Indiana Jones meets Golum

Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

So much for my carbon footprint. On the flight from Miri to Mulu in a 70 seater plane there were 5 of us. Almost felt like my own private  jet. It was quite sad to look out from the plane and see how much of the jungle has been cleared. There are masses of dirt roads leading in all direction which are used by the logging trucks. What was even more amazing was the amount of land that is being used for palm oil plantations. Row upon row of dead street lines as far as the eye can see. This used to be jungle but is now a multi billion dollar source of revenue.

Gunung Mulu National Park is yet another UNESCO world heritage site and I am looking forward to exploring these caves. These were made famous some years ago on the Wildlife Channels of TV showing millions of bats flying out of the caves at dusk. These bats consume 9 tons of insects in a nights feeding. The main attraction at this park are the network of caves of which about 300 km have been surveyed and mapped which is estimated as only half of the subterranean network. all this set in a tropical forest only 4 degrees north of the equator. This is a rain forest that receives between 5000 and 7000 mm of rain a year. 

18/5/2013
 After checking in I plan and organise all my walks.Most of the walks require guides and by the time I have booked and paid for all my trips my wallet has taken a severe pounding. These are not cheap but I guess this is the only chance I will have of exploring this area. Some of the overnight walks are ridiculously expensive so I have left these out.My first trip is 6 km round trip to the Deer and and Lang caves followed by watching the bat exodus in the evening. Its a great walk through the jungle and my guide is very good at spotting the extremely well camouflaged insects and lizards.Some of them are almost impossible to see until they move. There is a constant background symphony of frogs and cicadas and other jungle creatures. Once again I am surprised by the lack of birds. Butterflies of different sizes and colours flap past and the array of insects is extraordinary.

The first cave we explore is the Lang cave which has spectacular stalagmites and stalactites with all sorts of limestone formations. From here we then enter Deer Cave. This cave has an estimated 5 million bats comprising 12 different species. It is the worlds largest cave chamber measuring 2 km in length, 175 m wide and 120 m high. Space to park forty 747 jumbo jets. There is a strong smell of bat guano as you enter and the sheer size of this chamber is awesome. There are few lights in the cave but it is too big to take photos as these do not really justify how huge this cavern is. There is a constant clicking of the bats echo sounding and flapping of wings as bats fly overhead. There are also large populations of Swiftlets that live in the cave. These are the ones that make their nests out of saliva and which are famous in some Chinese restaurants as Birds Nest Soup. Our guide picks up a thin centipede and holds it in his closed hand. When he opens his hand the centipede is a bright glowing luminous green. Once he places it on the ground it completely disappears into the blackness. There are all sorts of creatures that live in these caves and each has adapted to the darkness in its own way. We only explore about 850 m into this huge cavern and then exit to watch the evening highlight of the bats exiting the cave in search of food. If there is heavy mist or rain the bats don't always come out. Unfortunately this afternoon there is a bit of rain and the bats do not appear. I am quite dissapointed as this is something I would really like to experience. At about 6.30 pm we head back to camp (3 km) but on the way back it begins to pour with rain. It is dark and the jungle sounds are now at full volume. An awesome experience with lots of firefly hovering around.

19/5/2013
After a quiet morning around camp I head off to my next caves called the Fastlane caves. After a short trip up river we are dropped at a small jetty and after a short hike we enter these caves. There are no lights in this cave and all the exploring is done by torch light. This is like Indiana Jones meet the Hobbit. I expect Golum to come creeping out his 'My Precious' . Once again I am in awe as to the size of these caves. It is very difficult to describe them without repeating words like awesome, majestic, amazing etc. But this words still do not do justice to these caves. I really felt like an explorer going through the 1.5 km of these caves. Once again my guide was excellent in finding all the cave creatures. Crickets with extremely long antennae, Blind catfish, shrimps and crabs. An assortment of spiders and centipedes that have all adapted to the darkness. At one stage we switched of our torches and just stood there in the blackest of blackness and listened to the sounds. Bats and Swiftlets flapping above you, echo clicks and noises of dripping water. Scuttling 'things' all around. A fantastic experience. Add this to all the chambers, tunnels and cave features I am in total awe of nature. In one section a thin stream of water flows down the rock and then totally defies gravity by running 'upside down' horizontally under a overhang and then continues vertically into a pool at the base. No explanation???

In the evening I head out on a night walk. Once again the jungle is a cacophony of noise. We are lucky to see various frogs, a pit viper, bats, stick and leaf insects and all sorts of other creatures. Our guide explains that if you hold you torch up to eye level it helps in spotting creatures as their eyes reflect the light. Once you get the hang of it you realise that you are surrounded by spiders big and small. The jungle has many unusual insects each with its own way of surviving.

20/5/2013
Today I am exploring the Clearwater and Wind caves. On the way up river we stop at a little riverside settlement. These are Penang people of Borneo which were traditionally nomads of the jungle. The Government has re housed them all along the banks of the river and only about 300 still live in the jungle. There is a small craft market set but it is rather depressing as most of the crafts are bead work items proclaiming 'Love Jesus'. I understand that this was an initiative set up by the government to help but these nomadic people look very sad and disgruntled as they try to eke out a living in a world that is totally alien to their jungle ways. 

Our little boat turns up a tributary and the water changes from coffee brown to crystal clear water that is green due to the reflection of the treetop canopy. We first explore the Wind caves and once again my senses are amazed by the size and different formations. This whole cave has not been fully surveyed but there has to be another entrance as there is a constant breeze that blows through the cave. The Kings Chamber is massive with huge columns and spires and waterfalls. We next enter the Clearwater caves, so named for the fast flowing crystal clear water that rushes through this cave. To date they have only explored 220 km of this underground river course and there is still more to find. Again the size and space inside these caves just boggles my brain. Scientists are still trying to work out this whole system but do not have all the answers. 

In the afternoon I venture 30 m up into the treetops. Apparently this is the longest tree based canopy walk of 480 meters. It is great fun being up on this swaying walkway and the experience is great. Once again I am surprised by the lack of birds. I always imagined jungles to be full of birds. Even the famed Hornbills that live here are elusive. Once back on the ground I decide to head off to see if i can see the bat exodus this evening. All the signs are good - it is clear - the Swiftlets are out and there are a few Bat Hawks circling in anticipation of an evening meal.  I sit there patiently waiting and am deeply dissapointed when by 6.30 it is getting dark and they have not made an appearance. But that is the nature of 'game watching' . You have to be in the right place at the right time and wildlife is not always predictable. This is one of the experiences I was most keen to see. Just bad luck I guess. I have another great walk back through the jungle by torch light and sadly I have to leave this incredibly place and head back to civilisation tomorrow.

Overall my experience in Borneo has left me with mixed emotions. When I was a kid, Borneo was the wildest darkest jungle in my imagination. All the stories were about impenetrable jungles with wild animals and fierce Head hunting tribes. This was the place of legends. Sadly today this is no longer the case. The jungles have been severely decimated due to logging. The fierce tribes have been resettled and re housed in concrete block houses and the traditional way of life doesn't appeal to the young generation. The Jungle is depleted of any large wildlife and the leopard, pygmy elephant, bears and apes are fighting a losing battle as their jungle is chopped down and hunters still have to eat. It has also been a fantastic experience as I have thoroughly enjoyed my adventures along the rivers and through the jungles and caves. I have meet some great people who have explained how it was in the old days and as always have eaten some great local food like Fried Forest fern. Unfortunately no one could source any Forest Pig which is apparently very tasty over the braai (BBQ). The world is changing and mans footprint is for ever widening. So I suggest that if you want to see and experience this wild Borneo jungle - get here quick before it has all gone.

Unfortunately I do not have many photos of the caves. As I mentioned these are just too large to photograph.
 
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Comments

GabonPhil on

Thanks for sharing this interesting blog entry Gus. Not sure this is a destination for me, but great to read your thoughts and see your photos. Keep it up. Cheers, Phil.

anngreen on

such a way with words, one almost feels like one is experiencing these adventures thru your words! so enjoying reading about your adventures!!
the beard is surprisingly well groomed, considering u just emmerged from darkest jungles of BORNEO!!!!!!!

Grant Ritchie on

Hey Padda - very interesting bud. Yeah Borneo was always "THE" jungle to me too. Enjoy. BTW - have you been taking writing lessons over there or have you now employed a scribe? Ha ha

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