Nine students and two teachers from The Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts embarked on a fantastic 15-day-long school trip to Borneo. The third largest island in the world, Borneo is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife and terrain. It also features the spectacular Mount Kinabalu, underground cave complexes and miles of coastal shoreline. The group trip, which was organized by math teacher Josh Seamon with the help of Fourwinds Tours & Travel, was also led by Emily Ditkovski, who teaches theatre. Mr. Seamon has led numerous international school trips in recent years to destinations such as New Zealand, Madagascar and Nepal. The two teachers encouraged students to take part in the trip, and prepared the students in advance with studies about Borneo and Southeast Asia.
On Sunday, March 4th, the group met on school campus early in the morning and then drove to JFK airport for an international flight to Frankfurt. From Germany, the next fllght was a long one to Singapore, where the students had a six hour layover. The final leg was a 90 minute flight to Kuching, a city in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The island of Borneo is divided, with the largest portion being part of Indonesia, the northwest section is part of Malaysia and a small chunk of that is the Sultanate of Brunei. Upon arriving in Kuching, the group took a tour of the city, during which they learned about the history of the city, explored a Chinese temple and visited the seat of governance for the city.
The following day, the school group took a van to the shores of the Batang Ai Reservoir. There, they boarded longboats for the 45 minute ride out into the lake and up a tributary to the Mengkak Longhouse. At the longhouse, the students were able to experience authentic Iban culture, which included traditional food, drink and dance. The group stayed overnight at in the longhouse, and the next morning were treated to a blowdart demonstration. They then embarked on the return trip to Kuching, which was puctuated with a stop an an orangutan sanctuary.
Next the group flew to the outdoor adventure haven of Mulu. After arrival, they walked through the rainforest to the Lang Caves, which are layered with a stunning collection of stalactites and stalagmites. Next they entered the Deer Caves, which boast the largest cave passage in the world, coming in at over one mile in length and never being less than 250 feet high or wide. The caves host an array of wildlife, including a colony of millions of bats, which the group watched perform its nightly exodus at sunset. The next day in Mulu, the students took a 45-minute boat ride up the river to the Wind and Clearwater Caves, the latter of which is the longest cave in Asia at over 60 miles in length. Upon exiting the caves, everyone took the opportunity to swim in the crystal clear freshwater pool.
After leaving Mulu, the group flew to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. There they were able to explore the city and familiarize themselves with its people and culture. The following day the students took a boat trip out to Manukan, one of five small islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in the South China Sea. At the beach, the group went snorkeling and were able to see clown fish, starfish, sea anemones and more marine life. After lunch the students decided to go parasailing, which turned out to be one of the group’s favorite activities. After a day of hiking by the beach and snorkeling in the crystal blue water, they headed back to the city for dinner and nighttime exploration of the marketplaces.
That ends the first installment of a two-part blog post on Williston’s Borneo trip. Click here to see all the photos, videos and read the teachers’ personal accounts.