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Keep Brunei's forests pristine, urges explorer

Publication Date : 24-08-2012


Brunei's pristine forests will continue to gain importance as one of the country's main eco-tourism attractions, a well-known British explorer said.

Allen, who last came to Brunei more than 30 years ago, said: "the most exciting thing for me, was hearing that the forest I knew and was so important to me from when I was first here, was still there, and hasn't been exploited."

"It's not as if the best trees have been taken out of the roads leading in to the (forests)."

Allen, who refers to Brunei's forests as his "initiation" to the jungle when he first came to the Sultanate at the age of 18, is also a renowned TV presenter and author.

Allen was recently in the country at the invitation of Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) to experience what Brunei has to offer as an eco-tourism destination.

"So when there are tourists promotion slogans like 'This is the Jewel of Borneo', there's no exaggeration. Especially at this day and age, and the way that Brunei has kept it," he said.

Besides the land, Allen said that Brunei's waters are just as good.

"The forest is amazing, but it's the sea as well. Although I haven't gone diving here, what I understand from Western divers is that Brunei's seas, are like Thailand's were 15 years ago. It's pristine again," he said.

He added: "That word is important, pristine, because it shows that nothing is messed up. The beaches is still lovely, enchanting, and still a bit like paradise to us."

Allen also said that there is something "very different" about Brunei, being a Sultanate, and a country where people know each other well.

"There's a sense of belonging, and I feel that people are united which is very lovely. As an adventurer, I can't help mentioning the sea and forest, but Brunei's assets will become important over time, as it will be rare that a country has these as national assets," he said.

He said that tourists will come in not only from the West, but from neighbouring countries. What Brunei has now will become rarer over time, he said.

"This is such an advantage for Brunei as in the West, we're so conscious of the forest and how it's (destroyed). So much of the world is actually, and it's very special what Brunei has got here."

The explorer first got his opportunity to experience the jungle in Brunei, when his uncle was an officer at the Gurkha Garisson, where he helped discover seven new species of fig wasp and had one named after him.

"Brunei re-enforced the idea that I could be an explorer, it was huge for me and my career," said Allen, adding that Brunei wasn't dangerous, but was hugely influential and gave him the confidence to take on the dangerous Amazon.

Being an explorer, Allen shared, wasn't all glamour and fighting crocodiles, something he is well-known for.

"You have to be satisfied with your own company, be happy to be alone, not get bored easily and have huge determination to achieve what you set out to do. But, you definitely can't take yourself seriously, and be prepared to laugh at yourself," he said.

Allen learned from his adventures that humans are physically weak, but it's up to the human mind to gain the upper-hand.

In 1983, he arrived at the South American Amazon where his story of his 600-mile-dash through the forest by foot and canoe almost cost him his life.

"I was attacked by gold miners, so I jumped into the canoe to escape but it capsized and I lost everything but my dog," he said.

Allen then caught malaria and eventually had to eat his dog to survive.

"I felt that I had a duty to do whatever I can to get back. As your loved ones are waiting for you, that's what keeps you going," he said.

Allen had also taken on the Papua New Guinea, where he lived for six months and went through a ritual where locals used a Bamboo blade to cut marks on his chest over a period of six weeks that left scars resembling an aligator, which led to his nickname "man as strong as crocodile".

Another "bad day" in the office, Allen shared, was when he was hunting for what the Sumatran's called 'Orang Pendek', where he tripped and had a huge cut across his chest.

"Blood was spilling out of my chest after being cut, so I stitched myself up with my boot mending kit as it was all I had on me," he said.

Allen's travel to Brunei this time around was less adventurous, however.

"I never saw the floating village and Brunei town, so it's exciting for me. And I'm here to meet ordinary people and going to open houses, which is remarkable, as people don't just invite strangers into their home.

"You certainly won't see that in Britain. So this is the real mark of civilisation here," he said.


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