You’d expect 4x4 hardcore offroading to be something of a men’s game. Our res‍‍‍ident cili padi Beng was having none of that, however. Boldly, she went, to Borneo Safari 2017.

To many, that sounds like the end of the world. Alright, that might be an exaggeration but you get what I mean and you very well know how true this is. Yes, it was time for none other th‍‍‍an the most awaited for off-roading experience - Borneo Safari 2017.

8:30am and we have flag off! The Borneo Safari convoy set off from the Sabah Tourism Board with all trucks passing through the “Pintu Gerbang” lead by an Isuzu MU-X flanked by a trio of D-Max Monsters finished in black, red, and white.

It took two hours after flag-off before the last truck was seen passing through the “Pintu Gerbang” heading towards the direction of the jungle. All geared up, the media team convoy made our way in the Isuzu monsters towards our expedition of eight days in the wilderness led by Hilary Francis or in short, Ali Boy.

Entering the jungle felt a bit like we were being quarantined with no connection to the outside world. Of course, in a good way… For me at least. It gave me the time and opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life and listen to their stories, especially those that frequented Borneo Safari.

The first half of Borneo Safari was rather easy; thus I took this opportunity and went around checking out the Frankensteins and talking with the owners regarding how their run was, what went wrong, what was needed to be fixed. I can’t help but find myself beaming whenever these guys go on and on about their babies and the things they have been through because it truly does show how passionate one can be towards something. Trust me, these guys can really go on and on and on about their babies… Just like any other car enthusiast.

Imagine. The insanity of driving up a 45° hill was considered one of the easier tasks among having to go around a tree within limited space while on a slope as well as driving over huge oversized rocks with a high chance of the vehicle toppling over or going through what is called a v-gulley filled with mud. It really got me thinking of the capabilities of a vehicle and the limits we can push it to given the right equipment.

Thankfully for us, we also had our own ‘Frankensteins’ to try out – the MU-X and the three D-Max Monsters. Driving around in the 3.0-litre manual, the D-Max felt easy to manoeuvre, whilst its steering wasn’t as heavy as I expected of a 4x4. However, I did find the gears heavy when shifting and being 160cm, I had to always sit a bit more upright than usual in order to see the front of the vehicle. Then again, we were off-roading and where scaling an uphill is concerned, it is close to seeing nothing but trees and the beautiful sky.

Laying on my camp bed feeling quite tired at 5pm, I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the dinner being prepared by the chuckwagon, people around me having conversations and sharing stories about themselves and the surrounding environment of people walking around, unzipping their bags, packing and unpacking. Can’t help but reflect on the little things that we take for granted daily – clean toilets, clean running water, clean floors, a roof over our heads that would not fly off at any moment due to bad weather conditions.

Rise and… Still dark. Four in the AM and it was time to get set to head off to the hard-core section! This time, I was seated in the MU-X 2.5 Auto along with media friends Khairi from Santai and Locksley from Karotaku. Masri from Isuzu was our instructor of the day and I was the first to get a go at the MU-X grasping the opportunity to enter what they call Devil’s Gate (entrance to hard-core).

Trying hard not to shit in my pants upon arriving at Devil’s Gate, I prepped talk myself me‍‍‍ntally while in the physical world, I had Masri in the passenger’s seat telling everyone to save him because I was driving… So encouraging, I know. Looking at the 20-30 degree ascend with a bend, the time came. I was focused, good support in and outside of the car, I could hear everyone cheering me on and I go for it! With a little struggle, I controlled my throttle ensuring I do not over accelerate, and alas! I made it to the top without any winching needed! Cheers everywhere and I have overcome my first hard-core obstacle! Smiling like the idiot I am, it was a relief and no doubt, a courage booster.

Waking up to a sight of people eating, laughing and just having a good time, my meal was reserved for me at one corner as my now‍‍‍-deemed camp family was worried I did not have food to eat when I woke up. Later that night, a few of us joined some locals to really experience what nights at Borneo Safari were really like. We sang songs with a ukulele as our music instrument and I even had a go at their local delicacy – Mentaku! The only thing that was missing was a campfire. It was because of nights like these that I truly appreciate the fact that we had no phone lines and we could give our 100% attention on living in the present of what was going on in front of our eyes instead of our phones.

words and photos by BENG LIM

Having heard so much about it, the excitement in the build-up was intense; reactions I received were constant looks of shock followed by a wish of good luck when others come to understand it was I who volunteered to go for Borneo Safari. That really got me questioning the severity of the event and truth be told, I got a little anxious. A little. Telling myself not to fret, I prepared myself for what was now the most unforgettable 8 days of my life.

8 days in the jungle. No proper toilets.
No proper showers. No internet connection.

Adventure Into The

All packed up and prepared to face the unknown, I drew the curtains to see this amazing sight filled with countless rows of 4x4’s where the ends of the lines could only be imagined, not seen. Excited, I ran down and pranced my way through what seemed to be over 300 trucks modified in their own distinctive manner with 900 plus participants all awaiting the flag off. The energy in the air was so infectious, just being there amongst the crowded trucks and people was enough to put a smile on your face.

Being a tad bit confused as to why some trucks looked like the Frankenstein experiments, I then got to understand that within the whole expedition, there was an ongoing competition called the special stage(SS) whereby these participants would require to go through certain obstacle courses, those managing to do so in the fastest time attaining the most points.

Naturally, driving on muddy hilly terrain, 4L was engaged to get the most traction and power needed to overcome difficult terrain, ‍‍‍such as the steep and slippery paths. Such instances are when more torque is required as compared to momentum. Other options such as 4H come into play when a little less traction but more momentum is needed with less torque, while 2H would be used for normal day to day driving where only the back wheels receive power.

Between the MU-X and the D-Max, the one major difference that I immediately felt was the backside of the MU-X constantly swaying from side to side similar to the slithers of a snake. This could be due to the overhang of the MU-X being shorter than the D-MAX giving it less weight at the back of the vehicle for stability. It felt as though the car was constantly drifting which was fun for me as I quickly understood how to manoeuvre the vehicle according to my directions.

Having the right amount of torque is essential to move the vehicle forward but too much and the wheels would start digging into the ground. Once the right amount of torque is present, momentum comes into play for the vehicle to continue rolling. With these two elements accounted for, the last ingredient to complet‍‍‍e this concoction is steering the vehicle onto the right path.

The steering wheel was spinning as though it had an attitude of its own and it was strenuous to continuously pull it back to place. With the unevenness and muddiness of trails, a lot of concentration was required to ensure the right path was chosen along with maintaining the torque and momentum. One wrong move and it would be winching time… Which was EXACTLY what happened once Masri took over as the driver.

Winching is required when the vehicle is literally stuck in a rut and not able to move frontwards or back. Thus, finding an anchor point, which is usually a tree or another 4x4 with a stronger winch. Once the winch is set, the stuck vehicle attempts to fidget its way out using all different type of techniques the driver and co-driver deem best. The co-driver plays an important role in this whole process as he/she is the one that gets out of the vehicle to secure the winch and directs the driver on what to do. Communication between the two must be precise and clear as wrong movement could create a bigger rut. Once done, the winch is slowly retracted and co-driver gets back into the vehicle to continue the journey.

Throughout the days in hard-core, the trails became increasingly difficult which resulted in more cars breaking down and needing to be fixed on the spot which then caused a massive delay and hold up for others. Some groups did not even get the chance to enter Devil’s Gate due to the delay. Worse came to worst as there were news of vehicles breaking down and had to be left one side to be rescued after Borneo Safari ended.

Coming to terms with the severity of the trails, Ali Boy (our convoy lead) led us to an alternative route which required us to backtrack for if we had continued, it was unsure of when we would make it out of the jungle. Spending the last few nights with strangers who have now become like family, personally, I did not want it to end. Of course, prior exiting the hard-core section, there was one last major obstacle we had to overcome.

The trail that is seen in the picture was created with the teamwork of everyone present as the previous trail was not stable enough for tens of hundreds of trucks to pass. It would have been impossible to pass had it not been reformed.

Once we conquered our last obstacle, it was smiles all around, jokes in the air, laughs being heard left, right, centre. A sense of accomplishment that everyone shared because we all went through it together. The muddiness, the rain, the sun, the sweat, the stench, the hardship. We were all in it together.

8 days of being in a jungle gave me a refreshed perspective on things. Bathing in rivers 2 metres wide with endless supply of water made me appreciate all the little things just a little more intensely. Having an opportunity to mix with people from all walks acts as a gentle reminder to be grateful and thankful for all that I have right now.

Often, we are so immense in the digital world that we forget how good it feels to disconnect from our phones and focus on what lies in front of us. To live in the moment.

“The grass is always greener on the other side” is all about how we choose to look at life. Yes, we can choose to focus on the negative but what about all the positive that is around. No toilet but endless supply of water. Warm weather but trees surrounding as shade. No internet connection but many interesting people around to interact with.

8 days in the jungle. No proper toilets. No proper showers. No internet connection. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.