The Caves of Mulu.... Borneo. / by Mark Boyd

I looked out the window as the Maswings plane flew low over the dense Bornean jungle. It trailed for as far as the eye could see. A large river meandered to the side of us. Huge ox bows and hair pains shaped the brown serpent which carved it's way through the undergrowth.

We landed on the small runway. The seatbelt lights went off.  As I exited the aircraft I offered to take my backpack directly from the hold.  There'd only been about 7 passengers. I could see my bag,.... But regulations meant it had to be carried from the aircraft and placed on the 10 foot long manual metal roller 'conveyor' belt for me to collect in the room that was Mulu airport 'Arrivals'.

I chatted briefly with Annet again, who'd I'd met at the airport earlier. A local lady greeted her at the entrance of the airport. She was staying on the grounds of the National Park in one of the National Park dormitories.  Jack had suggested Mulu Backpackers Homestay a few minutes walk from the airport on the left.  Today this few minutes felt like miles in the sweltering humidity, and because I was feeling particularly rough every step was bursting with effort. Helen, a local Mulu lady met me inside the homestay.... This was here home.  She lived here with her husband and son Ralph. I was the only one staying in the spacious eight bed room dorm tonight. Another couple were on a caving adventure for the day.

I needed to lie down. Helen suggested I walk to the National Park office and get myself registered with a park permit and sign up for one of tomorrow's cave tours.

I dragged my heavy body from the the bed and began walking slowly in the direction of the park. It was a 12 minute walk that today easily took me 20 minutes.

 This guy was crossing the road faster than me.... I almost lost him!

This guy was crossing the road faster than me.... I almost lost him!

Following a brief conversational interaction with a member of staff at the park office I was now in possession of a park permit and had signed up for one of the cave tours the next day, then walked even more slowly back to The Backpacker's Homestay. Electricity would come on at 6pm. That meant I would have a fan. I looked forward to having a fan. I was hot, sticky, uncomfortable and unwell. My stomach didn't feel right, and I was feeling very weak. I lay there on the bed until 7am the following morning, only rising to drink water, a can of 100 Plus (a type of Lucozade) brought in by Helen who knew I was suffering, and to pee.... The other guests arrived back at some point. They were really quiet. I lifted my head but didn't have it in me to chat. I just closed my eyes and resumed my sickly rest. It was 7am. Helen had breakfast ready. It had been 36 hours since I'd been able to face eating anything.... But this morning I was feeling good. My short, sickly fast had sorted me out. I was ready for breakfast and a shower.

Today the morning walk to the park was a 12 minute joy.

I met with Annet in the reception area, I think she was now experiencing a very different guy to the one she'd met yesterday. Chatty, social and a bit of a pain in the arse. Ha ha! It was great to feel great!

 

This morning we were off ot explore The Wind Cave & ........

Our young guide introduced himself as 'Nimrod'. I felt like introducing myself as 'Jet Pack' or something as farcical as his newly adopted name for that the tourists could pronounce. He seemed a little dour, and uninterested in what he was telling us.

Tripods weren't allowed in the caves, just in case you get the chance to capture some amazing shots in the low light conditions. I decided my Gorillapod wouldn't be in anyone's way and I would only attach it to railings, refraining from placing it on the path in the way of the other people on the cave tour. On the boat ride up river towards the cave we stopped for a few minutes at a small river community.

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They sold a few bits of pieces.... crafts and textiles.... nothing extraordinary.... But then just when I thought I'd see nothing here an old woman picked up one of her wooden 'nose' flutes and placed it against her nostirl giving a fine rendition of some fanciful Borneo ditty. Very impressive. The nasally skilled James Galway of Mulu had done enough to make this visit to the river community well worthwhile.

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The staligmites, staligtites, stalignads and overall rock formations were tremendous. To get any real good quality images required 40 second or longer shutter speeds. Bring out my flexible friend the Joby Gorillapod. I didn't realise, but even when wrapping this little fella on the wooden railings there were very slight vibrations from our group moving on the wooden decking walkways. I should really have known.

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On exiting the cave Nimrod, who had warmed to me because I put effort in to talking to him, informed me that I couldn't have a tripod with me. I explained that this was a Gorillapod, and then went on to explaining it's virtues in comparison to a large 'in the way of everyone' tripod.

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At the next cave Nimrod tipped off security. Discussions ensued, and once I'd convinced Nimrod that this was a harmless piece of kit that was harming no one, he high fived me and said 'Okay, but just a few shots using it.' Whilst the high five was still ringing through the rainforest the security guy had already chatted with the front desk at the National Park, and my Gorillapod was confiscated until we returned from the next cave. Nimrod apologised. I pushed him in the river. I didn't. It wasn't his fault. Well it was initially.... But such is life.

I stomped up the 185 steps to the next cave. It was a real beauty. And Nimrod had promised both Anett and I that he would give us plenty of time to take pictures. He was feeling a little guilty.

I loved this cave it really was tremendous. Holes that let in shafts of light from the surface and an underground river. Impressive!

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 What would happen to your head if you stood under a dripping shower for years.... and years.

What would happen to your head if you stood under a dripping shower for years.... and years.

 

I chilled for the afternoon, whilst Anett headed off on the 2pm Deer Cave tour.

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I booked my place on following day's Deer Cave tour and wandered decided a couple of hours wandering around the trails would suffice.  The beating of heavy wings drew my eyes skyward. It was like the sound of geese or swans flying low over head. I was treated to three huge hornbills making their way from one place to another. I stumbled upon a sign for a watch tower.

 Really massive leaf.... Could easily be one of ours back home except for the size!

Really massive leaf.... Could easily be one of ours back home except for the size!

At the top was Chris from Boston. He was sweating. And having spent only three minutes looking through the various gaps I could see why. The top part of the watch tower was like an oven. I bid Chris farewell, deciding to return to the top of the 25 metre watch tower early the following morning. Maybe there was more chance of spotting some decent wildlife early doors.

The following day I returned to the park.  Helen had made me breakfast nice and early.

On my way I spotted a snake disappearing from the road in to the grass verge. Nice start. On reaching the watch tower I was disappointed to see it was padlocked. I walked around the circumference, and like every good fence protected property there was a hole big enough for me to squeeze through and have the tower to myself for a couple of hours.

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 This tiny spider and his funky web were on the railings as I walked up the watch tower.....

This tiny spider and his funky web were on the railings as I walked up the watch tower.....

 This intricate little nymph was on a vine outside the viewing slats of the watch tower.... Beauty!

This intricate little nymph was on a vine outside the viewing slats of the watch tower.... Beauty!

 It was no bigger than half my little finger nail.... and I have lady hands...

It was no bigger than half my little finger nail.... and I have lady hands...

I didn't see a great deal. I amused myself with a tiny white nymph, a lizard and some small birds including a woodpecker and a Many Coloured Barbet, which when I showed the guide the photograph back at the reception area, he said he had only ever heard this barbet and never seen it.

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This afternoon our young uninterested guide took us to the Deer cave, a huge cavernous space of missing earth. It was home to over 1.5 million bats.... and their presence was detectable via a multitude of senses. You could here them. You could see them hanging in black masses one hundred metres up on the cave ceiling, and you could smell them.... Their bat poo caked certain areas of the cave floor. This place was simply vast! Without my tripod I couldn't really get the images I would have liked to share with you all. And without someone standing in place off the wooden walkway to give a sense of size there was no way of capturing the true awesomeness of this natural wonder.

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Between 5pm & 6pm the bats would flood out of the cave in to the open to feast upon mosquitos, moths and other flying insects.... Each night these bats will consume somewhere in the region of ........ tonnes of insects. Crazy! So we waited..... and waited.... it rained a little... this seemed to put the bats off. I walked back slightly disappointed.

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 Cute lizard about the length of my lady hand.

Cute lizard about the length of my lady hand.

I decided to change my flight from Mulu back to Kuching for one day earlier. This would give me a chance to get a day of work done before the Borneo Adventures assignment.  The following day would be my final day, so I really put in the effort.

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I was at the watch tower by 7.30am. I walked the Botany trail..... and then enjoyed a light lunch. I caught up on emails and then at 4.30pm decided to stride back out to the Deer cave to see if the bats were willing to put on a show. The sun was still shining, and at the moment it didn't look like rain. I walked hard and fast, arriving at the bat watching arena in a little over half an hour. The young Danes from the previous night and Boston Chris had also headed out hoping to see the bat spectacle following last night's disappointing show.

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We sat and watched.... Then eventually small streams of hundreds of bats began to exit the cave. Bat hawks picked off single bat samples here and there.

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Hornbills flew over, I counted 18 over 45 minutes, heading towards their roosting area....

 Big pill millipede

Big pill millipede

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As I walked back the rain began. It was heavy. Darkness had consumed the jungle and a head lamp or torch was necessary to illuminate the way. I decided to take the side trail marked 'Night time jungle walk.' In 45 minutes a group led by a an unknowledgeable young guide would walk this circuit. 'What's that?'. 'Its' a spider.'

'What's that?'

'It's a snake.'

'What's that?'

'It's a frog.'

Bloody uesless.

The sound of the jungle/rainforest is eerie when your alone. The rain hammered down on my as I shone my headlamp up, down and side to side hoping to avoid any tree hanging snakes, spiders or whatever else awaited me in the darkness. It was exhilarating....

After half and hour I was back at the lodge cafe. I oredered some noodles, sat with a young group of backpackers who seemed disappointed their night time jungle walk may be cancelled due to the rain. I told them I did it alone. Their eyes opened wide.

I told them I was going to walk back out on the wooden boards to see what I could find once I'd eaten my noodles. Their guide led them in the now lighter rain.

I took a different direction.

As I shone my headlamp on the wooden railing I spotted huge stick insects, and whilst I was studying one such example a very long bronze back snake slithered it's way towards me along the railing. I stood watching, no more than one and a half metres away. What a beautiful creature.

I could have walked for hours seeing what I could find..... and if I'd brought spare batteries along I may well have done so. I shone the headlamp up at a hanging leaf. I large white, furry, tarantula style spider clung to the back of the leaf waiting to leap on it's unsuspecting prey. I wouldn't have wanted that on my face! By 10pm I was walking back up the track to the Backpackers Homestay.

Ralph, Helen's son, was having a couple of beers with his cousin Patrick. They shouted me over and pushed a tinny my way. Then another and a third one for good measure. We chatted about work in such a small community where less than 800 people live. We talked a lot about fishing.... No great surprise.

I hit the hay.

The following morning I heard the flight for Miri circle over the airport above the low cloud.... It didn't land. Hmmmm this didn't bode well for my afternoon flight. If flights are rescheduled Maswings hosts all their passengers in the local, very upclass Marriot Resort, so I wasn't worrying.  Sadly the sky cleared and my flight was scheduled as normal.  The folks from Miri were placed on my Kuching flight. Which meant an extra half hour for me.

When we landed in Kuching everyone got off except for me.  I was left on the aircraft with three lovely Maswings air hostesses and a Maswings aircraft cabin all to myself.

Comically the hosties still ran through standard safety procedures and announcements. We all got chatting and they brought me one of the business class meals. Lovely ladies indeed!  One of the crew even gave me a lift in to Kuching city and dropped me the hostel I'd checked out online.

When I walked in to the hostel I told the guy at the front desk that I needed good internet as I had work to catch up on. They were honest and said that when their internet connection was working it was slow at best.... I had another place in mind. When I arrived the sign on the door of the recently opened Check Inn Lodge said 'Fastest Internet in Malaysia'. Sign me up!   

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