Hello from the extraordinary Mulu National Park, where the woodlice are the size of snails, the snails the size of rats and the rats the size of cats! All will be explained, but all the animals here are quite odd. Mulu is a remote national park in the South-Western portion of Borneo known as Sarawak, a state within the Malaysian half of Borneo. It centres around a series of spectacular caves formed within limestone cliff formations (known as karsts), themselves clad in thick primary rainforest. The caves are linked by paths and rivers, and only really became known to the outside world during the 1970's, and the park itself was started up in the mid 80's. Our family visited just before 1990 when we lived in Brunei so I was interested to see if I would remember any of it and if it had changed.
As mentioned, Mulu is remote. There is no road here, so entrance is either by air, boat or on foot. The boat journey (which I remember taking when we last visited) takes 2 days and actually costs more than the plane, and is subject to river levels. The flight was a swift 30 minutes at low-level following the river to Mulu from Miri, the nearest large town. From the airport we squeezed into a Land Rover to get to the park (I sat in the boot with the bags!). You then walk across a small suspension bridge over the river and you're in the park. We were meant to be staying in a 21 bed dormitory booked months ago but, so unfortunately, it was being renovated. Instead, and for the same dorm price, we were offered a double chalet with ensuite walk in shower, aircon, and probably lots of geckos. We ummed and ahhed and then graciously accepted. It was lovely except for the large black soldier ants who were walking across the top of our bed, which we solved by pulling it away from the wall, and they duly disappeared, magic! The chalets were definitely new by the way, I don't remember us staying in such luxury before!
The first afternoon we walked to the entrance of Deer Cave, around 3km from our hut. Here there is a 'Bat Observatory' where you can watch as bats exit from Deer and Lang's cave at sunset on their way to hunt insects. Around 2-3 million bats call the cave home and it is quite a sight to see them leave in long groups tens of thousands strong.
The next day we were up early for a walk on 'the canopy walk', a walkway suspended between the tree tops to give visitors an idea of conditions in the upper canopy of the forest. It was only wide enough for one at a time and could only hold 2 people at once on each section, Brenda prodded me in the back to make me walk on first. I'd like to say that there were wonderful views, that we read all the detailed signs about the flora and fauna and that we saw a performing troupe of monkeys, but it was so humid and hot in the canopy (even at 7am) that we couldn't hang around for long. I still think we got a pretty realistic idea of what life is like in the jungle canopy.
The afternoon was spent on a tour of Deer cave and Lang's cave. The latter was the first 'discovered', at least by white men, and is famous for its cave formations of stalagmites and stalactites. Deer cave is the largest cave (you could fit a cathedral in it comfortably, and it is 2km end to end) and is famous for being full of bats and their poo! A Planet Earth documentary was filmed here. You get to walk under the roosting bats and past their mountains (literally) of guano, which is full of cockroaches and other delightful creepy crawlies. Fortunately we were on the board walk. Oddly, when looking back at the entrance in profile there is an almost perfect likeness of a man's face - check out our pictures!
The following day started with a boat trip down the river, and me getting a bite on the leg from a huge red ant. It stung at the time similar to a wasp sting, which I could handle, but the maddening itch lasted for 5 days! Anyway, we stopped off at the local Penan village. The Penan are the indigenous people of this area, and there are some who are still truely nomadic, wandering the jungle hunting and foraging for food (one of our guide's grandmother is nomadic, he sees her about once a year when he gets word of their rough location and treks 5 days into the jungle to stay at their latest camp). From the village we took another boat ride to Clearwater cave and Wind cave. Wind cave is so named because air flows through a sink hole in the cave and out of the entrance, creating a draft. Clearwater cave has a large underground river flowing through it. I would try and describe them to you but I don't think I'd do it justice and you might get bored. Afterwards, we were very hot and sweaty, so we had a dip in the river that we travelled in on. No crocs here so the guides tell us! It was very clear and clean, we felt like we were in a Timotei advert. It was also freezing cold so we didn't stay in too long.
That evening came the best tour (in my opinion anyway, Brenda was trying to stay calm) - the Night walk. This 2 hour tour involved us actually trying to find snakes and spiders in the jungle at night, and we did! Actually we cheated a bit because there was a green tree viper on a tree between our chalet and the cafeteria but that doesn't sound very adventurous. We found another tree viper in the jungle that night, much better. There were also spiders galore, including a Huntsman spider. This is enormous, up to a handspan in size, but is not poisonous. We also saw giant woodlice, giant snails, giant stick insects and a giant rat. We were very lucky to see the rat, not being like your typical city rat but a huge snowy white creature the size of a large cat, known as a Moonrat and quite rare, furtling about in the undergrowth looking for bugs and lizards. I should also mention a couple of wrinkle-nosed bats hanging around chowing down on insects they had caught on the wing.
The next day was time to leave, another day another plane journey. We were swapping the laid back jungle atmosphere for bustling KL. Unfortunately we had 8 hours to kill in Miri waiting for our connecting flight. 10 minutes is a long time to kill in Miri, let alone 8 hours. This entailed going into town with all our bags and finding an internet cafe and vegetating. Looking around, there wasn't much else going on, and we were glad when the clock finally ticked around for our evening flight onwards.
Next up - a few days dodging the crowds and the rain in Kuala Lumpur on mainland Malaysia.
Lots of love
David and Brenda xxx