Welcome to Borneo & Beyond

By December 23, 2017Borneo & Beyond

Wow, I can’t believe I’ve actually done it. I’ve built a website, a place where I can share the amazing experiences I’ve had so far in Borneo & Beyond. Not only is this a space to share my personal experiences, it’s also a platform to promote and recommend projects and tours that I feel are beneficial to the conservation of the beautiful places we all desire to visit and which we need to protect for generations to come.

Kinabatangan Sunset

Seems like yesterday when I had to say goodbye to Sandakan in Sabah for the first time. I knew then, that it was the place I wanted to explore in depth and promote to others.

The first trip to Borneo with my family in tow was an eye opener for me and set a lot of things in motion. I was so excited to finally go to the jungle and hopefully see orangutans. We got in the van and our guide, who is now one of my wonderful local supporters, said to us we could sleep for the next two hours as there was not much to see. I didn’t understand why he would say that. We were going to the rainforest. How can there be nothing to see? There was no way I was going to shut my eyes. Instead I kept looking outside, soon realising what he meant. There were palm oil plantations on both sides of the road, hectare after hectare. I will never forget the almost overwhelming feeling of sadness when we reached a higher part and had a sweeping view across the landscape. Palm plantations as far as the eye could see. Places that were covered in pristine forests not all that long ago – gone. It was heart-breaking.

We then reached our destination. The village of Sukau at the Kinabatangan river, a place that has captivated me ever since. The abundant wildlife and the river itself is what I call “jungle therapy”. During each of my trips to Sabah, I managed to return to the lower Kinabatangan area and stayed in several different locations along the river; returning for a whole week in July as a volunteer for a vital reforestation project in Sukau.

If I had shut my eyes when first departing Sandakan for my first jungle trip, I would still be a naïve tourist, trying to just tick off boxes on my bucket list, spoiling my experiences by arriving with lots of expectations rather than an open mind.

Seeing with my own eyes the devastation caused by deforestation; understanding the causes and the part we all play in what goes on, profoundly changed the way I look at my behaviour as a traveller.

I have two teenage children who grow up in a very different world to mine when I was their age. Travelling was just about fun, sun, and the best our money could buy. If you say that this attitude has not changed, I must agree but there is also a growing number of people looking for something very different. Many people are now asking for more authentic, educational and hands on holiday experiences.

It’s still somewhat of a niche market but the words “responsible travel” and “volunteering” are certainly gaining momentum and are fast becoming a new travel trend.

That is a step in the right direction but travellers must be cautious and do their research as there are always travel companies that are using new trends and catch phrases to increase their profit margins without necessarily increasing the contributions to the actual cause.

I have been very lucky to have been involved in genuine eco-tourism initiatives and know what to look for when choosing a placement.

Some may say that it’s hypercritical to not only sell eco-tourism products.

Initially, I was going to do just that as I had learned through personal experience how beneficial and rewarding these experiences are. However, I had to remind myself that:

  1. It took me quite a while to step outside my comfort zone and as a result started to change my behaviour as a traveller.
  2. Change happens over a period of time and only by being an all-round travel agent will I have an opportunity to educate my clients to the idea of responsible travel ethics. Anyone can start making slight changes and be aware, no matter if this is on a cruise, a package holiday or on domestic travel within Australia.

I travel with an open mind, have no expectations and continuously push myself outside my comfort zone and embrace the local way of life in the destinations I travel to. In return I have these life changing travel experiences and meet wonderful people that continue to inspire me.

I am thrilled to be able to follow my passion for Borneo and for travel in general, whilst creating wonderful experiences for all my clients to destinations world-wide.

So, welcome to Borneo & Beyond. I will help you explore the world and encourage you to let go of the fear of the unknown.

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Barbara Katsifolis

Author Barbara Katsifolis

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