Monday, February 15, 2016

VickyGoesTravelling - Of headhunters, bat caves and apes in deepest Borneo

Nicholas meets us at the airport. He is our Iban guide, descended from the legendary headhunters and heavily tattooed in traditional fashion.  He will be looking after us for our few days in Mulu, in the heart of Borneo, bordering Brunei.

We have flown here from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo. Our hotel, the Ranee Suites, is on the Grand Bazaar, trading centre of the ancient river port of the city, which was ruled for years by Rajah James Brooke and his descendants, until the British made Sarawak into a colony after the 2WW.

It is Chinese New Year and the old Chinese shophouse-lined streets are quiet as we promenade along the front – everyone is at home feasting, save for a few girls practising their kung fu; and a few families queuing up for revolting-looking fast food.

Just as more revellers arrive to party the heavens open and torrential rain, thunder and lightening envelop us all. It does not bode well for our trip whose objective is a 2-day trek along the ancient Headhunter Trail through the rainforest – it is, we are told constantly, the height of the rainy season.

The next day we set off in the same thunderstorm for the one-and-a-half-hour flight to Mulu, where we are to spend the first night and visit the largest cave system in the world, and see for ourselves what 3 million bats going hunting look like.

As we come to land, I look out of the window and see miles and miles of impenetrable jungle, punctuated by brown rivers snaking their way, higgledy-piggledy, and by limestone karsts jutting out of the green carpet beneath us. Low cloud suspended in mid-air adds to the eerie scene.

We are blown away by the scale and beauty of the caves, two of which we see on the first evening, and two more on the second day. Beautifully maintained by National Parks, who have installed walkways around the vast interiors, which take us past spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, jelly-fish and chandelier formations, all of which Nicholas, in true Asiatic fashion, says resemble queens, kings, witches, fairies, and even Abe Lincoln (!). The Chinese must love this, we say to each other!

Inside we can hear the twittering of the 3 million wrinkle-lipped bats who roost in the largest of the caverns, Deer Cave, while little swiftlets zoom around us. Amazingly there is no one else in the caves when we are there which adds to the experience.