Weeks 36 and 37
16.11.2009 - 15.11.2009 32 °C
Leaving the idyllic Koh Chang – and Thailand – wasn't easy, but after a final night of shopping and one last green curry in Bangkok, we left for Borneo. Our flight included a 24 hour stopover in Singapore, which allowed us a quick look round and dinner with an old work colleague. Borneo's claim as the world's third largest island requires one to overlook Australia, but there's no doubt about the massive biodiversity that the island boasts. Already we have learned to dive in the warm waters of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park in the South China Sea and had a week exploring and climbing in the dense rainforests of Mulu National Park. With orang utans high on our list for next week, we are making the most of the natural wonders that exist here.
Ready for a swim!
Amongst the Pinnacles in Mulu National Park
A limestone formation in Deer Cave, Mulu National Park
Diving around Kota Kinabalu
Malaysian Borneo's capital is a welcoming place to start a trip on the island. We'd signed up for our first diving qualification, so it was back to school with textbooks, computer-based learning, mini-quizzes and even an exam before we got near any water. Once the theory was over with we enjoyed three days of sign language, skills demonstrations and four open water dives. We were fortunate enough to have a private instructor (and usually our own boat), so we picked up the skills quickly and both thoroughly enjoyed the experience of going down to around 18m. The visibility and wildlife spotting were mediocre, but having decided diving's for us, and received our certificates, we are ready for our upcoming week in Sipidan.
Ali is OK!
Niah Cave, Miri
Exploring caves has been a regular activity on Borneo, and we started at Niah cave near Miri. The 'Great'' Cave is accessed via it's 250m wide mouth, and stretches up to 60m high. It's biggest claim to fame comes from the discovery of a 40,000 year-old human skull in the cave's entrance (in the fenced-off area in the picture below). The dating of the skull was greeted with some skepticism by those in the know, but it has since been verified and makes this one of the earliest signs of civilisation anywhere on earth.
Looking out the main entrance of Niah Cave
Mulu National Park
A 20 minute flight from Miri took us into the heart of Mulu; it's also accessible by boat, but a day is required to make the journey. Having met enough people in Miri to make the three-day 'Pinnacles' climb affordable, we planned a week in the park to make the most of the many caves, waterfalls and abundant (though occasionally elusive) wildlife.
Mulu's gigantic Deer Cave contains around 3 million bats that sleep in the ceiling by day and head out to feed overnight. The highlight of a visit to the cave is at sunset when the bats head out in spiraling swarms. Many tens of thousands of the mammals exit at once, constantly changing direction in order to avoid the bat hawks that have learned the routine. The bats travel up to 100km from their cave entrance and eat many tonnes of insects each night – the fact that many of these are mosquitoes ensures the National Park is relatively tourist friendly.
Spiralling bats at sunset, Deer Cave, Mulu National Park
The following morning we headed upriver to Camp 5, the Pinnacles base camp. After a night's sleep in the basic accommodation there, we set out to climb up to the Pinnacles at dawn. The 2.4km path up the hill rises 1,125m – that's a metre up for every two metres forward – on a combination of steep paths and ladders. The climb was hard but the views from the top wonderful, with untouched limestone monoliths sprouting from the hillside. If anything the descent was tougher – especially on the knees – and in the end we completed the full three mile walk in just over six hours! A delightful plunge in the cold river at base camp was followed by a good meal and an early night.
A well-deserved bowl of rice, Camp 5, Mulu National Park
We spent our final couple of days in Mulu nursing stiff leg muscles and wandering the many tracks through the rainforest to caves and waterfalls. Coming toe-to-tongue with a five foot cobra without a guide caused a brief panic, but we stared it down and it sloped away. The park's Canopy Walk was a dawn trip to the heights of the jungle. We caught the briefest glimpse of the monkeys we woke up on our approach, but otherwise the tree and exotic plant species outnumbered the animals.
Walking through the rainforest canopy, Mulu National Park
Lack of time – and Ali's almost-full passport – mean we will stick to the relatively small Malaysian part of Borneo (the island is shared with part of Indonesia and all of Brunei), but the possibilities for adventures here feel endless. It's likely to be the last country on our trip where I'll be able to eat rice 2-3 times daily, so as we fly back to Kota Kinabalu from Mulu, we're planning our fifth visit to our curry buffet of choice. After a night's sleep and a quick repack, we'll be off again for a ten-day trip, to include a river safari, diving at one of the world's top sites and another big climb.
During a shopping trip last week, I was surprised to hear Christmas carols broadcast in a supermarket. We're finding it very difficult to get used to the idea that it's just four weeks until Christmas – it's never below 30 degrees here and we have very few reminders that it's just around the corner. Hopefully the festive excitement is more obvious for you at home; we'll be in Melbourne by late-December, so hopefully a more Christmas-friendly crowd, though probably even hotter than here....
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