Borneo is most widely known for its pristine rain forests (which are being logged, but is that really surprising?). I had never been to a rain forest. So, despite the countless reports online and in the LP about leeches and coming prepared, leech socks at the ready, I booked my trip to Gunung Mulu in Malaysian Borneo's eastern state, Sarawak.
I'm not a super-adventurous type (I'd prefer four walls to a tent any day of the week), but I'm also not a namby-pamby. Mulu has plenty of accommodation: a four-star resort, private rooms with private bathrooms, and dorms. I chose the "roughest" (read: most budget-friendly) of them all: the dorms. What can you expect from a dorm in a rain forest? They were clean and neat with minimal amounts of huge scary bugs. There was no air conditioning, but I think I preferred it that way. The showers, however, were rampant with geckos, huge bat-sized moths, plenty of mosquitoes and other unknown insects that I warily kept my eye on while showering in the freezing-cold water. It could have been "rougher," yes, but I think I did pretty well.
The plane ride there was pretty much breath-taking, as much of a cliche as that word is. I mean, really. It was incredibly beautiful. Know what? I'm going to just let those pictures (that you've probably already seen) speak for themselves:
Not even the presence of about 20 Korean ajummas and ajoshis could damper it for me.
When I arrived it was, of course, raining, as it tends to do in a rain forest. The cafe that is attached to the dorms is pretty accommodating. There is the traditional Malaysian fare, but they also have hamburgers and french fries. Breakfast is included and their pancakes were DELICIOUS, though they attracted their fair share of bees.
After a quick snack and some more reading, I embarked on the night hike. Without a flashlight. Oh dear. I also neglected to bring my camera for two reasons: 1) I am clumsy and didn't want to worry about falling off the path and landing on the camera and 2) I thought, wrongly so, that taking pictures with flash would disturb the animals and insects and be discouraged by the guides. On our hike, we saw large insects, millipedes, some mammals up in the trees (eyes only) and a tarantula in its nest. Our guide told us to be vigilant about seeing snakes because if we saw one, there was about a 90% chance that it was poisonous. At the end of the night hike, we saw a very very large stick bug...I mean freakishly large. It was sweet. Then I went back to my dorm, where I was sharing pretty much the whole room (about 15 beds) with a big Malaysian family that woke up at 5am, before sunlight, to rustle their plastic bags around. Earplugs are a great invention.
The next day, I had more tours planned, but decided to venture out on my own for a bit.
The trees were really big. And there were these fern-like plants that seemed to be hanging around everywhere. I am interested to know what sort of relationship they have with the tree: are they part of it? Is there a symbiotic relationship between the plants and tree?
These ants, much like the stick bug, were really big. Mutant big.
There was a whole lot of moss on the trees, the ground, the walkway, and pretty much any other surface that has been around there for a long time.
The stagnant water was murky, but also kind of pretty.
I signed up for the Canopy Skywalk, which seemed like a good opportunity to see more animals and birds. It was not, but it was still pretty cool. You're about 15-25 meters above the ground, crossing a series of rope-ish bridges to get from platform to platform. Overall, I felt pretty secure, except for when I decided to stop and take a picture from the bridge. That was when I felt like I would go careening over the side, headfirst. Again, no real fauna to speak of, but it was a nice walk.
View of a mountain from the bridge.
From there, we moved on to the Deer and Langs Caves, but not before walking 2.5 km.
A river that we passed.
Rain forest friend. Look at that color!
Deer Cave is massive, but Langs Cave is much smaller.
Both of these are Langs Cave. With Deer Cave, it was really difficult to portray just how big it was using a camera. (It has the world's largest cave passage...ooooh....ahhhhh...)
Then, there is supposedly a Great Bat Exodus every night at dusk. It started raining, however, and after about 45 minutes I decided to head back the 3km. By myself. In the rain. It was not a super-fun hike, I can say that much.
My final day, I took a longboat up the river to Clearwater and Cave of the Winds. The longboat ride was really pretty; we were able to see people who live along the river: kids in school uniforms, whole families washing their hair, women washing clothes. I felt a bit like I was intruding on something, but they all just smiled and waved.
The one really great photo I got on the water.
We stopped at the Penan longhouse market; I was expecting a tour, they were expecting customers. So I bought some stuff and saw a pet monkey.
We stopped at the Cave of the Winds, which has natural winds going all through it. Apparently, the clouds sink down and seep through the cave roof, providing a constant stream of air. No good pictures though.
Our final destination was Clearwater Cave. At this point, I was getting a little caved out, as I'm sure you can imagine.
I still took some pictures, though!
And with that, I was finished at Gunung Mulu National Park. Time to head back to the hustle and bustle of Sabah's Kota Kinabalu. Sigh.
We got a nice rainbow to send us off.
What are those lines on the ground? I don't know!
On the ground in KK.
Stay tuned for the final installment of the Borneo Blogs!