions with us both having near misses with the current dragging us under fallen logs.
Each time we would free the good ship Elson, it would be left with slightly less bamboo and significantly less buoyant. Our lashed down bergans had been in the river numerals due to the large number of times the raft had flipped, fortunately our dry bags added another of buoyancy to our raft.
After several hours of near misses, swimming to steer the raft, and a tropical storm our nerves were completely frayed.
That’s when we hit the white water, on seeing it, we prayed to any deity who might be listening and braces ourselves for what was coming. Fortunately, the raft held strong and spat us out the other end.
The sungai happy we had made it through its baptism of fire, it began to slow and meander gently. Upon rounding a bend in the river we were faced with the most beautiful site imaginable. The first populated settlement in Kal-Bar.
We rode into to town on a battered an broken raft. The locals by the river could not believe their eyes when two saturated white men came sailing out of the mountains. After the initial shock, the good natured hospitable spirit of the Dayak soon shone through and we were sat recounting our journey in broken Bahasa to a local who had taken us in and given us a hearty meal. After a week of 2 packets of noodles a day, we soon polished it off.
With that we had completed a crossing through Borneo using a route to our knowledge that has never been undertaken before. We were sore, tired but elated that our necky plan had paid off. Unfortunately, the Sungai had claimed it scalps in the form of our gear. I don’t think A dry bag has been invented to deal with the level of punishment ours were subjected to. We were left with completely waterlogged gear, the biggest casualty by far being the video camera we had been using to document our journey, morale crushing. All our other electrics has been individually sandwich bagged so had survived the purge, but the destruction of our camera came as a huge blow as we have compiled some amazing footage of our journey so far.
That evening we began to plan the next and what will be the final chapter of our Borneo crossing, the route to Pontianak.
If you have been inspired by our grueling, disgusting and dangerous shenanigans, it is worth taking the time to appreciate why we are doing this. In using our challenge to raise funds for The Royal Marines Charity and Help for Heroes we aim to give back to men and women who face daily challenges harder than any island crossing. We appreciate all and any support we receive and would be grateful if you could take the opportunity to donate to these two amazing charities here . . .
Anyway, we’re still on a visa clock so will update another blog as soon as we find a chance. Take care and Merry Christmas.
Ant & Louis