Volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia.
Probably my first really meaningful introduction to the great outdoors was volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah (OBS). This post describes some of the places we went and the experiences we had including the Kinabatangan River in Sandakan, the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sepilok, Climbing Mt Kinabalu and more.
Volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah
My late father was working for Outward Bound Sabah at the time as the marketing manager (or something like that) and I guess to keep me busy he got me on a 10 day program with some local Sabahans. That was a great experience and I enjoyed it so much that he also managed to get me on a second program with some students from the UK, so I ended up unofficially volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah
The #1 Killer of Orangutans is Falling Out of Trees!
Apparently, this is why Orangutans are endangered (apart from poaching of course). I would of laughed if I heard it without seeing it first. They don’t die from falling, but they will probably get injured which is not good for survival in the wild. This is what the guide told us after we heard a snap and crash in the jungle, only to get a glimpse of orange hair before the thump on the ground. We continued to float down the river through the Borneo jungle, with the hope of seeing elephants silhouetted on the rising sun.
Kinabatangan River, Sukau Rain Forest, Sandakan
On the East coast of East Malaysia is a place called Sandakan. It was here we visited the Sukau Rain Forest Lodge and took a small motor boat along the Kinabatangan river. We were told it goes through some of the richest ecosystems in the world. It had been a late night of king prawns and rice wine and an early start before the sun rose, but we forced our eyes to stay open in hope of proboscis monkeys, orangutans and even elephants.
I was employed as a ‘guide’ for a group of students from the UK. I’m not sure how I got the job as my experience in Malaysia was minimal. I had only been there for a couple of weeks, didn’t know the language, and was younger than most of the students. In fact, this was my first overseas experience without family. The fact that I was working for free probably had something to do with it… this is why I say that I was ‘unofficially’ volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah. In actual fact, I was more of a tag-a-long. It turned out pretty good though because I got to do everything they did and it didn’t cost me a thing.
Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sepilok
This was probably my favorite things whilst volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah.
Our next stop was Sepilok where we helped out at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. It was mostly raking leaves and cutting hedges with a Malaysian style machete type knife called a parang. There was minimal actual Orangutan contact but it was enough not to feel hard done by. From there we planted coral (which I nearly died from because I can’t hold my breath very long) then went on to Mt Kinabalu.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu, Sabah
My last really memorable experience from volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah was climbing Mount Kinabalu.
At 4095.2 meters high it is Borneo’s tallest mountain and has one of the world’s most accessible peaks. I was not to climb with the UK students as I had done it a couple of weeks earlier with a group of local students. I wouldn’t say it was an easy climb, but it was very manageable. It is very tourist friendly and I saw children as young as 6 as well as elderly people climbing. We climbed for about 4-5 hours before reaching Laban Rata where we stayed overnight. The accommodation was nothing like the ‘hotel’ 5 minutes further on, but all of our costs where subsidised by Outward Bound Sabah so I wasn’t complaining. At about 0230 the next morning we rugged up and headed for the summit. After tackling a few wet ropes and a short nap at the top we saw the sun rise in all its magnificence.
This single experience is what created my unquenchable thirst of climbing mountains, trekking through the wilderness and going abroad in hope of seeing as much of this fascinating and beautiful world as I can.
After the time I had volunteering for Outward Bound Sabah, I spent the next 8-9 months exploring Malaysia and try to get back there at least once every couple of years. Although Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the capital I advise not to spend too much time there. You can see the whole thing in 2 days anyway. Pay next to nothing for a ticket to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and spend even less time there. Find a local guide or meet some locals at the pub and get them to invite you to their Kampung (local Malaysian village). This is where you will experience the real culture, and the locals are very friendly. I once got invited to a wedding of someone I didn’t even know, by someone I had only just met, and once I got there it was like I was family. It was basically a wedding in the middle of the jungle.
If you manage to get to a Kampung they will probably feed you, but beware of things you don’t recognise. We were camping on the top of some mountain once where I once responded to “try this” with just grabbing a big tablespoon and shoving it in my gob. My mouth was burning for an hour or so. The locals were amused and they gave me some rice wine to wash it down. Not exactly top shelf but I slept well that night.
P.S. We never saw elephants. Orang (man) U (of) Tan (trees).
Have you been to Outward Bound Sabah before? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments or anything else you want to say 😀 .