Spooky Caves

OK.  I won’t lie.  I’ve been a little lax with my blogging duties.  This post was meant to be out in time for Halloween, ya’ know cos of the spookiness, but my parents were visiting, we went out of town, the weather was too good for writing, the dog ate my blog- take your pick of poor excuses for my being late!

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The Caves

Apparently, in Hebrew, my name means “princess”.  I don’t know any Hebrew so I can’t be certain but the internet Gods have confirmed it.  The word “princess” has sometimes been levied against me in a negative way, which is totally uncool. Like, when I return some food to a restaurant kitchen because it’s cold I get called a princess.  Or because I like to fly Business Class and stay in 5* hotels when I travel.  I mean, if you can, why the heck not, am I right?! Anyway, just to prove that I can live without luxury (more to myself than anyone else) I agreed to stay in a very basic B&B, Mulu Village when Hubs and I went to Mulu National Park.

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Mulu Village. A traditional longhouse converted into a delightful B&B.

You can walk, fly or longboat your way into Mulu.  You can’t drive in.  There is one road, which is about 1.5 miles long which basically runs from the tiny airport to the Marriott Hotel (yes I gave up the chance to stay at the Marriott in favour of its next door neighbour).

On our first day we did the Canopy Walk, which is a 480m walkway suspended 20m high up in the forest.  What I wasn’t quite prepared for was just how much the walkway would wobble as I cautiously stepped along it.  Not for the faint-hearted.  The view and sounds were incredible. We had a helpful Guide who was also trained in witchcraft homeopathy and so we stopped a lot to discuss the benefits, and also perils, of various plants, including some funky mushrooms.  Basically what I took from the tour was that, if you ever get lost in the jungle, don’t eat anything.

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The T-shirt says it all.

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Crazy ‘shrooms.

Afterwards we took another tour to the Deer Caves, which include the world’s largest cave passage or so they thought until Vietnam turned up a bigger one. I learned the difference between stalactites (mineral formations which hang down from the ceiling of the cave) and stalagmites (formations which grow upwards from the cave floor).

Stalactite
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Stalagmite

We were part of a pretty big tour group, which included a bunch of kids and so when one of them pointed out the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life I had to play it cool and act like it was no big thing when in reality I was breaking out into a sweat and very close to using one of those brats to squash the hell out of that thing.

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Hunter Spider.

The caves are home to two to three million bats and everybody goes to the Showcaves hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bat Exodus.  At dusk i.e. dinnertime millions of bats fly out of the caves in a spiral formation. It was one of the most fascinating sights I’ve ever seen.  Some of those bats know they won’t make it because of predator hawks and they sacrifice themselves for the good of the group.  That’s some hardcore family loving.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

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The corkscrew formation is used to avoid predators.

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Back at the ranch the electricity was turned on (it was powered by a generator so understandably we only got a few hours the morning and in the evenings) and so I took a freezing-cold shower, in the worlds smallest bathroom.  We were exhausted enough to be in bed by 9PM and to fall asleep quite easily despite the chugging sounds of the generator.  Next day I was rudely awakened by the neighbour’s rooster screaming at us at 5AM.  It was a hot night and so I’d thrown the covers off and allowed myself to be bitten eight, yes eight, times on my legs by wretched mosquitoes even though I sprayed myself, the room, the bed, my clothes etc. with 50% deet spray the night before.

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Delicate Beauty

The B&B is run by a really lovely couple, Brenda and James.  James comes from a jungle tribe.  They provided us with some really great insight into the history of James’s tribe and the development of the National Park.  Sadly they’ve been embroiled in litigation with the Malaysian Government for over a decade as the Government basically took over the land to create the national park (which is very lucrative, I’m sure) and refused to compensate our good hosts and other local people.  This means the Government provides no support to them which is why they don’t have electricity nor running water.  (The Government sponsored Marriott hotel does have those benefits).  I was so sorry to hear of their poor treatment and really glad to have supported their business and so, even though I struggled without the luxuries I’m used to, I’d definitely urge you to stay at their longhouse if you ever go to Mulu, which you absolutely should.  It’s beautiful.

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Our kind host, Brenda.

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Starving in Kuching

Kuching, Malaysia; an old colonial city which is named after the Malay word for cat.  Not sure why.  Situated on Kuching River it has a gorgeous promenade with views of the architecturally interesting (is it a hat?! is it an umbrella?!) New Sarawak State Legislative Building.

State Assembly

You’re in the mood for a bit of old school architecture.  You’ve been longing for a nice breezy walk along the riverbank, making stops for ice cream and beer and trying out new foods, after all that’s what Kuching is known for; the food.  Getting here from Brunei was easy too, a bit of a drive drive, short flight and shorter taxi ride.  So the Hotel (Grand Margherita) isn’t anything to shout about but it’s close to the City Centre and breakfast is included.

Never, ever have you had such terrible luck with breakfasting at an hotel.  On your first morning you arrive to breakfast at 9ish and the hostess (generously) offers you a ‘shared table’ with a family of 3.  One quick look at the mid-tantrum-snot-covered-toddler throwing chicken sausages on the floor and you graciously decline.  So maybe not that graciously but she got the message.  10 minutes later you manage to find your own table.  It’s littered with dirty plates, more chicken sausage and covered in omelette, which you get cleared away.  You delicately place your cardigan over the back of a chair and leave your room key on the table- an international sign to show that the table is taken, or so you thought, When you return with a cup of weak tea, dry toast (having been informed that the butter supply has finished) and a couple of the ubiquitous chicken sausages you find a cheeky old man has commandeered your table.  Unbelievable.  You make it clear that this is your table, that’s your cardigan and your room key and that you’re not looking to share.  The waitress sees the commotion and takes him away.  So then you and Hubs play tag team at keeping the table occupied in case any other usurpers are lurking in the midst.

One bite of the chicken sausage and you understand that wretched toddler’s plight.  A waiter appears with what must be the last mini-butter in the establishment that was obviously tucked away in some deep corner of the fridge, judging by the temperature.  Hubs queued for an omelette; took 20 minutes.  A few mouthfuls later you’ve both had enough and decide that it just isn’t working.  So you leave with an empty stomachs.

You decide to head for the nearest, biggest mall.  There must be food to be eaten there and you’re in luck.  There’s a Starbucks.  Hello, civilisation!

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After your second (but really your first) breakfast of the day you venture round the small city.  there are some pretty sights including an old Courthouse; being a bit of an expert on British Courts you can say with some certainty that it is finer than any County Court in England and Wales.

Law Building

You take a little cruise along the river and pass the State Assembly and an old dockyard left behind by the old white rajahs, in ruins, which somehow makes it more beautiful.

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The next day you get to breakfast just as it’s opening up.  Smartest thing you’ve ever done- not a single person queuing for omelettes.  You embark on a trip to Indiatown.  It’s pretty much boarded up because of Ramadan. So much for buying your mum some pretty silk.  Also means that you’re stuck for lunch and dinner as it seems everyone is celebrating with their loved ones.  Turn out all those lovely food stalls along the promenade are shut too.  Having walked round the city three times and not found a single place open for lunch you and Hubs are getting pretty hangry.  You’re ready to settle for a KFC but even that’s shut.  Unprecedented.  So you walk up to the nearby Chinatown and thank God for the Chinese.

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Monkey Business

You’ve got this travelling thing down.  A two hour car journey? Only a few weeks ago you and Hubs drove eight hours to experience the pleasure of being thrown about on a boat (read about that here).  A forty-five minute flight in cramped conditions? Please, you’ve done thirteen hours (in pleb class) sitting next to a guy with snot dribbling down his nose.  A 6K trek through the jungle? OK, so you haven’t quite mastered that but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Or so you thought.  And the gains? Well you’re off to catch a glimpse of a strong contender for the world’s ugliest monkey competition. You know, if there was such a competition.  The Proboscis Monkey.  Just look at the nose on this guy!

DSC04754At least one thing you’ve got sorted is your kit.  You’ve poached one of Hubs’s old rucksacks, it’s filled with water, bug spray and a Snickers bar (you figure you’ll burn that off, easy). A little trip to TK Maxx was productive: you’ve got dry-fast sportswear and new boots, they’re made for walking.

You register at Reception on arrival to Bako National Park. “Need a Guide?” we are asked.  You think probably, yes but Hubs isn’t having any of it. “Who needs a Guide?” he asks.  “We can follow a map no problem.”  You smile and agree that even you can probably follow a colour coded nature trail although Hubs seems to have (conveniently) forgotten about the disaster that was your 30th birthday where a “light, pleasant walk in the forest” ended in almost-near-death with heavy rains, tears and a lot of shouting.  Oh and those Topshop boots you loved so much; ruined.

It seems sensible to start the trek with the Snickers bar for a bit of energy and off you go!  You circle round Reception (a large-ish wooden hut) a few times.  No signs, colour coded or otherwise, to show you where to start. Hmm.  Ten minutes later you’re sufficiently hot and bothered to put pride to the side and head back towards the lady at Reception to ask where the trails start.  Directions given.  Off you go (again).

You make a pretty solid effort at keeping spirits high despite being almost halfway through the trek and not having spotted a single living thing other than the odd sweaty tourist panting through the jungle, obviously intent on scaring anything away. Hubs suddenly pauses and looks up at the trees.  “What is it? Can you see something?” you eagerly ask, searching the tree tops.  Hubs’s response is a lot of annoyed shushing (of the silent type) and flapping his hands at you like a madman.  “Oh, actually I think it’s just a tree branch”.  He eventually says.  So, no monkey.

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At least you make it to the clifftops and marvel at the views. Also a good spot for some sandwiches.  You could do without the noisy teenagers but there seems to be no escape in life from noisy teenagers.

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Having refuelled you venture back.  You both agree that you’re going to see some monkeys on the return leg.  You’re absolutely sure of it.   You briefly consider leaving out a banana as a honey trap of sorts but that seems a tad desperate not to mention dangerous.  Several false alarms later (more flapping) you do make it back to camp, in one piece, hungry and tired but still having not seen a single Monkey.  There are only two possible conclusions you can draw: either you’ve just been made a victim of a huge con and there are no Monkeys in the forest or, word obviously got round the Monkeys that you were in town and they decided to not show up.  For now, you’ll have to live with Hubs’s poor attempt at imitation.
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