MIRI: One of the take-homes from this year’s Sarawak 4×4 International Jamboree was that the duration of the event was too short at four days considering how huge Sarawak is and the great variety of tracks here.
The second take-home was the Brunei team consisting of 29 trucks, according to its penghulu Khalid bin Hj Ali.
They were competent off-roaders, their machines were well-oiled and well equipped, and most importantly, they had esprit-de-corps and a sense of urgency that drove them to clear obstacles quickly for the rest of the convoy to pass. Hats off to Team Brunei.
Back to the duration of the event: a historic event like the Camel Trophy usually takes 10 days.
More recent tropical events such as the International Rainforest Challenge took nice days in just the small jungle of Bera, Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia.
Another one, the Borneo Safari, took eight days around the Kota Belud area in the northern tip of Borneo.
An observer might assume that one of the reasons for this is that the Sarawak International 4×4 Jamboree is still in its infancy, this being the fifth edition while the International Rainforest Challenge started in 1997 and the Borneo Safari in 1991.
However, Mr Meek Mape has the full history.
One of the pioneers of the 4×4 Travel and Adventure Club of Sarawak (Sakta) and the one of the founders of the Sarawak Jamboree, Mape said that this was more of a family off-road event.
That being the case, this jamboree was more for outdoor camper-lifestyle enthusiasts rather than pure off-roaders.
And this was mostly the case as experienced by the 350 participants in the 135 trucks that plugged through 235km of unpaved tracks, including about 35km of tracks that hadn’t been used by timber trucks for years.
The expedition went through and passed by river after river, large and small, almost all of them crystal clear and invitingly placid.
The river crossings that hindered the passage of the trucks by up to two hours per truck were seized upon by non-drivers for invigorating dips in the cold water.
While the daytime hours were filled with action packed off-roading, winch and snatch strap recoveries, the nights were more challenging.
The campgrounds were muddy because of the intermittent rains and participants had to slosh through the mud to get to the camp-bed.
The fourth night of the event was marked by the heaviest downpour of all with rain pounding on the common tent and streams of water gushing under the camp beds.
Those who had left their Wellingtons at home, regretted their lack of footwear. Many others took advantage of the rain forecast to buy new yellow Wellies.
Anyway, off-roading is safer and more comfortable when one packs for the trip with a variety of footwear – Wellies for the mud, sandals for river walking, two pairs of walking shoes in case one pair gets soaked.
Now, about the vehicles. Toyota Land Cruisers dominated the off-road landscape in Malaysian Borneo and this was reflected in the Sarawak International 4×4 Jamboree with the exception of a few Isuzu Invaders and D’Max, some Mitsubishi Pajero and the Medic’s fully kitted Nissan Patrol
Even in this sea of Japanese brands, three off-road enthusiasts kept the Land Rover flag flying.
Bladae, one of the first presidents of Sakta, drove a Land Rover 110 with a 300 Tdi engine and auto gearbox from a donor Discovery.
“I installed a 13,500 lb TRI Scout Pro electric winch just two weeks before the event and it worked well. The acceleration of this truck is not great but it’s slow and steady over all the terrain. The dampers are OME. The Landy is maintained by my brother’s workshop in Kuching,” he said.
Another outstanding Land Rover was the Discovery Series 1 driven by Bruneian Mohamad Sharizulhakim Sha’ari.
This beautifully customised truck was powered by a Toyota 14B engine with aftermarket turbo-charger, axles from a Toyota BJ60. The rig was maintained by Bruparts Autotech Enterprise in Bandar Sri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. Spare parts were sourced from VM Autoparts, Sabah, said Zul.
For Land Rover purists who criticise the retrofitting of the Land Rovers with Toyota and other popular Japanese engines, it must be remembered that a vehicle is made up of about 5,000 components.
That being the case, when Toyota engine parts are far more easily available than Land Rover parts in Borneo, then these Land Rover enthusiasts have to be appreciated for their initiative in keeping their Land Rovers alive and rolling.
Anyway, the whole ethos of the Land Rover brand, especially the utility Series and 110/Defender models, as an off-road adventurer is that the vehicle is a go-anywhere vehicle and field-repairable.
Land Rover never had the scale of Toyota in the context of a wide range of engines to choose from. In fact, English billionaire Jim Ratcliffe saw Land Rover’s lack of power plant choices as an opportunity to launch the look-alike Ineos Grenadier powered by a BMW-made 3.0 litre straight-6 engine.
To wrap up, congratulations to Sakta for discouraging single-use plastics and providing barrels of drinking water for the media team to decant from.
And congratulations also to members of the expedition for minimum littering to preserve the pristine condition of the rivers; and for zero plastic debris.
Off-road camping enthusiasts, keep your calendar clear for next year’s edition of the Sarawak Jamboree.
Hopefully, there will be more focus on organising for small groups of six trucks and to distribute these groups all along the pristine Sungei Tinjar so that there is happy camping instead of 20 trucks jostling for camping space.