Zulu 3 and Life at Coupe 1

31st July 2017

James says: “For three weeks, we lived at Coupe 1, a research centre in part of Sabah’s secondary rainforest, surrounded by a forest which was once devastated by unsustainable logging. But things are now looking brighter, and it’s now been impressively regenerated thanks to the Asian Forestry Company Sabah (AFCS).

Welcome to Coupe 1.

It will probably sound like the premise to some dystopian film when I return home and tell my friends that I lived in an isolated research centre for 19 days. But that’s far from the truth, and to the friends I’ve made in Borneo, the research centre has become a home from home. We’ve shared some amazing meals (cooked by Gio)), set up a Jungle Casino serving virgin Pina Coladas, and played some fierce games of Quidditch.

Playing Quidditch.

The Giant Tree

The research centre is located on a natural plateau overlooking a valley and is a stone’s throw from a steep ascent to the area’s centrepiece – the Giant Tree. The tree is easily the largest in the secondary rainforest, yet is younger than one of our volunteer managers (63, sorry Ross…). On entering the research centre complex, the weathering sign reading ‘Giant Tree: 750m’ makes it seem like this tree has been a rarity for a long time. But en route, the rotten remains of a giant trunk offers a stark reminder that there were once others.

Working on the steps to the Giant Tree.

At first, some of the magic of the trip to the Giant Tree was dampened by the climb up. We struggled not to fall on our backsides during the slippery ascent, and I wasn’t sure whether to feel sorrier for one of my friends or a destroyed termite nest after one fall. It was clear our task of carving 176 steps into the hillside was essential. As time went on and we made progress with this, our daily muddy backside count dropped to single digits. We’ve now seen our first external guest use our newly forged route. The AFCS Ranger appears to be particularly nimble footed – the splayed-leg-skip is obviously his speciality.

James hard at work on the steps.

Exotic Visitors

Despite our research centre being a two hour drive through rugged terrain to the nearest town of Kota Maruda, we are by no means the only residents in the rainforest. Wildlife is often dropping into our daily lives – some fellow residents making particularly dramatic entrances…

It’s not unusual to have several exotic bugs swarm to our decking as we play various games in the evening. Our murder mystery game of Mafia is made all the more theatrical with the sudden appearance of a huge rhino beetle slamming its head into the windows, or the bloody revelation that someone has been bitten by a fat leech. Early morning tends to be peaceful, until we’re woken up by a shrieking lizard alarm clock. However, any lizard-induced headaches quickly cease when we stroll onto the decking for breakfast, especially when met with the stunning view of our research centre sitting above the clouds in the next valley.

The clouds rolling in.

As frustrating as this cloud cover is for whoever is tasked with radioing Raleigh Fieldbase with our daily update, the cooler weather it brings is a blessing for some; especially true for the group of volunteers who usually have to sieve and sort through bags of soil in the searing heat, to help planting in the regeneration nursery.

Emily (left) and Ellie (right) sieving soil for use in the nurseries.

By the end of our three weeks, with our steps to the Giant Tree complete and 1,030 bags of soil sieved, we could leave knowing our impact would help Coupe 1 to continue their great work in regenerating the rainforest.”

Coupe 1’s nurseries nestled within the rainforest.


Zulu 3 have now deployed onto their Adventure Challenge phase, and will be spending a week completing not only a jungle trek through the Crocker Range, but also an array of challenges to earn points. Take a look here to learn more about what they’ll be up to.

Words by James

Photos by Saoirse

What’s coming up at Raleigh Borneo? 

28 July – 3 August: 5-weekers’ Adventure Challenge

4 August: 5-week Venturer Endex

5 August: 5-week Venturers Depart

Climate and Conservation Malaysian Borneo