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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Dark Caves on Rainy Days

Hubs and I have had a hectic few weeks and soon I will be catching you up on all of our adventure travels over that time starting with our day in KL.  We decided to take the longer route home to London by transiting through KL; this meant arriving in KL mid-morning and out to London at 3AM.  When booking our flights we figured we’d see the sights, eat out loads, drink some beers, dance the night away and we’d hardly know it was midnight or “check-in time”.  Or so we thought. Maybe we still think we’re in our twenties I don’t know but oh man, were we wrong…

We were keen to see the Batu Caves, which are some 13km north of KL.  The cheapest train in the world (I think it was 2MYR = £0.30 / $0.47) gets you there in about half an hour.  We would have got to the Caves sooner had we not got side-tracked by Cafe Coffee Day, a chain which I thought was restricted to India but turns out it’s not and this absolutely demanded a pit-stop. So one Cafe Frappe (skimmed, no cream and easy on the chocolate sauce please and thank-you very much) later, having missed the train by seconds, we had a bit of a wait in the humid train station.  Safe to say we weren’t the only weary travellers in town:

Exploring is hard work.
Exploring is hard work.

The caves are dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, or this guy:

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Hubs gets photo bombed.
close up Lord S
Impressive, no?

That’s 272 steps you have to climb to get to the caves.  This necessitates weaving your way through a bunch of hungry and EVIL looking macaques who prey on passing tourists.  It’s a savage existence.

Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.
Caution: Will rip your hand off for nuts and probably land you with Rabies at the same time.

Before being allowed to climb the steps I was made to wear a sarong to cover the three inches of my legs which were visible and apparently likely to cause offence.  Personally, having visited several temples around India and seen some pretty scantily clad women praying (hello, see-through sari), I think this is a bit of a scam for taking 5 MYR from every girl venturing up the steps but that’s just my view.

sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.
sarong is too ugly to be allowed into this photograph.

We made it to the top of the steps, only stopping a couple times so I could catch my breath. Asthma is the worst.  The first thing that really hit me walking into the caves was the stench.   Then I noticed all the bats, just a few metres above our heads.  Then I wondered whether the bats and the vile stench were connected.  Probably.  Also it was hot.  Sweaty, sticky kinda’ hot. We looked around at the pretty shrines and admired the views but there was no getting away from the bat-vomit stink and so we headed back down.  Weaving our way through those treacherous monkeys once more.

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light

After seeing the caves we had lunch and walked around the city, which is architecturally quite interesting.  It’s pretty big too.   Unfortunately it was raining hard which dampened our spirits somewhat and also means my photographs didn’t come out great.  There was a particularly gruelling hour while we searched for a semi-clean public loo as I may have overdone it on the “need to keep hydrated when it’s hot” thing.  We strolled through some markets but Hubs isn’t a very good shopping buddy and so we nested ourselves in a nearby bar until dinnertime- when we moved to another bar/restaurant.  Our plans for a big night ended at around 9PM (so-long, twenties) when we caught a cab to the airport hoping we could check-in early.  Only we couldn’t. So we found a couple seats and plonked our tired bodies down until the miserable hag at the check-in desk let us through.