Mother nature is the undisputed queen who dispenses joys and sorrows as she pleases. In summary, this sentence represents the essence of the Rainnforest Challenge. The main feature of the legendary Malaysian competition is precisely this: confronting one's limits in an adverse environment where collaboration between teams becomes the winning weapon to overcome all the difficulties that the jungle will offer from time to time.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
The Rainforest Challenge, founded in 1997 by Luis J. A. Wee, is now the only international competition capable of offering to its participants an adventure in the jungle with a capital A. It is not just a challenge with the other teams but it is the challenge of the challenges, the daily confrontation with the difficulties and pitfalls of the forest in the worst period to face such an experience, that of the monsoon season.
Rainforest Challenge is first of all a challenge with yourself
You must overcome your limits and your fears to complete this experience that will forever change the life of those who can say "I was there". All these elements are the DNA of the Rainforest Challenge which, since its debut in November 1997, have distinguished it and made it unique all over the world.
1997, the Rainforest Challenge is born
The first edition, won by the Malaysian crew composed of Hiew Vui Leong and Liew Siak Kiong, with participants from seven different countries, crossed the north east of Malaysia on muddy and slippery slopes that put a strain on all the teams present . The success was so great that in 1998 there were 14 nations present, including the first Italian crews who immediately fell in love with this race. This edition has remained in history for the opening ceremony which took place under the imposing twin towers of Petronas just inaugurated and for the heavy rain that characterized the last days of the race.
1999, Rainforest Challenge has become a legend
The challenge of 1999 was marked by an incessant monsoon rain that transformed the forest into a hell of impractical mud where escape routes were not spared. Luis cites this edition as the maximum expression of adventure that contributed to the birth of the Rainforest Challenge legend.
One of the most important awards for Luis J. A. Wee, occurred in 2006 when the Malaysian prime minister flew by helicopter to the bivouac set up at Lake Pedu to meet the competitors of the Rainforest Challenge.
2007, escape from the jungle
2007 was the tenth edition that was to celebrate this competition worthily and that instead turned into a struggle for survival. The nature was tremendous with torrential rains that caused serious floods that put everyone at risk: participants, organizers, competitors and the media. 2007 rightfully entered in the annals of extreme off-roading as the edition of the "battle against the monsoon"; a worthy celebration of ten years of offroad adventure in Malaysia.
Interview with Luis J. A. Wee founder of the Rainforest Challenge
Through the words of Luis J. A. Wee, I try to enter the depth of the Rainforest Challenge and discover its soul.
What prompted you to create the Rainforest Challenge?
I started off-roading in 1991 and since then I have always been fascinated by the Camel Trophy and the exploits of its participants; my dream was to create an international competition where jungle adventure was the fundamental element of the race; unfortunately this was not possible because my job occupied me full time and I could not dedicate myself, as I would have liked, to my passion. In 1997, when the Camel Trophy had turned into a multi-sport event, I fortunately had the opportunity to quit my job and devote myself full time to my project; Thus was born, on November 23, 1997, the first edition of the Rainforest Challenge.
What do you remember from the early years of the Rainforest Challenge?
Obviously when an event is born from scratch, it is not easy to manage and organize everything in the best way, my staff and I have worked hard and we have overcome many problems, including financial ones due to the crisis of the Asian economies, and I have to say that the satisfactions were much more than the pains. Already in the early years, many foreign crews began to arrive including Europeans and the reputation of the Rainforest Challenge has always grown and improved. Italy is one of the countries with the largest number of participants, I have a good memory of the Italians, their passion and their skills and I am always very happy when a blue crew joins the Rainforest Challenge. I want to dedicate a particular thought to Mauro Caporali who gave much to the off-road world and also to the Rainforest Challenge.
After twenty five editions, can you make a summary of the Rainforest Challenge?
In these years, from edition to edition, we have always improved and this is mainly due to my staff who support me at all times. Many things have changed since the early years of the race, 4x4s are more and more prepared, but what makes me happy is seeing the passion and love for off-road and for the adventure of the teams that come to Malaysia every year; this is the spirit of the Rainforest Challenge! This sport is also growing in Asia, there are many enthusiasts from new countries who appear for the first time towards this discipline and I think this is very important for off-roading and for its growth. For me, from 1997 to today, the Rainforest Challenge has been an exciting journey, it has been my passion that has met the passion of many friends that I have had the good fortune to know in recent years.
Which is the right spirit to face the Rainforset Challenge?
The Rainforest Challenge is the Rainforest Challenge; if you have decided to participate, congratulations you are extraordinary people who will live in an extraordinary event that takes place in the worst of seasons; that of monsoons! The RFC is more than a 4x4 competition, it is a challenge with nature and with one's fears, where only team spirit and heart are the fundamental elements that will help you get to the end of the race; it is important to have a jungle mentality, be able to adapt to any situation, collaborate with other teams and with the organization to continue the race and reach the desired goal. The off-road vehicle that is practiced in Malaysia is very different from the European one, therefore it is essential to know how to adapt and have an open mind that allows you to absorb this diversity and thus make your experience at the Rainforest Challenge unique and unforgettable.
Finally, what do you feel to recommend to those who want to participate, perhaps for the first time, in the Rainforest Challenge?
No one in their lifetime can claim to have learned everything and the same can be said for the Rainforest Challenge; each edition is different from the previous one, every year the obstacles and pitfalls of the jungle are always different and for this reason it is not easy to advise those who want to try this experience for the first time. For the preparation of the 4x4, the work performed by the most veteran teams can help you but their choices cannot always be applied to your off-road vehicle and to your way of driving; however, the fundamental element to keep in mind in the preparation is reliability! Here's what I feel like saying: look at the other competitors, treasure their secrets and then adapt them to your needs and your vehicle; not always a useful thing for a crew is indispensable for you. However, the fundamental element, I will never tire of saying it, is the team spirit and knowing how to adapt to new experiences, already with this information in your luggage you are on the right track. And then follow my motto: life is an adventure, live it all the way and don't wait for tomorrow if you can do it today!
International Rainforest Challenge Secretariat
Tel : 603-2163 5908/6908 Fax : 603-2163 0908
Website : www.rainforest-challenge.com