The first time I heard the name Mulu, was many years ago, watching the Discovery Channel. The show was featuring the biggest cave in the world (this was before the ones in Mexico were discovered, I believe) but what made an impression on my juvenile mind were the million cockroaches. Technically, they are dung beetles, but they look dark, big and disgusting all the same. So for those of you that know me, you can understand I was rather reluctant to visit this place, but Tim had visited it on his previous Borneo adventure and convinced me I would be silly to miss the chance to see this place. And boy, he was right!
After reading about the different accommodation options in the area, I sent an email to my top choice: Mulu Village. According to the information I found, it was further away from the park headquarters than the others, but it made up for it by having lovely hosts, letting you use bikes for free, and being in front of a hill that provides a panoramic view of the whole of Mulu. The reviews were absolutely right; The place is run by Brenda, a Singaporean lady, and her husband, James. They are both great people, helpful and knowledgeable. His family was one of the first ones to settle on this river side town, back to when the HQ was only a few metres away from the longhouse that now serves as a home stay. We spent hours talking to them about the area, and learning from their stories. Most certainly recommend this place for anyone coming this way!
Our first chore was to go to the Park HQ and lay out a plan of our upcoming days. A friendly clerk helped us decide what attractions to visit, according to the things we wanted to see and our budget. I was a bit sad that caving was so ridiculous expensive, as I imagine it would have been really fun. Once sorted, we made our way through the wooden plank towards the viewing platform outside Deer Cave, where people were already gathering expectantly waiting for the bats to make their appearance. This is one of the main attractions of the park, as around dusk, thousands of bats leave the huge cave they call home, clouding the sky momentarily and startling the onlookers with the strange patterns they cut to avoid being eaten by their predators, the bat hawks. As we approached the benches, we spotted our German friends, Clara and Jasper. It was lovely to reunite and catch up on our most recent adventures. They had been in Mulu for a few days already, and were able to share their experiences with us. While we chatted amiably, we waited for the bats, until they decided to make their appearance. Not all of them seemed to have decided to leave this afternoon, but it was still a quite awesome spectacle. Once our stomachs started rumbling, it was time to call it quits. We decided to go eat dinner at a restaurant just outside the park, and were joined but a wonderful Italian girl, called Maria. We stayed together talking about everything for a few hours, after which we said goodnight and started our long walk back to our beds.
The next morning, we woke up around 8 am, and breakfast was ready for us. Brenda is a great cook, and we ate up, grabbed some bikes and headed towards the HQ, where we were meeting our group to visit Wind and Clearwater caves. I had seen a volleyball court posted there, so I had inflated my ball Wilson and took him under my arm with a huge grin on my face. We were the first ones there, so we killed time hitting the ball back and forth. Slowly people made their way to the meeting area, I stored Wilson in the storage room and we hopped on the boat heading upstream. The river is very shallow, and I was surprised the boat could even navigate safely, but of course the skippers know these waters like the palm of their hands and we had no trouble at all.
Our first stop was a settlement the government constructed for the aborigines tribe that inhabits this area. Later on we learnt from Brenda, that this is the third longhouse they built for them. Reason being, these people were nomadic, and used to perform their every day activities in their one room shelter… Which meant they had managed to burn down the two previous accommodations they were provided, so the gov opted out for building a longhouse out of concrete, possibly one of a kind. And there it lay, inhabited! They had a small market laid out, selling some handmade crafts. There also lay some signs telling their story. I was one of the few people to actually take the time to read the whole lot. It was very interesting, but at the same time had the bitter taste of history written by the ‘winners’. It spoke with praise of the efforts put into ‘civilizing’ this people, how they moved from living out of the jungle to petty trades. Later on I learned from our host that sadly most ancient precious hunting and survival techniques were pretty much long lost among the younger generation. Both Tim and I tried out luck/aim with the blowing darts, typical weapon used by these tribe to hunt (darts coated with poison). We said our goodbyes to this friendly locals and made our way back to the boat and up stream to the caves.
The first on the list was Wind Cave. Caves are hard to describe, and even harder to photograph, so I utterly recommend a visit 😛 A fresh freeze flows through this cave, giving it its name. It is connected to Clearwater through narrow and wide passages, an experience that takes about eight hours and is reserved for experienced cavers with enough founds to afford it. We settled with exploring the paths open to us, while our guide told us a few facts about our surroundings. Many million of years ago, when the sea level was much higher, this whole space was a coral bed. Eventually, as the level of the water receded, limestone accumulated. Once exposed, the tropical rain started pounding at it, and the underground rivers finally made their ways through the weaker spots, carving these caves. This explains the crazy rock formations, and the presence of sea shells and other evidence of marine life, which initially startled me, being that Mulu is rather far from the ocean…
To get to Clearwater, we had to climb a bit over 200 steps. This cave was much bigger than the previous one, and as you must have figured by now, featured a pristine stream of cool water. We kept climbing and descending steps all along, following the wimp of the water. It was most certainly a stunning place, and we explored it for over half and hour, before getting back down and going for a swim right outside the cave.
The water was cold and lovely, and everyone in our group except our guide went in for a dip. There were other groups enjoying the water as well, and we played around for a while until it was time to return to HQ. We shared lunch with Maria, who had come to the caves with us, and then made our way to the meeting point again, ready for our afternoon adventure.
There we met James, an Aus/US man that had shared the plane ride with us the day before. The 3 of us had the guide to ourselves for the second part of the day, and he was friendly and very chatty. You have to walk for almost an hour before getting to the entrance to the next set of caves, and we used this time to drill him with questions about the area, his culture, the animals, the park, and anything else we could think of. He responded to everything with a complacent smile on his face, making us feel very comfortable and well taken care of. The first stop was Lang Cave, named after the explorer who found it. This was a smaller cave, but beautiful nonetheless.
The next destination is possible one of the most famous caves in the world, Deer Cave. It is enormous! And also the home to thousands of bats, of four different species. This also means the floor is densely covered in dung, aka bat poop. And along with the poop, the beetles and other small insects that live and feed out of it. Luckily they seem to spend quite a bit of time cleaning the walk ways, sparing you the worst of it, as long as you don’t do something foolish like grabbing on to a handrail (yuck!) I had never been in such an awe inspiring place as this before, and I had to muster all my composure to keep my lips together and not go around with my mouth opened like a half wit. We walked all the way until we got to see another opening of this huge cave, that leads to a lush green space called the Garden of Eden. On our way back, we strolled back onto the viewing platform and waited for the bats to make an appearance. Quite a few more waves turned up than they had the previous night, and we enjoyed the sight thoroughly.
Night was rapidly closing around us as we made our way back to the river. James complained he had paid for a night tour the previous evening but they had been unable to spot much, as the guide practically raced through the path without caring or stopping for much. Tim took it as a personal challenge, so we made our way back slowly, using our torches to lead the way, and also turning them off at points to enjoy the fireflies. Halfway down the path, we spotted a gorgeous black and yellow snake, who stood still, blinded by our light, while we tried (and failed) to take photos. We also spotted all sorts of insects and bugs, but unfortunately we did not manage to find scorpions. Later on, we enjoyed dinner with him and our German friends. By the time we were done and went to get our bikes, we realised one of my tires was completely flat, and therefore had to walk back. The night was calm and beautiful, so it was not too bad at all.
The following morning, we woke up around 5.45am, as we had to be at the park by 7am for our early morning canopy walk. We had figured more animals would be around earlier rather than later. The walk among the trees was interesting, though slightly disappointing, as not many animals cared to make an appearance. I did manage to spot a flying lizard in the distance, and many birds. Most trees also had a legend with some information, so it was still a nice stroll (not recommended for those who fear heights).
We continued along another path towards a nearby waterfall. It is quite small, but it was refreshing as usual to put your head under the cascade and cool your ideas. It was a good way for me to wake up as well, as I am not much of a morning person… We then continued on a loop around the jungle, that was rather uneventful but interesting regardless, featuring some stunning rock formations on the way.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area. We visited a nearby hot spring, only to discover it was neither amazing nor did it open at night time, as it was in someone’s property. We had made an appointment to meet our friends later that night to view the bats from the hill nearby Mulu Village, have dinner and then visit the hot pools, so upon realizing this would not be an option, and adding the fact than the chosen restaurant was more expensive than we originally thought, I rode back to town to warn James. I searched fruitlessly for him among the quarters, and was sad to return without having found him. We rested for a bit, and then made our way up the hill to check out the view point. As predicted, the sight was amazing, and it encompassed the whole town and the caves in the distance. We watched the bats from a distance this time, admiring how the black clouds they form upon exiting the cave shift form the further away they get.
After a nice cold shower we jumped back onto the bikes and rode to town. Tim left just before me, as his bike was a bit stiff and it took him longer to pedal than me, but when I made it to HQ, he was nowhere to be found. A minute later I saw James, who waved at me from an incoming bus, and when it stopped, he told me Tim had found him at the restaurant and he had managed to catch a ride, so Tim was on his way. With a few minutes to spare, I rode to our other friends accommodation, to let them know the plans were cancelled and that we had come to have dinner there instead. We had a rather delicious (but expensive) meal at the HQ café, and were joined by another German, by the name of Bernd. It was a lovely evening among friends, and this time we had no problem making our way back home with the bikes.
Next day was quite relaxing. We spent a long time chatting to Brenda, reading and writing. The same driver that had picked us up, returned us to the airport, where we met James and Bernd, shared lunch, and hopped into the plane. The flight to Kuching was less than two hours long, smooth and pleasant. I had my doubts about Mulu, but it is one of the most crazy and wonderful places I have ever visited, and would like to return for some adventure caving some day…