Walking through Borneo

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 02 May 2015

Starting off the journey at Tawau. The Sikh community helped out the Nomadic Lion team.

In 137 days we completed a 2250km walk all the way through Borneo. Our organisation is called Nomadic Lion and we are a three man team: David Atthowe, from Norwich, UK, Yusep Sukmana from Ciamis, West Java, Indonesia and Gilang Yaksapurusa from Bandung, Indonesia, all 25 years old.

Our journey began in Tawau, Sabah on Aug 22, 2014 and we finished on Jan 4, 2015 in Kuching, Sarawak. Our route took us from Tawau to Semporna, to Sandakan, to Kota Kinabalu before coming down into Brunei. From Brunei we went across to Miri, on to Sibu and finally down to Kuching.

Up in the clouds at Mount Kinabalu.
Up in the clouds on Mount Kinabalu.

We walked all the way through Borneo with nothing more than a backpack and a lot of determination. We walked an average of 30km a day and would take a rest whereever we found ourselves each evening. We always carried a basic camp set up with us but very rarely had to use it thanks to the kind generosity of the people of Borneo who consistently offered us a place to stay.

It is a key part of our project and our lifestyle; to be ever ready to sleep anyplace and anytime; over our journeys we have found ourselves sleeping in graveyards, oil palm estates, abandoned houses, by the roadside, under trees, on the beach and in many other places.

Walking towards the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.
Walking towards the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.

Why walk

For me, we were born with feet not roots. Walking as a means of travel is as old as human beings. We were born to move.

We live in a fast paced, everything now society where the idea of slowing down to travel may seem like a strange concept. But slowing down our travel gives us the opportunity to meet many people, it gives us the human element, the chance to smile and say hello to a stranger; it gives us time to enjoy our environment and it gives us time to reflect and think.

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. The motion of walking stimulates the mind and gets thoughts flowing and moving, helping us to find solutions to problems. Many famous artists, musicians and creative people who have made some of history’s greatest discoveries did so whilst taking a walk.

A peace walk is a form of nonviolent action where people march to raise awareness of important issues and create change: Mahatma Gandhi led a very successful peace walk for instance.

We founded Nomadic Lion with the mission of walking the length of various countries to raise awareness about positive local environmental and humanitarian projects.

Walking Borneo is our second project; our first project was Walking Malaysia a 1110km walk completed in February 2014; all the way through Peninsular Malaysia from Johor to Perlis in 46 days (See Countryside amble for a cause)

We raise awareness in three ways; via social media, documentaries and presentations in schools and universities.

Going without food

We had a very tough first few days in our journey walking from Tawau towards Semporna when we ran out of food, and couldn’t find any restaurants or shops along the road. So we went three days without eating.

We overcame the hunger and lack of energy by being mentally strong and telling the body it had to keep moving and that there was no need for food. Having a strong mind was a key challenge.

The team's second major stop was at Sandakan, Sabah.
The team's second major stop was at Sandakan, Sabah.

We received sponsorship in cash and in kind from Tourism Brunei, Transglobe Expedition Trust, Sabah Tourism, Goldkartz Foundation, United Sikhs, Gerakh Sikh and many others. We were blessed to be invited to visit the beautiful white beaches at Pom Pom resort on the island of the same name.

During our journey, we made sure to spend as much time as possible in the rainforests of Borneo. In Sabah, we were invited to stay at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, in the pristine rainforest of Danum Valley Conservation Center. The place had a unique energy full of towering giant trees. And it is teeming with wildlife. We came face to face with wild orang-utans, tarsiers, gibbons, mouse deer, a cobra and many other animals during our stay.

Scorched then chilled

From Lahad Datu, we continued our journey to Sandakan and then up towards Kundasang. The stretch from Telupid to Kundasang was the most difficult part of the whole journey. For 10 days we were walking nearly continuously uphill.

Walking up steep hills with 20kg on your back in the hot midday sun can be a real challenge. We were drinking more than 10 litres of water each during this stretch just to stay hydrated.

Starting off the journey at Tawau. The Sikh community helped out the Nomadic Lion team.
Starting off the journey at Tawau. The Sikh community helped out the Nomadic Lion team.

Sabah Tourism sponsored our climb of Mount Kinabalu. It all came together at the last minute so we were ill prepared. We set off for the peak with no gloves, hat or scarf but just a shirt and a thin jacket.

We reached the peak at 5am and were standing around shivering whilst waiting for the sunrise. Nevertheless, it was a proud moment for us to be on top of South East Asia’s tallest peak.

Brunei love

We spent three weeks walking around Brunei which proved to be an unexpected highlight of our journey. We received a lot of love and support from Bruneians and our project went viral there on social media.

The other memorable highlight of Brunei were all the trees. One of the first things I noticed when crossing the border from Sabah into Brunei was just how green it was! On either side of the road there was an abundance of big, old trees and the sounds of life!

It was a sharp contrast to our walk in Sarawak later where the only sounds on the road were cars and the occasional bird. Brunei has done an amazing job protecting its rainforest and still has large areas of thick, primary rainforest, for example in the Ulu Temburong National Park.

It was so refreshing for me to be walking alongside green giants and the sounds of insects, hornbills and gibbons. Brunei also has a very old, healthy mangrove system where we found many crocodiles. It is truly the Green Heart of Borneo.

Throughout Borneo, we found many interesting positive projects and stories to film and tell. Our personal favourite from the journey is Kampung Rumantai, which is located 30km after Telupid, Sabah. It is a Dusun village where the people are working hard to protect their 1000 hectare forest and revive their culture.

Atthowe (right) and Sukmana at the peak of Mount Kinabalu.
Atthowe (right) and Sukmana at the peak of Mount

They are one of the last examples of traditional Dusun life and culture and are still living a life deeply connected to the forest. They are working alongside a local NGO called PACOS to empower themselves, protect their forest and to develop an eco-tourism programme. It is an amazing success story of a community and village with so much potential.

The people of Kampung Rumantai are not afraid to speak up and will take time to discuss any important decision together; as a community. This is the best model we have seen for helping indigenous people in Borneo and indeed in any country: community empowerment. A strong community will be able to withstand any challenges.

Part 2 of Nomadic Lion’s adventures will see them walk through Sarawak where they braved cobras and dodged reckless lorries. You can follow the writer’s journeys at www.facebook.com/david.atthowe

NEXT: Trolleys and sandals: carrying the weight of the journey -->>

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Walking through Borneo


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