Report From Borneo (Continued)

JULY 1998

It had rained a little overnight and was still drizzling as we headed to Miri airport in the morning. We were booked on the 08.35 hr flight to Mulu. It is a Rural Air Service flight with Malaysia Airlines – which means that you will more than likely fly in a plane designed to take off and land on short runways. It also means that the normal computer reservation system means nothing and that you will probably be weighed along with your luggage. If you are too heavy for the plane, you may well have to wait for a later flight! We joined the queue to check in, but little seemed to be happening – we started getting a bit anxious when there was only 10 mins until our scheduled departure. When we mentioned this to someone on the check in counter for normal flights (the ones which have computer reservations), a bit of action started on our end of the counter, and we were able to jump the queue – the people in front of us were not going to Mulu anyway. We were duly checked in and weighed, and had just enough time to go into the boarding lounge and virtually straight on to the plane with the other 5 passengers (a Dutch family holidaying in Sarawak while working in Brunei) – a Twin Otter with a 19 seat capacity (plus the pilot and co-pilot).

We took off and headed off on our scheduled 35 min flight, towards Mulu – at least we assumed that is what we did. The pilots did not seem to have any idea where we were going! After an hour and a half we landed at Miri again!

We had headed in the general direction of where you would expect to go to get to Mulu (generally North-East), however, after about 10 mins, the pilots started to look as though they might be having difficulty. We were flying quite low, as if they were trying to pick landmarks – we even did a full circle of one village on a river. At other times, we were flying low over forests and hills – every now and then, one of the pilots would point towards something and then we would head off over there. There was a bit of cloud cover – it was, or had been raining over large areas, but it was quite easy to see the ground. You could in fact see so much of the ground that it was possible to be able to see the extent of the bush fires which had been burning in the region earlier this year. After about 55 mins – well after we should have landed – we headed high up into the sky, as if the pilots were trying to get a better view of the ground below. The only problem was that we actually flew above the clouds and could not see a thing. After 1 hr 10 min, the co-pilot turned to us and said that they could not find the airfield, and that we would have to return to Miri, which we seemed to do with considerable ease. They at least knew the way back!

We were told at Miri that the cloud cover was low at Mulu as they had experienced a heavy storm in the morning, and consequently, the cloud base was very low. As the airport is surrounded on three sides by mountains, it was considered that we should return to Miri until the cloud base lifted. Fair enough – who wants to be plastered over a hillside? It really did seem to the passengers, though, that we were not told the whole story. We were therefore shuffled onto the next flight which left at 12.30 hr, except that it was already full. We would have to wait to see if there was going to be room for us to get on the flight.

As it turned out, it was almost 12.30 before we actually had boarding passes in our hands. This time we took off, and sure enough, 35 mins later, we arrived in Mulu. We were picked up at the airport by our guide, Vino, who then shepherded us down to the jetty (yes, the jetty is at the airport), from where we proceeded to head down stream to the Mulu National Park headquarters. Vino had been waiting for us since 09.00 hrs. in the morning. He knew that we would eventually arrive, just not exactly when!

We had lunch at a small local restaurant nearby, and then after lunch headed off on our tour of the Lang Cave and the Deer Cave. Due to our late arrival, we were going to have to miss out on our planned tour of the Wind and Clearwater Caves, which was somewhat disappointing for us, as we had already heard so much about them. A trip to Mulu should try to include at least two nights so that you can really appreciate the area, and also to cater for unforseen circumstances, such as delayed flights. The Wind and Clearwater Caves are always viewed in the morning and the Deer and Lang Caves are always viewed in the afternoon and early evening (National Park Regulations).

The Trail to the Caves

The trail to the Caves is completely on a boardwalk – mostly timber, but occasionally concrete. It is also sometimes a little slippery too, as it runs straight through the rainforest. It is about a 3 km walk, which is by no means taxing. There are some wonderful views of jungle as you are walking along the trail, including some truly magnificent trees. At various places along the way, it is possible to see into small openings in the limestone which forms the mountains in the area. Occasionally there is also the faint cooling breeze wafting out of the caves, and you realise that you are in a cave area. You suddenly arrive in an opening, and see for the first time that you will in fact be able to “visit” a cave.

Formations in Langs Cave At Mulu

Our first Cave was Lang’s Cave which is a cave with a wonderful display of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as “shawls” and other typical limestone cave formations. The cave is lit to enable the formations to be displayed to their best advantage. It is not a large cave by any means, and really only requires about 30 mins to view it, but it is nonetheless, rather interesting. The formations reminded me a little of some parts of Jenolan Caves in Australia, although I would hazard a guess that it is quite possible that the system at Mulu will ultimately reveal a lot more caves than have been discovered at Jenolan in Australia.

The Deer Cave at Mulu

From Lang’s Cave, it is but a short walk to the Deer Cave, with the largest entry to any cave known to man. It has to be seen to be believed. It is so large that you hardly realise that you are actually entering a cave at all. The entry chamber is about 120 metres wide and 100 metres high. By the time that you reach the back of the cave, it is so dark that it is only possible to see with the aid of a torch. The Deer cave is not lit, although it appears that it may have been at one stage. The cave is also famous for the 2 000 000 or so bats (who’s counting?) which depart from it every evening, and consequently, there is a large amount of guano on the floor – you are warned not to look up too much while walking in some areas of the cave (a boardwalk and concrete path take the visitor on a trail through the cave). The trail leads to the back of the cave where it opens up to the outside world again, although, the trail itself does not go all the way out into the open. Once you have seen where the end of the monstrous cave is, you backtrack to just beyond the cave entry to await the departure of the bats in the early evening. We were not by ourselves – it seems that this is a very popular activity for tourists to the area, and we were able to while away the time with a few people from the States, England, Australia and Holland. Vino also had a sense of humour and kept us all entertained.

Bats leaving the Deer Cave at Mulu

Just prior to 18.00 hrs, the bats started to emerge from their cave. They do not come out in one big swarm, but rather in a number of swarms. Each swarm comes to the cave entry, and then circles around for a few seconds, possibly while they attempt to select a leader from amongst their ranks, and then off they go – thousands at a time. It is estimated that there are about 3 million bats in the cave. In all, they probably took about 15 or 20 minutes to depart – cloud after cloud of bats. It is not just a thin wispy trail of bats, but a real “blot” on the sky! It is an incredible sight, and definitely one that I have never experienced anywhere before.

Bats in the sky

The sun sets rather quickly in this neck of the woods, and by the time we got back to the park headquarters, it was just about full on night time. We got back into the boat, and on the beam of a hand held torch, headed further down stream to the Royal Mulu Resort, which provided a wonderful spectacle to arrive at in the night time. You come around a bend in the river, and there in front of you is a large limestone Massif, lit by spotlights. The rock is on the river bank directly opposite the main entry to the resort. The river itself surrounds the resort on almost three sides, making it a very beautiful oasis in the middle of the jungle (if it is possible to have an oasis in the middle of a jungle). We checked in, were shown to our room, which was about as far away from the Reception area as it is possible to get (but who’s complaining), then had a quick swim, before sampling the food for dinner. The resort itself is built completely on concrete stilts or piers, as the river is liable to flood during the monsoon season. Some of the piers are up to 6 metres high. Access to any part of the resort is therefore, basically on one level, with boardwalk type access to all of the guest rooms, and other areas of the resort. Most of the rooms have a view over the river, and those that don’t, have a view over a walk through aviary.

Tomorrow we travel on to Kuching.

Trip Travelogues

Clarissa’s Diary continues on the next page

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