Confrontations with tarantulas, leeches and gun-wielding tribesmen was the lifestyle for Picton lad Cameron Robertson during a three-week jungle expedition in Borneo.
The 17-year-old set off on a search for self-confidence and motivation in South East Asia last month.
He joined Operation Raleigh and was the only person from a country south of Malaysia on the expedition. The 77 other venturers came from Iceland, the United States and countries in Europe and Asia.
Operation Raleigh is a British-based youth development charity designed to help youth explore the world and discover their potential as leaders while working together to make a difference for poorer villages.
Cameron, who left Queen Charlotte College in November last year, aspires to be a helicopter pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, but first he wanted an adventure.
At first he was hesitant, but on reflection it was the "best thing I could have ever done".
"For me I need to feel comfortable when I choose to pursue something, but for once I just jumped straight into Operation Raleigh, and man, I don't regret it at all."
The troops were split up into groups of 10 to 14 and deployed in remote locations across Borneo.
His group were responsible for building a kindergarten in the Sonsogon Magandai village in the Pitas district, near Sabah.
"It was amazing. It was hard work in tough conditions, but seeing the end result was so worth the effort."
Cameron recalls coming face-to-face with what he thought was a head-hunter on his way back to base camp – an experience he will never forget.
"One of our group members said, `hey let's go back the river way, follow it round back to base', so yeah, we didn't think anything of it and away we went.
"Next thing we know, there is this buffed up village man standing in front of us with a 12-gauged boar shotgun over his shoulder sort of wondering why we are on his land, you can imagine, right?"
But a quick translation and a plea of not guilty eased the situation and the man started laughing along with them.
"He was harmless enough really, but I guess in the past those head-hunters have practiced vigorously in these areas, so we weren't sure if he was going to take our heads to add to his prize collection."
During the expedition, Cameron and his group lived in "bare basic" conditions, sleeping in a rotten and uneven hut for shelter and had to put up with the stifling heat and humid atmosphere.
However, it gave him an understanding of "the hard life", a far cry from life in the Marlborough Sounds.
Cameron also taught the village children basic English.
He said it was unforgettable seeing their "little faces" light up.
Cameron and his troops finished their trip at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre where they learnt about the rehabilitation of orphaned bears.
"What a trip, what a team, what a difference."
- The Marlborough Express
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