Sweet suffering on the Borneo Safari

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Story and photos by PAUL SI

The trail was tough and the mud was deep. We had gulleys to cross, and hills to climb, and many metres to go before we could sleep (yes, I was thinking of Robert Frost).

Welcome to the Borneo Safari, one of the toughest off-road vehicle events in Malaysia. The event, done annually in Sabah since 1991, has become ever more popular.

It started with around 25 to 30 cars in its infant years, swelled to over 200 cars in its teens and drew some 1,000 participants in its 26th year of adulthood. In early November, the thrill seekers came from near and far, including Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, China, the United States, Holland, Japan and Portugal.

Whereas previous editions served up some memorable moments in between leisurely drives and pleasant camping, 2016 offered the full throttled menu – torrential rain, mud galore, torturous holes and gulleys, strategically-placed log obstacles and super steep slopes.

There were also breathtaking mountain streams and picturesque camp sites which provided some precious downtime to relieve the adrenalin rush.

Racer Leona Chin, a.k.a Malaysia’s Drift Queen, also enjoys piloting a Mitsubishi Triton through muddy jungle trails.

Several people have to clamber up this muddy slope so that a winch cable can be attached to an anchor.

Several people have to clamber up this muddy slope so that a winch cable can be attached to an anchor.

No matter how much the cars were modified or upgraded to hard core level, the strain was simply too overwhelming for some. Minor breakdowns were promptly fixed by “MacGyver” mechanics, but several cars which suffered major breakdowns had to be left in the jungle, awaiting rescue by recovery team volunteers days later. These included shattered gears, broken winches and a wheel that simply came off its hub after all its six bolts were sheared off!

When the 2016 route had first been announced, there was disappointment that the hard core stretch comprised “only 40km”.

As it turned out, the terrain and weather conspired to serve up a “perfect storm” of challenges that had everyone raving about 2016 being the toughest, and naturally, the BEST Borneo Safari ever. Having taken part in in seven Borneo Safaris – 1992, 2008, and every year since 2012 – this writer would concur. This, from people who consider it “fun” to be forced to sleep upright in the seat of a cramped 4X4 while it sits shin-deep in gooey mud!

It was not all fun and games, though. There was a lot of waiting around due to simple maths – if a car took 10 minutes to clear one obstacle, a hundred cars would need over 16 hours! And there were many obstacles, and many cars. In fact, over half the participants could not even enter the hardcore trail because of such delays.

A 4WD can act like a rodeo horse

A 4WD can act like a rodeo horse

No rest for the wicked. The teams have to work through the night to get through the course in time.

No rest for the wicked. The teams have to work through the night to get through the course in time.

My Land Rover Defender and I travelled with the team from Mitsubishi Motor Malaysia (MMM), which included four of their latest Triton double cabs.

Slipping and sliding, the Tritons took on each challenge in turn; driving, winching and crossing rickety make-shift log bridges in dark rainy nights.

Eventually, the convoy was forced to halt because the group just ahead was still struggling with a tough obstacle. Surrounded by mud and jungle, and with no space to set up camp as it drizzled interminably, everyone had to try to sleep inside their cars. Ah yes, this was the sweet “Borneo Suffering” that many had joked about.

Each obstacle passed brought us a little closer to the eagerly anticipated gravel road that would signal the end of the torment, when we could relax by the beautiful river at Kampung Sorinsim.

Eventually, all would emerge safely, before converging on the Magellan Sutera Harbour resort in Kota Kinabalu for the closing dinner. Everyone who was there wore the event shirt with pride as they shared tales of common hardships endured, who did what where, and whose car suffered which mishap.

Very few were unscathed but all agreed that the memories were worth every scratch, dent, broken shaft, smashed window, or even overturned car.

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