Hi, I’m Vicky and I volunteered with OuTrop in 2014. I thought I would share some of my thoughts of the experience with you.
I don’t have a background in conservation or biodiversity research. I actually work in the pharmaceutical industry as a medical affairs specialist. This basically means I provide detailed information on medicinal products to healthcare professionals, and work on brand campaigns from a medical perspective. So as you can imagine the volunteer programme was a world away from what I normally do! But, I came here as I have a love of animals and nature, and I’m always on the lookout for new volunteer experiences. So I was very excited when I found out about OuTrop and their volunteer programme.
Despite receiving information on the work of OuTrop and the conditions in which the researchers work, I still had no idea what to expect, and I have to say it was a surprise to say the least!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well travelled and have stayed in some very unusual places and volunteered in diverse environments, but nothing prepared me for the Sabangau Forest! What didn’t help is that I have a deep fear of most insects, particularly those that have eight legs or those that can fly. So I had to think long and hard before I even committed to coming as I knew there would be many, many insects and I was right! On my first day in base camp I was introduced to the biggest spider I have ever seen!!
I was also dumbfounded by the forest itself. I couldn’t believe how difficult it is to walk through it. I say ‘walk’, but there isn’t much walking involved in my case. It’s more like clambering, climbing, crawling, tripping, falling, fighting the liana, scrambling, and so on!
As one of my biggest fears was the insect life – I was terrified of what I might come across as I fought my way through the forest. I was equally terrified of falling off the wooden planks, which are used in some parts of the forest to walk on, or of my foot going though one as they are quite decrepid. And nothing prepared me for the heat and humidity when you are working in the forest. Compare it with going into a steam room fully clothed and exercising for several hours, then you might have an idea of what it is like. You emerge from the forest as if you have taken a shower with your clothes.
So, when I first arrived I thought “what on earth am I doing here and how am I going to make it through?” But at the end of the volunteer programme, I couldn’t believe how quickly it went by and I was so sad about leaving. I now see base camp as a place of beauty and tranquility. Yes, it’s a bit tired, but that’s part of its charm. I no longer noticed the ants and I stopped checking for cobwebs and spiders a long time before I left. Yes the ‘shower’ is cold, but it’s refreshing after you have been sweating in the forest, and you do have the most beautiful view of the forest while you are washing. Even washing your clothes is a pleasure as you sit outdoors looking out at the greenery surrounded by the butterflies, skinks and squirrels.
I now have an appreciation of the insects – I loved to see the praying mantis and have even had one on my hand. The moths freaked me out initially as they have a habit of dive bombing my head, but I’ve also managed to hold one of those. I’m now working on being able to hold a beetle….. then maybe a spider…..
I still found the forest challenging to navigate at the end of the programme, but it is magnificent. It is a sea of browns and greens and is alive with life, even though you may not see it all through the denseness of the trees. But, you will see striking butterflies and stunning birds, and not forgetting the auburn flashes as the red langurs fly through the trees, or the orange glow of the orangutan as the sun bounces off their hair as they amble along through the trees. Priceless!
Nothing compares with waking up to the sound of the gibbon song and the sounds of the forest, or eating your lunch whilst the bearded pigs snuffle for food outside the dining room, or the inquisitive squirrels darting about everywhere, or the red langurs and orangutans paying the base camp a visit, watching you watching them. Is there anything that can better that? Perhaps only eating your lunch in the forest whilst an orangutan and her daughter eat their dinner above you in a tree – how many people in this world can say they have lunched with a wild orangutan in the Bornean peat swamp forest? Not many!
So the big question………heaven or hell? Definitely a lot of heaven and a little bit of hell!!!!
This could be you this year! Apply now to be a 2015 OuTrop volunteer here