Monday, May 28, 2012

PLANTATION LIFE (1) - Oil Palm, Rubber, Cocoa, Jelutong Plantations

Malaysia is one of the world’s largest exporters of palm oil and rubber. Many of the huge plantations are under private ownership or plantation companies. The plantation I was in grew oil palms, rubber trees, cocoa and jelutong (for chewing gums) all on one contiguous block of land of approximately 50,000 hectares located in the oil palm belt of Sabah.

During the initial development stages to open new plantations, Planters endure harsh living and working conditions coping with the minimum of basic necessities. A couple of years before we went in, security was tense as these areas were constantly under the threat of pirates and heavily armed robbers. 

Sharing here are some photos taken during my 10 years living in and around the jungles of Borneo (Kinabatangan, Tabin and Sukau). 


Traveling in or out was greatly influenced by the weather, the sun, the moon and vehicles must be in perfect condition (breakdowns you huff and puff and scream and walk for hours to get to the nearest help - consider yourself lucky if another vehicle passes by).  Good weather and bright sunny day means you will reach your destination as scheduled. Distances are not measured by kilometres but by the hours. 


The fastest was by air - Malaysia Airlines System Bhd flies in twice weekly. Our airport, ooops, a shelter with some benches and the landing strip were managed by the Plantation. This part of the plantation (block) is fully developed with mature oil palms/cocoa/jelutong trees, factories, administrative center, research facility center, clubhouses, mosques, temples and a Primary school.

During bad weather air travel can be a heart thumping experience, choppy and bumpy sometimes flights were cancelled without notice - while on your way to catch your flight you may suddenly see the plane taking off. For urgent/ emergency cases we charter helicopters from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.


From Sandakan to Lahad Datu you will come across Sungai Kinabatangan and Sungai Segama. The nightmarish daily traffic crawls, queuing and the wait to get across these rivers is bound to test your patience. 

Depending on the weather and pray that no over-loaded lorry slips or overturns on these cable ferries; it may take from 3 hours to an overnight snooze by the roadside for your turn to get on the ferry. 

The slightest rain may cause the river to swell and fast-flowing water will make it impossible to cross.  Either you wait for your turn or head back home and hope for the weather to improve. BTW there were no public facilities such as toilets or restaurants, in cases of emergencies;  just leave this to your own imagination Okay! 

We can get the villagers to help us across on small boats (private sampans) for a fee and have another vehicle wait for you on the other side of the river. No public transportation available here.

Today these cable ferries are no longer in operation. 
(Photo: Bridge under construction).

River crossing inside the plantation.


 The narrow and bumpy jungle track winds through Tabin Forest Reserve. If staying atop the bucking bull for eight seconds is considered a risky sport and claimed as "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports" imagine you having to sit on the bull every 15 minutes for the 5-7 hours journey. For security reasons night travels across the forest reserve are not permitted.

During heavy downpours jungle tracks may completely disappear under water, log/timber bridges get swept away by the dangerously swift flash flood waters.

What are these? Logs lay across jungle tracks - dare to venture this trail will take you deeper into the forest and you may discover illegal logging activities going on.


Rivers are used mainly to transport heavy goods to the plantation. (Photo: Friends visit to the plantation – boating trip/cruise and to watch the villagers retrieve prawns traps/bubu from the river).


PLANTATION LIFE (2) – jungle clearings and earthworks

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