XXA1: Comments from Martin Lewis

by on May.01, 2009, under Comments, XMen News

Papa Johns Return.

martin-lewisRecently, I suprised everyone in Malaysia, by e mailing (yes even papa john has learnt how to join the electronic age !!). One of the first major news items to come back to me was the impending xxa1 trip.

My initial reaction was to wish everyone a good trip. BUT that night whilst I lay awake, memories came flooding back………….. Along with Kosong Kosong, I’ve spent many weary days hacking  a way through the impeneterable ferns, being led deeper and deeper into what seemed never ending undergrowth, towards the zenith…………The Elephant Mud Hole!!

I should have turned over and gone to sleep!!  instead I e mailed back to the x men team and said Papa Johns coming out of retirment and returning to the jungle !!!!!

During the long 12 hour flight, I could hardly contain my excitment. Talking to an elderly chap and trying to explain what the jungle meant, he  was Malaysian and had never been to the jungle!! Even after my enthusiastic outpourings I did not expect to meet him down at the bottom of Terminator Hill.

It was great to see so many old freinds at the flag off. It was almost as though I’d never been away (allthough 2 years is a long time !!). So many questions, where have you been ?, what have you been up to? The truth, I,ve spent a lot of time sailing. During an Atlantic crossing, I spent many long hours alone on watch…………….. not one day went by, that I did not think what was happening in MY.

One thing that I did not miss during my sabatical was the horendous KL Traffic!!!!! and it was a relief to be heading up towards the Genting tunnel and away from chaos.

Even after the long drive up to Terrenganu and the Tasik Kenyir Resort, there was no rest, a phone call to Ahtek and the first upset, the local filling station near to the saw mill at Lalong, (where some of the vehicles were unloaded from the car transporter trailer), was closed down. That meant the nearest fuel was a 30 km drive away.  Peter and I left the resort immediatly to go and help Ahtek, he was busey fueling up all the cars………………… by gerry can!!!!! loads of them. 11/2 hrs later we arrived to find an exhausted Ahtek still ferrying gerry cans around.

That guy is amazing, he has so much energy.

Work finished and bellies full of Nasi Goering, Tek and I left Peter with the vehicles and we headed back to the resort. By 3 am I finally slumped onto a bed and promptly fell asleep fully dressed. 6am and up again, swapping road tyres for the off road ones. Returning to the resort dining room for breakfast. I finally met up with Rod and Colin from Thialand, I’ve not seen either of them for many years.

Anticipation was building amongst the participants, this was heightened by Ahteks briefing, we all wanted to be off, and soon we were.

Another long drive to the saw mill and the start. Along the way we passed over the imfamous Bridge to Nowhere. Now just another bridge on the highway, but to me a catalist for some very happy memories………… 99 RFC, it was a lengthy jungle drive just to reach the bridge and immediatly back into jungle at the other end. During the rescue mission after the rains we used the bridge as a base camp, whilst the Austrailian team and myself ferried fuel and food in, and brought people out, Big Olie’ manned the base camp. OH Happy memories……………………….wow 10 years ago!!!!

I digress.

Late morning and we were off, as sweeper I had to wait for Rod who had suffered a puncture, on tarmac!! Then we spent an hour or so chewing his dust. By the time we caught everyone up at the river, lunch was nearly finished but Alyna always looks after Papa John so I did not go hungery!!

After crossing the river the fun began, no more main logging track, back to jungle tracks. Now, those that know me, know I like to be in the thick of the action, and well, at the back in sweepers position I’m feeling a bit left out, but then just after another river crossing the 109 Land Rover of Che Mat, rips the fuel bung from the ageing fuel tank and looses almost a tank full of petrol. So what to do??? Vicky and I rig up a tempory fuel tank, mounted up in front of the grill, this proved so successfull it lasted all the way back to KL.

With all the hold ups along the way we were behind time and Ahtek wanted to push on, we passed a lovely big camp site by an even nicer river and inched deeper and deeper into the  jungle. Darkness began to take hold when it was decided to stop on the track. Peter and I negotiated the two 110 Land Rover Chuck Wagons into positin. The fly sheet went up quickly with practised ease and dinner was soon being prepared. Cold Tiger beers apeared and the world was a happy place. Good food, cold beer, a bed and great friends.

The next morning and off again, more river crossings, bridges, gaps. …………………. When I go jungle, things blurr, I live the moment, I cant remember in the afternoon what I did in the morning, so now many days later what chance do I have of remembering what happened in what sequence?? All I know I was happy, Happyer than I’ve been in years

I know it rained one night, just after Keith said, oh we could do with some rain……………… thanks kieth!!

One morning Ahtek said we’ve got a bit of digging to do, so armed with chunkells and a need for some action I set forth off up the track, when I got to the little obsticle, even I took in a deep breath. But then as others joined me and mutterings grew, I bravely said oh not so bad!! Tek gave me one of the chain saws, pointed at a few trees and left. My own fault for moaning that nothing ever happened at the back. HHUUMMMMM.

With everyone working as a big team, we built a new track wide enough to drive, it was a knife edge with a 15/20 m sheer drop into a wash out one side and a steep drop the other, by lunch time all the vehicles were passed the obsticle. I was delighted at the way everyone worked together, everyone so keen, for such a big group to pull together……….. special. I think some of them thought it immposible but thats the power of X MEN. By that I mean Ahteks quiet confidence flows in abundence and just seems to infect people, if Tek says, can be done, then it happens.

We pushed on and on, I remember having to strengthen Tokyo Bridge with some large uprights, and the drive across was a bit  daunting, especially in the Pink Elephant, thats what I called Alynas defender that I was driving………….well it was red and it was so heavy it was like an elephant!!

We eventually came to a nasty little river crossing, driving parallel to the river and droping down into the bed. A few vehicles got across, then we opened up a new exit. As we were running out of sequence I was about mid convoy, Tek told me to go on to the next river and set up camp, by now it was raining and the light was fading. By the time we arrived a few vehicles were parked up in the small camp site. A call over the radio informed us that the other chuck wagon had flipped into the river!! but everyone was ok. Kieth and Vicky went back in Two Blue to help out while we set about setting up camp, With everyones help the tarp went up, most of the cooking gear was in the other chuck wagon but with a small gas stove and a big kettle, the girls got hot water going, noodles were found and people were fed with hot food. Eventually Tek and the others came into camp, a few bruises and cuts for those inside the flipped vehicle, they’d uprighted the truck and it was winched onto the bank.

A bit of a subdued night but relief that  no one was hurt. Early the next morning Tek and I surveyed the damage to the chuck wagon. Looked worse than it was. We left the boys to clean out the engine and see if it would run. We went back and surveyed the next river crossing. Oh dear!! major work. So decision time.

A discussion between all assembled. Tek pointed out that to carry on was another 5 days to reach, cross the mud hole, climb the Terminator and carry on out. Pussy’s or Adventurers!! Not really, a lot of people were on time limits, with flights and work commitments. The general concensos was to come back out. Even before the reality of our dessision had sunk in, mutterings of mud hole 2 were circulating. For me my heart was in my boots. I was gutted!! Tek caught my eye and unspoken words between us, we both knew that this was not the end.

Everyone was glad to be moving again, not necessarilly in the direction we were going but……………… The boys had got the chuck wagons engine running ok and had even pulled the roof up, a bit of polish and it would be ok!! hmmm.

The trip out was another adventure, with team work the bridges and gulleys were crossed, the knife edge pass negotiated and the big drop winched down. Long before Rocky Hill the 109 slamed its fan into the radiator. Everytime we filled the rad up with water it looked like a gang of small boys peeing in the hedge….. little spouts of water in all directions. We towed and draged the 109 for hours until darkness fell. I got a message back to Tek to let him know the 109 was staying behind while we pushed on to the main camp site, as we had the food on board for everyone. Hours later we limped into camp, most had fed themselves, tarps were up, beds were out and the beer was flowing. Tango took pity on me and thrust a cold Tiger into my hand, that was the sweetest beer of the trip, it just hit the spot.

By afternoon most vehicles were out, we set off back to the resort.

Well was it worth flying half way around the world for just a few days in the jungle.   YOU BET !!!  will I be back??   Do Bears S… in the wood !    Yes I’ll be back.

Its made me realise just how much I’ve missed all my friends. To Ahtek. Alyna. Vicky. Tango and everyone else I would like to thank you all, for making this a real homecoming for me.

To the organisers, 00, 01 once again, you’ve pulled off another amazing trip. I thank you both. Further more I’d like to thank everyone on the trip, for making it unforgettable.

Papa John.  aka Martin Lewis (UK).


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