This year’s World Environment Day, marked on June 5, calls on people to get outdoors into nature, to appreciate its beauty and importance.

One way to really celebrate this is to go deep into the mountainous interior of Sarawak, Sabah, and Krayan province in Kalimantan, Indonesia, with the second Heart of Borneo (HoB) Highlands Eco Challenge (HEC) on July 20-29.

This offers participants a chance not only to be closer with pristine mountain forests but is also an avenue to help out in local conservation projects.

The biennial HEC goes far beyond an ordinary tourism package. Rather, it is an adventure event, initiated by the indigenous people living in the Maligan and Kelabit highlands, that combines history, culture, and stewardship of nature.

Participants will travel by 4WD and then walk through ancient Bornean rainforests, and visit villages and historical sites. These are places the ancestors of the highlanders once passed through on their migratory routes thousands of years ago.

The highlands of Sarawak, Sabah, and Krayan are located inside the Heart of Borneo, which is an initiative to conserve the mountainous core of this great island that was agreed upon among the three governments of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia in 2007.

The aim is to conserve the biodiversity of the Heart of Borneo for the benefit of the people who rely upon it through a network of protected areas, sustainably-managed forests, and other eco-friendly methods of using land – including ecotourism development.

Heart of Borneo

Buduk Nur village in Ba’ Kelalan, Sarawak, which is part of the Heart of Borneo initiative.

A transboundary grassroots initiative called the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples in the Highlands of Borneo (Formadat), is organising the Heart of Borneo Eco Challenge.

Rather than a huge trail running competition, the challenge is more of an ecotourism journey that delves deep into the roots of the people and the natural surroundings that have nurtured them.

Besides appreciating the beauty that the highlands has to offer, participants will do their part for nature by planting trees and bamboo with the community of Long Semadoh, a settlement in a very ulu, or upriver, part of Lawas, Sarawak, close to the rugged border with Indonesia.

The activity is part of a river restoration and conservation programme initiated by the villagers with WWF-Malaysia’s technical support. The trees and bamboo planted will help to reduce riverbank erosion, which is causing farmers to lose their padi fields.

Participants will also get the chance to learn about:

> A sustainable fishing method called tagang;

> How villagers make traditional soap using essential oil extracted from the tenum tree;

> How a traditional type of rice called adan is grown sustainably using buffaloes in the highlands.

Event director and Formadat Sarawak deputy chairman John Tarawe says the Heart of Borneo HEC II is an ecotourism adventure that incorporates hands-on conservation actions.

Compared to the first HEC, the route this time will be expanded into the highlands in Long Pa’Sia’, Sabah; and Krayan, Indonesia.

“This event is unique because it is the only crossboundary event to be held in the highlands, deep in the Heart of Borneo,” says John.

“We are brothers and sisters divided by national borders. We share a common heritage and land as the Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang, and Sa’ban people.”

While administratively divided between Malaysia and Indonesia, the peoples of the highlands actually share a common linguistic and cultural heritage, and a common homeland. They share close ethnic and family ties, and there is much movement across the border even today.

“Even though a boundary is drawn between us, we are of one root, one ancestor, and one culture. We have no other homeland, save the patar dita’ Borneo (highlands) where we have lived for generations,” said Lewi G. Paru, the customary chief of Krayan Hulu, Indonesia, back in 2006.

John adds, “I hope this ecotourism event will bring us together to protect our remaining forests and enhance security along the borders in the highlands.

“This event will also allow highland communities to share their culture with visitors,” he says.

Heart of Borneo

Breakfast in a traditional shelter at a village during HoB Eco Challenge 2015.

John explains that the Heart of Borneo HEC aims to promote the pristine purity of the area so there will be a limit to the number of participants to ensure no stress is placed on the environment.

“So the concept of treading lightly, taking nothing but photographs, leaving nothing but footprints, is core to the organisers,” he says.

The HEC offers six trails to cater to different interests of jungle trekkers. For hardcore trekkers, the 10-day, nine-night Heart of Borneo trail is recommended, as the adventure starts with a journey to Sipitang, Sabah, and ends in Bario, Sarawak, after crossing the neighbouring highlands of Long Semadoh and Ba’ Kelalan in Sarawak and Long Bawan in Kalimantan on foot and by boat and 4WD vehicle. This is the longest trail and ends in Bario on the first day of Pesta Nukenen, the Bario food and cultural festival.

Those who have less time can opt for shorter trails such as the five-day, four-night Jungle Exploration trail, or six-day, five-night Chillaxing in the Highlands trail.


The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge II is now open for registration. For more information, visit formadat.com, facebook.com/hobecochallenge or e-mail ecochallenge@formadat.com.