Monthly Archives: October 2011

The illusion of permanence

Traditionally, people that lived in the tropics and in the intact rainforest were nomads and used a shifting cultivation to till their land and grow their food: after using a piece of land for one, two or three years they left it, moved on, burned down another part of the forest and let the earlier one regenerate.

They were nomads in the real sense, took the stuff they needed with themselves and gave everything else back to the forest. They didn’t do that because of any superstitious believes but rather for the simple reason that that’s the best and most sustainable way of using the land and the soil in a tropical ecosystem. Here in this environment plant and animal species find optimal conditions to develop quickly and the number of species competing for a niche and a living space is higher than anywhere else in the world.

Indigenous people are well aware of that, they know the forest and their land. Only privatisation has made this kind of agriculture or even lifestyle impossible. Everybody is playing a game against nature and his/her own natural resources on his/her own territory.

The Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp is probably a little older than a year; the wooden structures start to rod because of moist; insecticides are supposed to keep termites away from building their houses in the huts; here and there reparations are necessary… the search for permanence becomes a battle against impermanence… against the inherit nature of the jungle… the inherit nature of all things in this world.

Lucie and I will try to set up a farming system around this camp… in a permaculture way. We’re basically trying to establish a permanent culture/agriculture in an impermanent environment. Seems like an illusion… However, the fact that we have permaculture principles that incorporate the impermanent nature of this world gives a lot of hope in that regard. The best idea we think is to use, like permaculture suggests, local plants, mostly perennials, to build up a food forest, imitating the natural forest with fruit-giving plants; a system that will feed back to the forest as it takes and hopefully, in due time, reach a state of climax. In accepting the illusion of permanence we might be able to find its true meaning and a way to it through the reality of impermanence.

Wwoofing at Lupa Masa

They want to accommodate more and more guests here at the Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp – up to 25 at a time. To get food from the market it is half an hour walk and a 20 minutes drive, mostly by taxi to a village called Renau. From there the same distance back to the camp – with the shopping bags. This makes the provision of food an energy and time consuming undertaking. The solution is growing food, and that’s Lucie’s and my job here.

When we applied, we didn’t know that there was no garden in place. There are some banana shrubs, oil palms and a few other fruit trees that grow here naturally. There are also a few signs of an earlier attempt to start a garden. Apparently two girls, wwoofing here before have tried to grow some veg of which most was eaten by the hundreds and thousands of ants that live here with us. So basically we’re starting from scratch, which is a challenge but also a great chance for us to do our first land-based permaculture design.
We’ve been here like 10 days, checked out the place and think there is a lot of potential. We’ve started off with planting some corn, pumpking, beans, lettuce, chillies, sunflowers in pots as we were arriving during the first week and started the Survey phase and the observation for the permaculture design. We’ve introduced compost and we’re about to start a test plot for growing out vegetables whilst doing the design.

Charlie has taken us for some treks at night looking for the details and observing the beautiful wildlife while the day treks show the pattern of the forest, the broader picture of ungle, rivers and waterfalls.

Besides building up the garden we’re supposed to take in guests, now that Charlie’s gone for two to three weeks, will do a lot of cooking (which is good), cleaning and we’ll basically look after the place (which is also good and, t think, has already made it more welcoming).

There are quite a few things we would change here but I guess this Rainforest Camp is not the dream that we live. It is called an eco-camp in the Lonely Planet, and yes the have hydroelectric (which is broken at the moment) and most huts and structures are built of bamboo and wood only, however, they use non-biodegradable soap in the river and spray insecticide on the termites and ants coming into the huts. We thought we might be able to have a word and inspire them in some of those things. Do we ask too much from people if we want them to recognise that everything in an ecosystem is interrelated – seeing the world not just as a shared habitat, but rather as our larger body!?

Arriving in Borneo Jungle

A little more than a week after leaving England, Lucie and I have arrived at the place where we’re about to stay for a couple of month – Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp in Malaysian Borneo. We are wwoofers here, didn’t really know what to expect, except that we re supposed to help setting up a vegetable garden in the jungle in exchange for accommodation, basic food and a stay in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places in the world.

We took the long way to get here. After landing in Kuching in the west of the island we went on a five hour boat trip, a six hour and another ten hour bus journey up to Kota Kinabalu in the north-east of the island. After staying there for one night we went on a three hour taxi journey up to the mountains where we met Charlie, one of our hosts and wildlife specialist who picked us up in the village, a 45-minute walk away from the camp.

Travelling by boat and bus through the country might be tiring, but it had at least given us an idea of what is going on agriculturally on the Malaysian part of Borneo – controlled burning of fields is the traditional method for clearing space, there is a lot of rice cultivation and sadly lots of deforestation for timber as well as miles and miles of palm tree monocultures for gaining palm oil – apparently all owned by the government.

It looks a bit different in the camp though…

Tom, a guy from England who we shortly met, set up the Rainforest Camp with Charlie one and a half years ago. He’s rarely there, as he’s busy with community tourism projects. So we’re staying here with Charlie from Hawaii and his apprentice Calem from Scotland. Charlie will be off for a couple of weeks soon though, on one of the community projects in Sarawak. He speaks Malay, knows the local people and is very familiar with the jungle and her plant and animal species.

Words or pictures couldn’t describe what it’s like. It’s not for everybody I guess, as it’s quite basic and simple living, sleeping in hammocks with a mosquito net around (protecting rather from huge spiders instead of the luckily quite rare mosquitoes), wet-toilets, very limited electricity (because the storm broke the hydroelectric structure that was put in place); besides that, many insects, leeches all over the place trying to grab hold of you to fill themselves with blood (supposed to be purifying and helpful in cleaning poisonous snake bites) and at night fire ants that like to eat meet and burn your feet when you come near them turn up (sound more scary than it is, it doesn t hurt for long:).

But all of these are not enough reasons to not recognise the beauty of the jungle; the viper sleeping on the shrub on the camp-side, the washing in the fresh water of the stream rushing down waterfalls, creating pools here and there in between70 meter high trees, banana shrubs and hanging orchids; the beautiful butteflies and the sounds of nature, the birds and crickets and the varieties of frogs that you’ll meet at night staring at you, each one of them, showing off their clearly distinguishable character.

So what are Lucie and I doing here, wwoofing and having a good time? Who gives us the right to walk into this beautiful environment, this fountain of life? We are well aware and grateful for the privilege of experiencing a place like this. I m not a travel writer, but I ll update on our work there and send in some pictures.

"Oh my God, I think they saw me... just don't move now, maybe I ll get away with it......