I was sending an email the other day, first thing in the morning, still tired from the night before, and ended up ranting. The funny thing is, it’s probably the most realistic account of my life as the expedition photographer. I’ve edited it a bit as it originally formed part of an email, and more has happened over the last few days…..this is a summary of some of my last phase when I was hopping around projects. If I get the chance I’ll edit it again to make it read better and make more sense!
Before you read it, don’t let it put you off Raleigh, or wonder about your kids going on it – some projects have very few incidents, and when you read the stuff below, it probably reads worse than it actually is.
….when you’re in a tiny kampong you finally realise you got there after
bouncing along the roughest roads you’ve seen for several hours, only covering 70km. You get dropped at one side of the river (where you soon find out all your supplies will be dumped) and have to wade across, then walk 1km to end up in a 15 house kampong (village) which is your home for the next 10 days until the loop (resupply) vehicle comes to move you on. The kampong has one car that keeps breaking down, and your only contact with the outside world is the
daily, crackly, hard to make out HF radio contact, and your only chats with
the locals are through an 18 year old Malaysian participant who can speak 80% of their lingo. The only washes you have are in the river you cross every day, (usually carrying the pipes for the gravity water feed system), and upstream you sometime swim or play frisbee. Home is the local community hall, overlooked by the JKKK’s house (the head of the village).
Ten days later, you head from the kampong in the loop vehicle, moving around projects for the next few days, covering up to 600km
on a road trip – more than half of it off road, shaking up your inside as you bounce
along the road to the next destination for a night in another wee kampong where they are building a kindergarten, met by 25 kids running towards the land rover. On the way back out at early o’clock the next morning, you bounce along the road back out again, and spend a night in the jungle after trekking in to the BBC’s old camp at Imbak Canyon, trying to beat the dark, having just rushed to pass logging trucks spewing out dust for 0.5km behind them, so you can make the river before the pending storm makes it too high to drive across. Once there you are pestered by the group for mail, have to pester them for PR quotes, and smile happily and pretend you are really up for the special quiz they have organised for their welcome guests – the only new faces they see in 3 weeks. As to not miss an opportunity, you then fight the temptation to crash out to do a night trek. 5am beckons before you’re ready for it, and at 6am you’re trekking back out to the land rover with someone who’s had sad family news so you can send them back to base on a bus, but while trekking you’re constantly wondering if the river is still low enough to drive back over… then bounce along to the next destination.
After a rare treat of a hotel for a few hours sleep at night in a stopover town (Lahad Datu), it’s up early again to greet the party from the Ministry of Youth and Sport who have flown in to visit the project site at Danum Valley, which is 60km from any other human habitation. You have lunch with them, trek in with them, trek back with them, have dinner, take pics of them tree planting, attend a science talk with them, then feel obliged to stay up and sing karaoke with them, before grabbing 4hrs sleep and getting up to watch the sunrise with them, leaving at 0430, then dumping pics on your laptop (specially requested on the land rover) so they can be taken back to the PR person for press releases while you stay there to help build a suspension bridge. A few days later after lugging stones and concrete up steep banks, up a river, or across a river to build bridge foundations, you are settling down for a last relaxing night at the camp. Before you know it, you’re acting as a runner between the radio and the PM acting as medic, as someone has got a fever and you are trying to contact field base on one radio, and have another person walking to the rangers camp to radio a boat to come up the river incase we move the person to the hospital. Within 10 minutes my last night is cancelled, and I’m packing my kit, stuffing dinner down my throat (as I don’t know when I’ll next eat), and heading down the river on the ranger’s boat from the camp, guided by spotlight (and headtorches when they cut the engine as the river was low), then bussing it the next morning to Lahad Datu hospita, 2.5hrs away, with with someone who is about to have a temperature of 40.8c taken. Then you try and discharge them (much to the frustration of the staff as a doctor hasn’t seen them yet, so they rapidly find the time for a quick consultation) so you can try and pick up a ticket for them at the airport so they can join my prebooked flight back to fieldbase, as they switch rapidly between a pale white, and deep red face. Meanwhile you try and convince the ticket agent, who is questioning whether they should fly, that they have been checked out at hospital and they are ok to fly, and “don’t worry, I’ll
have him back in hospital in KK within 2 hours”…
Arriving back in field base a day before changeover to catch up with pictures, and see what you’ve taken 4 weeks ago, you then have to juggle with requests to help
organise games to keep participants occupied the following afternoon at changeover, cope with 6 conversations going on at once in the office, and all the time, 24×7, the white noise of the radio coming across over the loudspeakers incase there is an incident (of which there are several – 3 people were hauled out of Danum for fevers while I was there), and jumping up every time someone sends a fax, as the beeping sounds identical to a radio call from a group.
I was straight into selecting about 40 pics from thousands to go in a magazine, other folk being taken off islands ill, trying to help book flights for 15 staff for a post expedition dive trip, while I should be looking out pics for an
exhibition and CDROM etc etc…
When I was in Danum my journal was almost up to date (except 2 weeks from initial jungle training) and I’ve written nothing in it since arriving back at field base (which staff on projects seem to think the easy life is).
By the time I get back to field base, any letters I received at changeover seem like they were months ago as so many things have happened, and in reality, it was 5 weeks between getting one letter and me being back in field base I think. I’ve got 6 postcards I was going to write, and I’ve had them for weeks, and never had a chance to write them. The only one I’ve written was to a mate, and that was in Chinese, written by someone on my behalf, to see if he could understand it.
The last week’s I’ve been shitting in deep holes (or maybe not deep, depending how long we stopped for), getting leeched on the way back from them, but only finding out once I’ve returned to my sleeping liner in my hammock, bathing in rivers (or sometimes a trickle of water flowing down a craftily placed bit of bamboo), trying to remember to put on sandals all the time as we saw a small scorpion kicking around, or boots in the jungle for the same reason (or snakes), carrying a water pipe under the ‘bat cave’ logs etc etc. I got off lightly with the leeches – threw hundreds off, but only 4 ‘bleeders’ – several have been leeched on their nuts!
I’ve been trying to keep my head down recently as a trek leader has been hauled off the island to hospital so I’ll be doing anything to avoid being selected as a stand in (since I’ve done my mountain leader training) as that’ll mean I’m trekking for a week or so rather than doing the photo stuff. I’m still rushing on with the photo stuff, but I may be back in the Crocker Range trekking again before I know it.
BUT…don’t let this put you off, it’s bloody great fun, and all an adventure!!
While I was browsing around I also found the blog of a previous expedition’s PR Officer.