Getting up at 2am to scale Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, encountering bearded pigs and visiting a UNESCO-listed Japanese island – it’s been a memorable off-season break for Perth Glory’s environmentally-aware winger Chris Harold.
The 24-year-old, who also sat his Law exams during the break, sat down with www.perthglory.com.au to share what he learnt and what he saw.
BACK IN KL TO KICK OFF
“The trip to Borneo was with my girlfriend, Fran and en route we had a few days in Kuala Lumpur which was interesting because I lived there when I was younger and it was pretty cool to go back.
“It’s a great, hustle and bustle city, the food is unbelievable and we really enjoyed staying in the Chinatown area which is less fancy and touristy.
“Then Borneo was amazing and eye-opening at the same time.
“We went to a conservation area on the east coast called the Danum Valley which is pure rainforest and that was just so special.
“We had two-and-a-half-days where we were trekking through the rain forest and saw the wild orangutans, loads of different kinds of monkeys, bearded pigs and an array of insects and birdlife.
“We stayed in a research centre there rather than camping.
“I didn’t want to slum it and have insects crawling all over me!
“That trip contrasted with the drives that we did from town to town where for two hours at a time we were just driving past palm oil plantations.
“Apparently 60% of Borneo is palm oil plantations now and it was quite sad to see the contrast between the beautiful parts of the island and the plantations.”
EXTREME MOUNTAIN CLIMBING
Not content with exploring the rainforest, the adventurous couple then fulfilled a long-held ambition to climb the 4095m-peak of Mount Kinabalu.
“The mountain climb was something I’d wanted to do for a long time because my parents did it in 1980,” he said.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, definitely tougher than any game of football I’ve ever played in!
“On the first day you start at 1800m above sea level, hike for four hours and then stay the night at a basic kind of dorm hut.
“The next morning you get up at 2am and hike through the dark for three hours guided by moonlight and head torches until you get to the summit for around 6am when the sun comes up.
“We were exceptionally lucky and had a perfectly clear day and the views were amazing.
“Then the trip back down was even harder because my legs were already fatigued.
“It was incredibly challenging but so rewarding and I look back on it with great fondness and a real sense of achievement.”
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES UP CLOSE
A much-needed spot of rest and relaxation was next on the agenda, but his stay on the coral reef island of Pom Pom was to have a profound effect upon the footballer, who is well known for his passionate interest in environmental issues.
“The snorkelling was amazing,” he said, “and one day we saw upwards of 20 green turtles.
“But within a 24-hour period, the beach on this island that had been clean was covered in rubbish that had washed in from the mainland.
“The people on the mainland live on stilted houses over the water and have no proper refuse system, so a lot of their refuse ends up in the ocean.
“Those elements of the holiday were confronting at times, but were very beneficial in opening our eyes to how we live our own lives back here.
“We’ve tried to go as plastic free as we can in our household since then.”
JAPAN’S UNESCO-LISTED YAKUSHIMA
After Borneo, Harold dropped in on Japan with a mate.
“After two days in Tokyo, we went to this island in the south called Yakushima,” he said.
“A large part of it is UNESCO Heritage listed.
“It’s basically all forest and we were hiking there for three days and stayed one of the nights in a mountain hut.
“It’s renowned for these amazing giant cedar trees that are a couple of thousands of years old and as they get nine to eleven metres of rain per year there, the place is just covered in moss.
“Just to put that into context, we get an average of half a metre here in WA.
“The place was so lush and dense and a world away from Tokyo where you just feel like an ant in the giant metropolis.”
REFRESHED AND READY FOR NEW SEASON
So having further indulged his wanderlust and sat his exams, how has the man who made his 100th A-League appearance for the club last term settled back into pre-season training?
“I find when I travel in my off-season and get away, that when I come back in, I’m really refreshed and excited to be back.
“It really feels like I’ve had a break both physically and mentally.”
*Perth Glory kick off their Hyundai A-League campaign away to Western Sydney on October 8. Before then, they play in the Westfield FFA Cup Round of 32, where they travel to Heidelberg in Melbourne on Tuesday, August 1.