OUCC Proceedings 11 (1983)

Borneo 1983 - Introduction

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Martin Laverty

Map (63kb - 1500x1000 gif)

The trip described here arose from a chance remark that the logistics of arranging a caving expedition to the Bau-Serian limestone area near the capital city of Sarawak did not seem anywhere near as daunting as arranging a trip to Mulu, or even much more than a trip to Spain. Originally, a full, university-backed expedition was envisaged which would ask permission to work with and through interested Sarawak government organisations. As things worked out, four of the people who wanted to go were medical students (two from Birmingham and two from Oxford) and were closely constrained by their courses as to when they could go. The time was established by informal contacts to be extremely inconvenient for a joint expedition, as Sarawak was about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its incorporation into Malaysia, a celebration into which all effort was being directed. Consequently, as accommodation could be assured by the fifth member's family connections in the area, it was decided to take all the organisation upon ourselves. In fact, this course meant that a minimum of organisation was needed, and no artificial organisational hierarchy, with all the unnatural strains that can impose on a caving trip, was needed. The only group organisation undertaken was the deciding of mutually agreeable dates, arrangement of cheap, yet flexible, air flights, and discussion of fall-back options and minimum personal finance limits.

Most organisation was personal: the medics applied for such grants as are available for use by them during electives. Otherwise, organisation boiled down to arranging insurance physically through vaccinations and antimalarials and financially through the BCRA scheme. Choice of baggage was important as we were committed to carrying it all at once if necessary. Fortunately, personal gear requirements are minimal in the tropics, and for group caving gear we took:

Once in Sarawak, accommodation was taken in cheap Chinese hotels (where you pay by the room, not the person), or in caves, or with local people, who tend to be very friendly, especially in the more remote areas. (We were said to be the first European visitors to one village for fifteen years, and were very hospitably entertained despite coming unannounced. They would have been very offended if we had insisted on camping nearby and cooking for ourselves to 'save them trouble'.) We ate the local food, thus keeping costs down, discovering a whole new cuisine, and reducing our load. It can rarely be economic to take your own food supplies on a foreign caving trip, except in very extreme conditions in uninhabited areas.

For transport, we were confined to local buses, which were often slow, hot and crowded, but were cheap, generally efficient, and provided their own entertainments, and our feet. Car hire was investigated and found to be in very short supply, and expensive. Motorcycle hire would have been useful, but we didn92t find anyone doing it. A coastal vessel was used to reach the caves of Niah via Miri from Kuching, but the air fare back was thought worthwhile in view of the speed and less monotonous catering.