Monday, 9 December 2013

I Heart Sabah ...

How time flies! It seemed like only yesterday I was back in Sabah after a long time away (having left in January 1993). Now, it's been 10 years since I went back to Kota Kinabalu in October, 2003, with the now-defunct Ford Lanun Darat programme. Much has changed. Back then, it was near-impossible to find camping gear in KK, now there are many shops offering first rate items.
Memories came rushing back on the Borneo Safari recently, when the first day's campsite at Kiulu seemed so familiar. Then ... of course, it was where we camped during Lanun Darat #17!
Sabah was where it all began for me ... 4X4, that is. First, the early years of the Borneo Safari in the early 1990s, then the unforgettable Camel Trophy of 1993.
Lanun Darat was a very successful and popular programme run by Ford to help customers of its Ranger and Everest 4X4s to learn the fundamentals of 4WD and how to get the most out of their vehicles while enjoying the great outdoors. It ended several years ago but there is talk, and some hope of it being revived. If you own a Ford 4X4 and want to see that happen, do let Sime Darby Auto Connexion know how you feel. Call them, write to them, text them, twit it ...  

My story from October 2003

IN Sabah, everyone drives a 4X4 vehicle. At least, that seems to be the perception among other Malaysians. A first-time visitor stepping out of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport may well think that this is one rough country, given the number and variety of tough-looking vehicles in the parking lot.
Toyota Landcruisers and Hiluxes, Nissan Patrols, Isuzu Invaders and Troopers and Land Rovers are everywhere. And, in the past few years, the Ford Ranger has won over many Sabahans as well.
Ford Malaysia, recognising the importance of this easternmost state’s importance as a market for its pick-ups, recently held the first-ever Lanun Darat 4X4 expedition for Sabahans who own the Ranger.
Since the programme began five years ago, the 16 previous expeditions in Peninsular Malaysia have proved very popular among owners of the tough Ford trucks, many of whom return again and again for more thrills. It is also an avenue for Ford to maintain close rapport with its customers.
Lanun Darat #17 proved to be different in several ways. Logistics was the first challenge since quite a lot of equipment had to be flown in or shipped over from the peninsula.
For example, Kuala Lumpur offers shoppers a bewildering choice of tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear. But the options are limited in Sabah. Therefore, these items had to be purchased in KL and shipped over, and then distributed, free of charge, to the hundred or so participants who had eagerly signed up for the event.
When all these difficulties had been overcome, Sabah showed that it had many advantages for the kind of back-to-nature adventure that the Lanun Darat programme aims to promote.
A typical Lanun Darat event in the west would require two to three hours of highway motoring before the dirty bit - the real fun - began. In Sabah, the adventure started less than 10km from the flag-off, held at the Ford Concessionaires facility in Inanam, a light industrial area just outside KK.
The terrain was spectacular. One minute, you were on a rather ordinary country road. One left turn later, the trail began climbing steeply, and kept getting steeper.
For those of us from West Malaysia who had gone along for the ride, the most amazing part about these tracks, which were so steep that low-ratio gears had to be engaged, was that the local residents traversed them daily, to and from their homes.
The GPS (Global Positioning System) showed that we were less than 30km, as the crow flies, from downtown KK. No wonder the high percentage of 4X4 vehicles in Sabah – there are so many places people need to go to which ordinary cars simply cannot reach.
Before long, the convoy of 35 Rangers moved into the really mountainous area of Kiulu, where swift streams churned up excitement and trepidation in equal measures.
First-timers probably felt queasy watching the truck before theirs plunge into the fast current, and seeing those big wheels disappear beneath the seething waters.
The knowledge that it was safe, that the guy in front made it across, should be reassuring. And, it was, but you just couldn’t help worrying a little. What if I got it wrong? There were so many things that could go wrong: going in too fast or too slow; steering too far right or left; easing off the accelerator too early or too late ...
And then it was over, and with success, a feeling of overwhelming exhilaration, of achievement! It was great. This was what life’s all about! Until the next, bigger, deeper and faster stream.
All along the way, we learnt from each other. There was always some useful tip someone else had which I had not thought or heard of, or something I considered basic but which the other fellow never knew.
There was also the spectacular scenery to savour while negotiating rocky tracks that clung precariously to the near-perpendicular sides of hills which soared straight up on one side and, on the other, dropped to lush green bamboo-clad valleys a long, long way below.
We camped next to a lovely boulder-strewn river which provided crystal-clear water for bathing, and a farmer’ s hut which had Astro, via which the Sabahan football fans watched their team lose to MPPJ.
Lanun Darat ended with a drive along the white sandy beach to the Rasa Ria Resort at Pantai Dalit. By then, the participants did not need any prompting when asked if another such event would be a good idea.

Deja view ... same place (as photo above), 10 years later.