TransBorneo Last FrontiersPOSTED BY Kaynis Chong ON 14 December 2019
Part 1 The adventure begins.
This story is for off-roaders who love the adventure of going to places never been before – way off the beaten track.
Also, they must be physically fit, have a suitably modified and equipped 4×4 vehicle and know how to use their winch and ground anchor.
Which brings us to Borneo, the third-largest island in the world and the ultimate paradise for off-roaders with clear rivers abundant with fish, mountains high, and tracks only for 4×4 that go on for days and days into the deep jungle.
About four years ago, Anuar Ghani, one of the pioneers of Overlanding in Sabah and Sarawak in the late ‘80s, decided to return to overland adventure after more than 20 years in his legal practice in Kota Kinabalu.
He re-activated his North Borneo Explorers Sdn Bhd and organised the TransBorneo 2017 “into the heart of Borneo”. It was an ambitious effort requiring the cooperation of the Malaysian and Indonesian governments because it involved crossing borders where there was no Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ). Basically, it was going into no-man’s land.
Ultimately, this group in 2017 did not make it because of miscommunications between the organisers and the political and army chiefs at the local level in Indonesia. You could say that the group was mostly in detention for two days at the Simanggaris border near the border town of Sungei Ular in Kalimantan Utara (Kaltera).
This year, however, the bureaucratic agenda at the local level was sorted out and TransBorneo Last Frontier 2019 made it across the northern half of Borneo, from Lawas on the west coast of Borneo and Ba’Kelalan in the interior west of Sarawak to Tawau, Sabah, where the Sulu sea washes the eastern seaboard of Borneo.
This year’s route, however, was different: anticlockwise starting from Kota Kinabalu to Keningau and entering the jungle from Ba’Kelalan (Sarawak) to names of settlements that seem connected only by rivers.
And that was the start of the adventure. Things started to go wrong from the first day: one of the most reliable members of the team in terms of physical fitness and off-road technical skills was Hilary Francis aka Ali Boy. He was one of Anuar’s team members in the early days.
His 25-year-old Isuzu Trooper overheated while climbing up the Crocker Range on the first day of TBLF and the Trooper had to be left behind at Keningau. Both him and I (as his co-pilot) had to be re-settled in other cars. As usual, our personal gear also had to be redistributed. I had seen many such cases before in off-road expeditions where people and their equipment were separated, and they without a change of clothes at night.
I made sure that my personal gear in a small backpack stayed with me when I was re-assigned to Vehicle 13: recovery vehicle piloted by veteran Robert Kamijan and co-piloted by his brother Rayner.
This was another farce because the experienced Robert had to pull-out due to work commitments and the car was then piloted by Rayner who had no experience in 4×4 recovery work.
Fortunately, many others in the team are very capable off-roaders. In the second half of the expedition, after Binuang, Rayner has re-defined himself as a super recovery team-mate, working the winch lines and anchor points up and down the killer Selukut Hills.
One of the significant challenges was that after the river crossing of Sungei Pa’Karayan, Rayner’s recovery vehicle, a Toyota Hilux 2.8, suffered from electrical problems when the engine was swamped and he attempted to re-start the engine while deep in the water, something that the drivers had been warned against.
Lebai did some magic with his OBD scanner and re-started the Toyota, but the engine couldn’t be allowed to die, so Lebai took over the wheel.
In the meantime, the first part of the convoy had already moved off and left us behind nursing the Toyota along.