After spending a day in Miri with my paragliding friends, I was all set for my little adventure in Mulu. I had been reading up quite a bit and there was so much I wanted to do but alas, as usual, I just did not have enough time. I had only 3.5 days. I needed more time!! I finally settled for some show caves visiting and Pinnacles Climb.
Mulu is only accessible by flight or boat along the river. No roads lead to Mulu and most parts of Mulu has been untouched for 60 million years. In fact many caves, flora and fauna remains undiscovered till today. I am really looking forward to setting my foot on this amazing place.
Flying out of Miri, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the flight to Mulu was. MAS wings was definitely value for money. And just side tracking a little, I actually did a little survey on an iPhone styled as a tablet. That was so cool I had to take some shots of it.
Ingre was the first lady I met on the same track to Mulu. A ten minutes car ride will bring us to our destination. The lady driver was chatty and friendly and she took note of our return time so she could be back to fetch us to the airport. There was this very personal touch to the service and I had this feeling that this was such a sparsely populated place that probably everyone knew everyone else. Welcome to Mulu.
Checking in at the headquarters was pretty much of a breeze. I was told I had to take the bungalow since nothing else was available. One of the guides at the counter pulled out this really cool itinerary planner with a map and noted down the trips I had planned. Most of the treks in Mulu are guided walks and there were only 2 routes I could take unguided. I was pretty determined to complete these during my time here.
It was only 11am and I left Ingre to go to my room. We were meeting up again at 1pm for our guided cave tours and our bat viewings. That would last us well till the end of the day, so I was planning to do the unguided trail to Moonbeam cave before our guided tours.
My first pleasant surprise. The bungalow was really a bungalow. It was really a luxury sleeping quarters and I felt so pampered to be here all by myself. The next two nights will be at Camp 5 and that would be really basic facilities, so I was quite glad for this little luxury indulgence.
A quick lunch and I was off to my first hike to my first Mulu cave. Yes, I was getting really excited. The walk started with a raised timber walkway and progressed into a cemented one which was pretty tricky. Thanks to all the rain we had, it was real slippery.
I took my time initially as it didn’t seem to be that far away. Well, advice from the guides was to give myself 45 minutes to an hour each way. I figured that would give me a comfortable 30 minutes to explore the cave.
Boy, I was so wrong. Firstly I was distracted by the insects and butterflies along the way and oh, did I leave out the birds and the trees too… Perhaps I was alone so there was really lot s of chances to spot insects and bugs. Not a big fan, but some of them were really pretty. And the singing of the cicadas, really captivating. And there were these little white flowers that smell so good. Secondly, I realised I wasn’t able to move as quickly as I would like to. I nearly slipped a few times and I had to really watch my steps. Nope, I wasn’t going to suffer that fall and miss my Pinnacles trek.
It felt good again to be back in the midst of the rainforest on my own. Well, it might seem a not-so-wise decision to do this alone in a foreign land but I was really enjoying this little quiet time alone. As a park safety measure, we had to go to this white board at the park security office to put down our names and destination with the time that we set off. Strictly no hiking after 7pm. I was also given a briefing on the difficulties of conducting a search if one went missing in the forest. Yes, I would be a good girl and I would try hard not to go wandering around too much on my own.
It seemed like a very long walk. By now I had begun tracking my timing and keeping my pace in check. It had been a good 30 minutes and the cave was nowhere in sight. I was getting a bit worried and considering if I should turn back so I would not miss my afternoon activities. I pressed on and the sight of the steps took me by surprise. I took out the little write up I picked up from the counter and I was shocked at what I missed reading. This was the start of the 427 steps that would bring me to Moonmilk cave. I began the ‘journey’….
Well, it was all worth it when I finally found the entrance to the cave. And yes, I was all out of breath. Torchlight in hand, I entered my first Mulu cave.
Unlike the caves I visited in China, this was very much in its original state and it was really dark. The ones I had been to previously were well lit with neon lights and I had always felt that that took away the mystic feel I imagined caves to have. This was a real treat for me because it was very much in its original state. At that moment, I really wished I had a better camera.
For most part of the caves, I was not able to stand tall and had to crouch low to get through. Certain portions were also really tight and I had to squeeze myself through a little. There was a bit of a wind tunnel effect too as I could occasionally feel the cold breeze blow through. It was initially daunting to be alone in the cave but I slowly grew comfortable with the low lighting and the confined space. I had read a little about the formation of these limestone caves and water played a major role. I could feel water dripping on me as I moved along. The cave was damp but it was a refreshing kind of chilly and cool moist air. Nice after a long walk up the steps.
I finally understood the meaning of light at the end of a tunnel when I saw light coming through from the other end. I wasn’t really sure if I should walk right through that and if this was a ’round-about’ kind of route. I decided I did not have the luxury of time and I went back the way I walked in.
I guessed going back would be slightly faster and after clearing my steps, I decided to run a bit, just in case I couldn’t make it back by 1pm. Again, my plan was foiled by what I saw along the way. And well, the concrete walk was still slippery. I made my way back as fast as I possibly could and if you were guessing, you were most probably right. I made it.
The afternoon plan was to go to Deer cave and Langs cave, both of which are guided show caves. I was wondering if a show cave would be something of the sort I saw in China with the artificial colourful neon lights. I definitely hoped not.
The walk this time round was slightly different as this was a guided walk and there were about 6 of us in the group. Ingre was also part of this group. Eugene was an excellent guide and he was able to point out lots of stuff for us to see along the way to the caves. We had a little lesson on the different plants and trees. I had been through hikes in rainforest but this was the first time I had someone explaining their uses. Eugene also explained the different relationships that plants and animals share and how interdependent they were. I particularly liked the way he played with the thorns of a plant. It actually responded with a little rustling and we were all amazed. The sounds we heard were actually made by the ants on the plant as they rushed and brushed against the leaves. Nice one there.
By the time we reached the caves, we were all becoming great stick insect spotters too. I had some difficulty initially but like I said, Eugene was really good and soon, all of us were spotting stick and leaf insects on our own too.
We headed toward Langs cave first. It was not a huge cave but definitely much wider than the Moonmilk cave. As we entered, there were small pools of water that greeted us. It was much wetter in comparison and I was quite surprised at the differences. Eugene pointed out some small shrimps in the water with his torchlight. I was more captivated by the thread worms and the web they spun. They were long thin threads shimmering in the caves.
There were also potholes on the ceiling of the caves and on closer look, there were actually bats within them. We were careful not to shine our lights directly at the bats. It was after all still sleeping hours for them and most importantly, we were not to blind or startle them.
Other than the animals within the caves, the cave structure was itself amazing. The stalagmites and stalactites were spectacular on their own. You could also see and feel the water coming down through the tiny holes and how some of them joined up to form a column. There were also many telltale signs of how the water had washed or triggered down to mark the walls of the caves.
In contrast, the Deer cave was much bigger. Well, bigger was an understatement. It is the world’s biggest cave passage. It had this grandeur about it when you entered as it was really huge. Apparently, a long time ago, there used to be deers living in the caves, mainly for shelter and water. Today, one could no longer find them around. But Deer cave continued to house over 3 million bats. The ammonia smell from their shit was also overwhelming, definitely not for the faint hearted. A little joke, we were told not to open our mouths when we looked up or we might end up tasting a mouthful of that.
What you see in the cave structures relied heavily on your own imagination too. It could be an animal or the face of a famous historical figure. We had a bit of fun telling one another what we thought we saw.
The end of the Deer cave is the Garden of Eden and it was formed when the cave partially collapsed to create an opening. This was so beautiful and definitely as the name suggested. There was also a waterfall right at the end. Unfortunately, this cave tour did not include the Garden of Eden and we were not able to walk across. I could imagine how refreshing it would be to simply dived into the pool of water with the waterfall gushing down behind. Well, another reason why I needed to revisit this place.
The highlight of the evening was to wait for the bats to go out to hunt for food. We took our seats at the bat observatory and patiently waited for the show to begin. I was expecting the sky to be filled with millions of bats but what happened was a bit different. The bats came out in batches and it seemed so unbelievably organised. I wondered if they were actually queueing up at the cave entrance. Still, it was quite a sight and experience for me.
It seemed to get dark pretty early, perhaps around 6pm and Eugene was saying that it usually gets completely dark by 7pm.
After a long walk back, I took a shower before heading to the cafe for dinner. I had made arrangements to have dinner with Ingre. I didn’t realise how bad I smelt until I was taking my bath. It felt good to be in nice clean clothes.
I met Troliver and Jennifer during dinner. Jennifer knew Ingre when they met in Kuching and was on the same plane as Toliver when they flew to Mulu. In fact, we were 4 strangers having dinner together and it was really interesting as we shared a little about what each other did back home. I might be traveling alone but like I always said, you would find company along the way.
Great dinner company, a long chat and it was off to bed. I was definitely looking to day 2 of my Mulu trip and this, to be continued in part 2.