Taming the Deramakot forest
It was the first time in recent history that the Kinabalu Four Wheel Drive Club (KFWDC) planned a Borneo Safari route from which there was no escape from the jungle.
There was only one way in and one way out of the Deramakot jungle from Oct 25 to Nov. 1.
With the pledge to Tengku Adlin, one of the founding lights of Sabah's nature tourism, that the Borneo Safari would re-establish the old track from Telupid to Sandakan through 150 million-year-old forests, the Borneo Safari 2009 organising committee set to work.
It was a seemingly impossible task, taking into account that the whole convoy would be a hodge podge mixture of 150 trucks of wildly differing capabilities.
Our route from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan through the Deramakot forest would take the entire convoy five of the eight days planned for this annual event.
Twenty one of the trucks were competition ones that were put through their paces in two days of special stages (SS) at Tinusan Bay near Sandakan.
The Borneo Safari challenge saw these competitors in both local and international categories compete through 18 SS along the way, with the bulk staged in the closing days around Sandakan.
The other participants of the safari were mainly scouts, officials and members of the media along with the "Tag On" group.
Being an event of a non-profiteering club, the KFWDC allowed active members to sign up and tag along with the safari.
Active is defined as members who have paid up their annual fee of RM100 as well as the accompanying entrance fee of RM165. A flat fee of RM800 per vehicle was charged for each "Tag On" car with a maximum number of three people per car.
The gargantuan task of moving the 150 convoy cars along some tough sections resulted in delays and one day where the distance travelled was only 400 metres.
The Isuzu D-Max was home to us for a good part of the trip, courtesy of Isuzu Malaysia.
The twin cab 3.0-litre vehicle, fondly called the "Monster", was well known as a veteran of the Sabah Interior, on its third safari tour apart from also completing the Dura-Mission from Be'kalalan to Meliau Basin (Sarawak deep interior).
Driving the D-Max was easy enough given that it came with the standard modifications - three-inch body lift, Extreme Trekker tyres, Warn winch, snatch and truck strap - required for a "hard core" off road trip like this.
Having the ability to switch from 4WD to 2WD was an advantage when driving on the relatively smooth surfaces of milling trails leading to Deramakot to conserve fuel.
We made the entire five days on one tank with a quarter to spare with relative ease.
Perhaps the most challenging time was the third and fourth day, when the media convoy had to make way for the competitors to pass through so that they could compete in two specially carved out special stages in the middle of the forest.
As night fell, we had to pitch camp when the route we were on was blocked by other participants camping in the middle of the route.
Without any water source in the vicinity, the few bottles filled with river water became our "shower" for the day.
We had our fair share of winching and more winching with the many slopes that were made even more slippery with both high powered competition vehicles thrashing through as well as inconsiderate driving by others, a point which the organisers must address in future events.
On day five, having to clear the most difficult part of the hard core section was a slush section - the 150-metre stretch of weight sucking muck.
The sight of a well laid road was one to relish as the convoy made their way towards Sandakan with the help of an organised convoy lead by Sandakan's men in blue.
The next three days saw the competitors purely challenging the SS on a land sandwiched between the army camp and Sandakan Airport.
Spectators crowded the event site, being the weekend and brought much fanfare to this otherwise sleepy hollow.
Perhaps the more appreciated award was the Dura-Man award sponsored by Isuzu which carried an RM2,500 prize money for the most helpful and durable assistance rendered, apart from being a team player.
This award went to Mohamad Zaky, better known as Abu, who helped tirelessly in seeing the convoy through the obstacles!
Hopefully the Borneo Safari next year will see the organisers better prepared with better routing for different categories as well as dissemination of information, something that was sorely lacking this year.
By Tony Yew and Yamin Vong
(Source: Cars, Bikes & Trucks, New Sunday Times)