Rainforest Challenge 2010
Guest post contributed by Hugh Ujhazy
The morning air is heavy with the smell of diesel fuel and cigarette smoke. Bleary eyes and anxious activity mark the departure from Johor Bahru into the untouched jungle two hours north. Planning, strategising – what have we forgotten? Will the winch cables last the next week? Do we have enough fuel, spare tyres and food?
Fifty cars, two hundred people, spare parts, mechanics and more strategising than teenagers on their first date. The objective is to traverse four stages of increasing difficulty along marked trails (if they can be distinguished by that term) through second growth jungle that has not seen a vehicle for over 20 years. Why on earth do they take part in the Rainforest Challenge?
Pose this question to an English tour operator who lives in Russia, a real estate developer from Hong Kong, a legal secretary from Paris and a product test consultant from Malaysia led to the same answer – the need to solve the challenges offered by mother nature and emerge chastened, triumphant but fundamentally changed.
Over two days of demonstrations, the teams were faced with vertical walls, acres of mud, water-filled trenches and time trials to complete them. Driver and co-driver co-operated to use winches, anchors, ropes, sand ramps and sheer willpower to get from point A to point B. Terrain most of us would turn back from as it is just too hard, was made to look easy by these guys.
Some of these vehicles are purpose built specials, with radiators in the rear, forward thrust front wheels and road clearances that could be used as shelters in tropical rainstorms. Others, with the exception of arcane stickers and knobby tyres, could be equally at home in suburban driveways. As has been often observed, it is not what you’ve got but how you use it.
Robb, who is English but run tours above the Arctic Circle in Croatia and northern Russia, finds the weather as challenging as the terrain. “It was minus 25 degrees in St Petersburg when I got on the plane,” he notes, wiping another slick layer of sweat from his face and neck. “How long does it take to get used to the humidity?” No good answer was available for that one.
“I got hooked on this when I met Louis in 2001. He arranged a tour for me and my girlfriend through the jungle. Stopping on a makeshift log bridge, we teetered over a huge drop into the river below. I had to see more. This visit translated into a career as an off-road tour operator for the last ten years. A tour of Croatia over 10 days gives breathtaking scenery at every turn,” Robb’s passion is echoed by the other participants.
June, a legal secretary from France, has attended every Rainforest Challenge since 2003. A slight wisp of a woman, she attacks every challenge and enjoys them all. “My husband asked me to come and get some photos for his magazine at short notice. I brought a camera and a load of responsibility for getting it right.” Evidently hooked, the next seven days without a shower or hairdryer, with hair constantly damp, at the mercy of the weather brings a huge smile to her face as she dashes off to check one more tie-down, one more container and prepare for this year’s adventure.
Even though we travel the roads and airspace throughout the length and breadth of Malaysia, only the smallest part of the tropical Peninsula is ever revealed. This group of people traverses a small area of land with an intense connection that cannot be underestimated.
By taking the turnoff from the expressway to the rutted road, to cross the river, just to see what’s on the other side. When you meet one of them, they can be clearly recognised by the stickers on their vehicles that cover up the scratches. Take a moment and ask them if you can go along. It will be worth the ride, mud included.