“Like what they say, in any expedition, it’s the journey that makes the difference, not the destination.” – John Kong
Around 3.30pm, 7 of us assembled at the residence belonging to SWEPA Barefoot Project Chairlady, Datin Jeanette Tambakau. And who were we? We were Datuk Aminah Ambrose (SWEPA Vice President), Ursula U (SWEPA member), and 4 non-SWEPA members namely, Patrick Low (a renowned photographer from Kuala Lumpur), Datin Viannie Undikai, John Kong (photojournalist), Mdm Leong (reporter from Daily Express’ sister company, Overseas Chinese Daily News), and of course, not forgetting the writer of this travel log, one and only me, the Coordinator For Solar Mamas.
We set out over half an hour later in 2 4WDs driven by Datin Jeanette and John. I was honoured to ride in John’s smashing black Toyota FJ Cruiser along with Patrick and Mdm Leong. With John behind the wheel, our journey was truly an enjoyable one. On the way, he took us to a place by the roadside to have a local delicacy called Sup Gearbox, a richly flavoured beef bone marrow soup using the cow’s joint (a huge chunk of bone which resembles a car’s gearbox) as the main ingredient. This is normally enjoyed with white rice. RestoranAnjungNikmat was the name of this simple eatery located somewhere near Kota Belud.
We finally reached the township of Kota Marudu at nightfall, about 7pm. The other vehicle which had long gone before us had arrived much earlier and the ladies were already waiting for us at a nearby seafood restaurant for dinner. We joined them half an hour later, after checking into our hotel rooms at Marudu Inn. Couple of hours after that, we were back in our hotel rooms.What happened beyond that? Ask the rest. I was already in bed after a good shower and wash-up.
Sun, 04 Sept 2016
Around 7am, Mdm Leong and I (we shared a room, by the way) headed down to the hotel lobby to meet the rest for breakfast. Datin Jeanette and Datuk Aminah were about to leave in John’s 4WD for their rendezvous with the team from the Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department (Bomba). Where? I only found out later that the Bomba’s helicopter was already waiting for them at the Kota Marudu Hospital to take them into Kg Sg Magandai.
The rest of us stayed behind to have breakfast while waiting for Parasul, a staff from AFCS, to arrive and take us to Tandek for our heli ride. When Parasul arrived, we got news that the container truck that carried the solar equipment (shipped all the way from India’s Barefoot College)was waiting for us at the post office area. Hence we took off in Datin Jeanette’s vehicle driven by Ursula, with Parasul taking the lead in front and the truck trailing behind us.
The convoy’s journey to Tandek took us about half an hour. Upon arrival at the field, we stumbled upon a herd of buffaloes enjoying a mud bath. What a sight to behold! Unfortunately, they started moving out from the mud pool as their peace had been disturbed by these human intruders.Gah!
So we parked our vehicles and waited. The truck did the same. Soon a group of Bomba men in several vehicles came. They were to inspect the cargo in the container brought over by the truck. This was around 9am.
15 to 20 minutes later, we heard the sound of the helicopter. By this time, John had rejoined us. For me, seeing the big bird was like meeting an old friend. I only remembered Bong who was one of the heli crew. I was thrilled to know that he too remembered me as we shook hands.
His colleagues wasted no time in off-loading the solar equipment and transporting it to the heli. Patrick and Mdm Leong were to take the first ride with some of the solar equipment into Kg Sg Magandai. They left around 10.30am. It was a spectacular sight to watch the big bird take off the ground and make its way round to the designated village.
In no time the heli was back for the second trip. Some more cargo filled its empty belly. The remnant of the SWEPA team which consisted of Datin Viannie, Ursula, John and myself were to go in the third and final trip. We were finally airborne at around 1pm.
The ride took about 10 minutes to reach the village. Solar Mama Tarihing Masanim of nearby Kg Sonsogon Magandai was already there waiting for us with the rest. With the help of the villagers, all the solar equipment along with all our stuff was finally resting at the new REW, short for Rural Electronic Workshop. Mdm Leong and Datin Jeanette wasted no time in preparing lunch for this hungry troupe.
After we were all satisfied with our simple meal, we took a tour around the village while John went off on his own, taking his drone along with him. We dropped by the village’s balairaya (community hall), the camping site of the Bomba of 60 strong men of which 18 were from the special force called STORM. They were personally supervised by Tuan NordinPauzi, Director of Bomba Sabah, and his Assistant Director of Operations, Tuan KhairulAzuwan Ibrahim. When we got there, these men were in the middle of preparing dinner. Tuan Nordin courteously extended an invitation to us to join them for dinner. How lovely!
We continued our tour and ended up by the river. DatinViannie, Datuk Aminah and Mdm Leong wasted no time in soaking themselves in the water. Patrick, after many coaxings, finally found his way into the water only to get drenched by the ladies’ splashings! Those of us who didn’t go down into the water made their way back to the REW for a much-needed shower.\
Dinner time came and we arrived at the dinner venue only to be greeted with a wonderful surprise. A feast of yummy-looking and mouth-watering array of food was set before our
unbelieving eyes. Barbequed seafood of all sorts was laid on a long table covered with banana leaves. These men could actually cook up a sumptuous meal! So after prayers were uttered, we wasted no time in digging into the chow. They were really good and tasty! We truly enjoyed ourselves. After our tummies couldn’t take in anymore, we returned to the REW for some whiskey. We all ended up sitting outside the workshop watching the beautiful starry sky. Then, one by one we all headed back into the wooden building to turn in for the night.
Mon, 05 Sept 2016
Morning came and we were again invited to join the Bomba men for breakfast. Once again, they never failed to impress us with yet another round of delicious chow – fried noodles and fried rice. Coffee was served as well.
Here we were joined by Lena (Tarihing’s daughter) and her husband.
After we finished, we headed back to the REW to get ready for a meeting with the villagers. A crowd of 20-30 people came including children. After a word of thanks, Datin Jeanette then explained to them on the follow-on procedures and what was expected of them, now that the solar equipment has been successfully brought to them. We managed to wrap everything up in an hour or so.
Finally the time came to make our exit. We packed up and headed over to the school field to wait for our ride to arrive. About 1pm rain clouds started to fill the sunny skies. Everyone started to become anxious. Can all of us make it out? Then the rain started to pour. Our very concerned contact in Kota Marudu had given us word via SMS that the heli has not yet left the town.
After about half an hour of anxious waiting and wondering, the sound of the big bird was heard cutting through the rain. Joyfully we waited for it to land. With our backpacks on our backs and stuff in our hands, we were motioned by the Bomba men to make a quick dash for the heli. Once everyone got in, the heli took off. The ride back seemed endless with the big bird maneuvering to avoid the rain and strong wind that came with it. Finally we could see the buildings of the small town. Then the hospital. Then…suddenly the big bird took a sharp down turn and landed on the field. What a relief! We all sort of tumbled out of the aircraft, glad that we were all safe and still in one piece.
Wilvia and Jeff (both AFCS staff) were already there on standby to meet us and take us to their boss’s house where our vehicles were kept. After picking our vehicles up, we were homebound. We even managed to make a pit stop to have another round of Sup Gearbox before continuing on to Kota Kinabalu. Home sweet home.
Swepa is deeply grateful to Encik Nordin and his team of Bomba personnel who very successfully airlifted the solar panels to Kg Sg. Magandai.
By Geraldine Asuncion, SWEPA Barefoot Project Committee Member.
Write-up on The Daily Express by Mary Chin