Do­ing it the hard way

A 4X4 ad­ven­ture is not about the des­ti­na­tion, but about how you get there.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By PAUL SI

FIRST-TIME visi­tors to Sarawak are of­ten sur­prised by the many four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cles (4x4s) they see upon step­ping out of the air­port. If they travel fur­ther afield than the ma­jor ci­ties and towns, they soon un­der­stand why.

As the qual­ity of the roads drop with in­creas­ing dis­tance from ur­ban cen­tres, so rises the ubiq­ui­tous 4X4s that are the lifeblood of the lo­cals, fer­ry­ing ev­ery­thing: peo­ple, gro­ceries, oil palm fruit, drums of fuel and even live buf­faloes!

With grow­ing af­flu­ence, more peo­ple can now af­ford to own cars, and the pre­ferred choice is the ver­sa­tile 4X4 dou­ble-cab pickup. The run­away mar­ket leader is the Toy­ota Hilux, which have be­come so pop­u­lar that its name has be­come the generic term for all other pick­ups, re­gard­less of brand.

The abil­ity of th­ese hardy 4X4s to reach re­mote places with un­paved roads or tracks al­lows the more ad­ven­ture-minded types to ex­plore the pre­vi­ously less-ac­ces­si­ble parts of this big and still largely jun­gle-cov­ered state.

Sig­na­ture event

The Sarawak 4X4 Travel and Ad­ven­ture Club (Sakta) was born about a decade ago, bring­ing to­gether a bunch of like-minded peo­ple in their quest for for­ays into the wild.

Sarawakians have long re­lied on 4X4s for their es­sen­tial trans­porta­tion needs. But the state has lagged be­hind neigh­bour­ing Sabah and even the more-de­vel­oped Penin­sula in or­gan­is­ing large-scale, high-pro­file 4X4 events or ex­pe­di­tions such as the fa­mous Bor­neo Sa­fari (held for over 25 years in Sabah) and the Penin­sula’s Rain­for­est Chal­lenge.

Sakta in­tends to make amends with the an­nual Sarawak 4X4 Jam­boree. This was first held on a mod­est scale last year with the suc­cess­ful sec­ond edi­tion com­pleted re­cently.

“Sarawak may be the last fron­tier in 4X4 ad­ven­ture, if only be­cause we are late in de­vel­op­ing a sig­na­ture event,” Sakta pres­i­dent Taip Sobeng said, “But we are up and run­ning now.”

The 2nd Sarawak 4X4 Jam­boree brought to­gether some 130 par­tic­i­pants in nearly 60 Land Cruis­ers, Land Rovers and, of course, nu­mer­ous “hiluxes”, from all over Sarawak, and also from In­done­sia, Brunei and even Aus­tralia. Their mis­sion: to ex­plore the jun­gles and rivers of Be­tong Di­vi­sion, be­tween the towns of Sri Aman and Sara­tok.

While it is or­di­nar­ily an easy two-hour drive from Sri Aman to Sara­tok, a 4X4 event is never so much about get­ting from point A to B, as it is about the jour­ney, about the road less trav­elled, or go­ing where there is no road at all.

Storm be­fore the lull

With heavy, per­sis­tent rains pour­ing down in the pre­ced­ing fort­night, there were equal mea­sures of ap­pre­hen­sion and ex­cite­ment as

the flag off date drew near.

There had been re­ports of swollen rivers, flood­ing and land­slides, all of which could wreak havoc on the planned route. But it would also mean plenty of slippery mud and hard driv­ing, which was ex­actly what 4X4 en­thu­si­asts were look­ing for­ward to.

How­ever, as it turned out, Day 1 dawned bright and sunny, and the fair weather re­mained through­out the four-day ex­pe­di­tion, un­til it was al­most all over. The hard­core driv­ers came pre­pared to cope with al­most ev­ery con­ceiv­able chal­lenge – ex­cept fair weather and firm tracks!

Still, there were enough stretches of mud and steep as­cents and de­scents to get the adrenalin buzzing, and the trails were tough enough to keep the MacGyver-like me­chan­ics busy with im­pro­vised re­pairs to keep the cars go­ing.

While the jour­ney might have been deemed easy by off-road stan­dards, there were enough dra­matic in­ci­dents to re­mind ev­ery­one that noth­ing could be taken for granted when go­ing off-road.

When the con­voy stopped for a break, one driver parked his ve­hi­cle a lit­tle too close to the edge of the track, and the soft ground be­neath his heavy ve­hi­cle crum­bled, send­ing it tum­bling on its side.

Al­though shaken, none of the oc­cu­pants were hurt, and the re­cov­ery gave other par­tic­i­pants the chance to put their skills and equip­ment to good use. In no time, all cars were un­der way again.

Re­viv­ing a drowned car

A scarier mo­ment oc­curred when another driver over­shot the des­ig­nated turn­ing point while wad­ing across the Le­m­anak river, and his ve­hi­cle ended up in the deep end, known by the lo­cals as a “lubok”.

The two oc­cu­pants hastily scram­bled out through the windows and could only watch help­lessly as the 4X4 rapidly sank to the bot­tom, with only its roof-rack peek­ing above the wa­ter.

Within sec­onds, the swift cur­rent flipped the heavy Land Cruiser onto its back, with only the four tyres barely vis­i­ble be­neath the sur­face, prompt­ing some­one to wise­crack, “Ah, that’s why this car is known as the Ninja Tur­tle”.

Stunned by how sud­den this had al­most been a disas­ter and re­lieved that no one was hurt, the sea­soned off-road­ers quickly got to work. They rigged lines to the sub­merged car and used a winch to flip it over onto its wheels, be­fore pulling it onto dry land in next to no time at all.

The me­chan­ics among the par­tic­i­pants then got to work, drain­ing all the lu­bri­cants and flu­ids (in­clud­ing en­gine, gear­box and axle oil), re­moved the fuel in­jec­tors and cranked the en­gine to purge any wa­ter that might have got­ten into the cylin­ders. Scroungers gath­ered up fresh mo­tor oil from var­i­ous donors in the rest of the con­voy, and the en­gine was run­ning again within two hours, to loud ap­plause.

Even more routes

That proved to be suf­fi­cient drama, and the rest of the ex­pe­di­tion was more un­event­ful, cul­mi­nat­ing in a warm wel­come at the long­house com­mu­nity of Rumah Em­peran in Ulu Skrang. There, the Iban res­i­dents put on a full tra­di­tional wel­com­ing cer­e­mony, com­plete with gongs, a “mir­ing” sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­mony and co­pi­ous quan­ti­ties of food and bev­er­ages.

Fun was had by all, and most par­tic­i­pants were talk­ing of plans to re­turn with their friends for next year’s jam­boree to the Kapit area (which has un­til re­cently been ac­ces­si­ble only by boats go­ing up the mighty Ra­jang river).

“We are en­cour­aged by the sup­port we have re­ceived from many par­ties, in­clud­ing the 4X4 com­mu­nity, var­i­ous cor­po­rate spon­sors and, in par­tic­u­lar, the state gov­ern­ment which is keen to de­velop new ar­eas for tourism,” Taip said. “We are look­ing for­ward to next year’s event, which we in­tend to be big­ger and bet­ter in ev­ery way.”

Thanks to the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts, more roads have been built over the years, link­ing up with for­mer log­ging tracks to bring many more in­ter­est­ing re­mote places within reach of or­di­nary peo­ple, as long as they have 4X4 ve­hi­cles.

“There is no bet­ter time than right now for Sarawakians to visit th­ese beau­ti­ful places in our own back­yard. We should bring along our friends from other parts of Malaysia as well as other coun­tries,” Taip said.

“Sakta has been at the fore­front of such ad­ven­tur­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, and we will con­tinue our ef­forts to find and visit the less-ex­plored parts of our beau­ti­ful state.”

He added, “Th­ese 4X4 trips are an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop unique tourism prod­ucts for Sarawak, where the des­ti­na­tions are unique and in­ter­est­ing. But the jour­ney it­self is re­ally the main at­trac­tion.”

Sakta pres­i­dent Taip Sobeng says, ‘Th­ese 4X4 trips are an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop unique tourism prod­ucts for Sarawak.’

Cross­ing a river dur­ing the Sarawak 4X4 Jam­boree near Sri Aman. — PAUL SI

Ri –

One wrong wrong turn while wad­ing a river can re­sult in the whole 4X4 be­ing sub­merged.

(Above) A full wel­com­ing cer­e­mony from the long­house com­mu­nity of Rumah Em­peran in Ulu Skrang. (Be­low) The 4X4 con­voy wait­ing to get across the river.

Tak­ing a break dur­ing the Sarawak 4X4 Jam­boree.

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