The amazing caves of Mulu
Gunung Mulu Park Travel Blog› entry 33 of 44 › view all entries
Gunung Mulu is nestled in the North East corner of Borneo right up against the border with Brunei. Due to its remote location it is only accessible by a very long river journey or flight (both similar in cost) and so we opted to fly. Things didn't go to plan, our flight from Kota Kinabalu was delayed due to a fire in the airport (head line news in Malaysia!) and so we were stranded in an old oil boom town named Miri as the airport in Mulu has no landing lights and it was too late in the day in terms of runway visibility.
The next morning we boarded our flight and flew over a stunning patch of rainforest, for a bout 5 minutes all we could see was the rainforest stretching as far as the eye could see only broken by the intestine like loops of a great brown river. As is the case all over the region our view was soon blighted by the regimented rows of trees in a new oil palm plantation. Soon the mountains of Gunung Mulu appeared to our left, lofty and forest clad and our plain descended and landed really badly. We stepped out into the sweaty armpit like conditions of the tropical forest and checked into our hostel outside the park.
There were two short walks we could do without the aid of a guide and we set off to a cave known as moon milk cave. The forest here was peat swamp forest, the tracks as the name would suggest were pretty swampy and steep ditches ran through the forest full off water the colour of strong black tea and tea coloured ponds dotted the trail. The trees had huge prop roots like mangrove trees it was almost as if they were trying to escape the fetid clutch of the mud below. As you would imagine this stagnant swamp was paradise for mosquitoes but thankfully there was not a leech in sight.
Moon milk cave was your bog standard cave with not much living inside it. The cave gets its name from a white fluffy substance which coats its walls and is thought to be generated by bacteria living in the limestone. It was dusk so we trekked back through the darkening forest and hoped for some encounters with the nocturnal wildlife. A bizarre sound drifted down from the tree tops like random strokes badly played on a violin, we presumed it was from an insect and the sound got louder and louder as it got darker. It was so creepy just like the music before someone gets stabbed hundreds of times in a horror movie and Suz and I both quickened our step. The forest was depressingly empty of wildlife. We saw some geckos and a few frogs and then retreated to bed when the heavens opened.
Next day we attempted the second trail we could do unaccompanied, a walk to a water fall. The forest trail here consisted of a meticulously maintained board walk so it was not really like trekking through a rainforest at all and took a bit of the fun out of it especially as the clattering boards echoed through the forest alerting every living thing in a 1km radius to our presence, it wasn't all bad as fat skinks lounged on the boardwalk basking in the rising sun and the forest echoed noisily with the weird and wonderful sound of forest birds. The waterfall path finally branched off from the board walk and we spent 20 minutes slipping and sliding through puddles to get to the waterfall. At one point we took a detour to the river bank to look and see if there were any animals about and we came face to face with a group of otters, they were as shocked as we and they made our escape as we fumbled with our cameras. The waterfall was not the scene of the herbal essence advert we had been anticipating, I took a half halfhearted dip and we turned around.
In the afternoon we went to a Penang resettlement village (I guess they must have been kicked out of the park when it was created), it was a sorry looking place but we had heard you could by some locally made handicrafts there. We asked around and were ushered into a stilted house by a young women and her elderly mother, they then showed us hundreds of different key rings made from plastic beads, they were all pretty shit but we settled on a couple of bamboo bracelets more out of pity than anything else.
That evening we paid a guide to take us on a night walk it wanot great due to the steady rain but we saw some piture plants and suzan and I spotted most of the other wildlife (frogs and geckos again), the guide was pretty awful and he attempted to redeem himselfef frantically but all he could come up with was measlyly cockroach.
I left suzan sleeping and set off into the park bright and early and spent the morning chasing lizards trying to get some decent photographs. Mulu is known for its adventure caving, the limestone mountain range is a honeycomb of passages, again (and probably wisely this time) a guide is required. I met one of the cavers and he told me about a cave called racer cave, named after the racer snakes that live inside and he described the brief root that he took to see the snakes. I thought it sounded pretty easy and after a little rope ascent and something cavers call a squeeze I found three huge rat snakes. Apparently these are one of the only true cave dwelling snakes in the world and they spend their entire life in the subterranean caverns of Mulu feeding on bats and swifts.
That afternoon we had arranged to see two of the "show caves'" we trekked through the forest our guide seemed obsessed by stick insects and she took a twisted delight in pointing out a bush with a stick insect on and watched us for five minutes trying to find it with an annoying 'whats taking you so long' look on her face. The first cave we went to was a bog standard lime stone cave with some stalagmites and cave curtains etc etc but the second cave was amazing. Dear cave is the largest cave passage in the world and as we walked towards it the reek of ammonia hung heavily in the air. The cave is home to 3 million bats (12 different species) and all those bats create a lot of mess. As we made our way into the cave the leaves and rocks were covered in a thick layer of guano and the guide wisely advised us 'when look up, keep mouth closed!'
The cave system is also home to swiftlets and these wheeled in great circles above us screaming excitedly at our intrusion. In the entrance to the cave trees grew but were dwarfed by the size of the passage ways entrance. Water trickled down from the ceiling into the brown stream of effluent which flowed out of the cave. The smell was stronger and the huge cavern was littered with boulders stained a hundred colours of shit, it was actually almost like a lunar landscape a quite attractive! the guano seethed with roaches and beetles and we were thankful for the boardwalk which separated us from these animals. We went deeper into the cave and above us on the roof of the awesome cavern was a dark patch like a shadow, this was the colony of wrinkle lipped bats the colony was enormous and we could not distinguish individuals. We continued on into the gloom and after several minutes reached the other opening of the cavern. Here a different type of creature patrolled the cave floor, giant golden earwigs and these picked clean the carcass of a swift in the muck. Above us yet another huge colony of naked bats.
The swifts were coming in to roost and they settled down in their dirty looking nests glued to the side of the cave. We left the cave and about 200m away from the entrance took our seats to watch the bat exodus. It began with small groups but eventually a long stream of bats left the cave to forage for insects in the surrounding countryside, the sound of a thousand beating leathery wings was clearly discernible and the bats shifted position as if they were a single entity, it was quite beautiful to watch.