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Welcome to the Jungle

Monkeys, insects and sweat!

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Our final destination was Kutching, the capital of the state of Sarawak in the Northwest of Borneo. On the way we planned to visit the Niah Caves, which may not be as famous as those at Mulu (the ones drunk David gave us the hard sell on), but they are far more accessible and therefore more affordable. It was a long way from the border to Kutching and with the stop at the caves we were hoping to arrive around 10pm, having gotten up at 5:30am we knew we were going to be exhausted.

We hopped off the bus about an hour and a half after boarding and things seemed to be going well so far. A local man took us the next 15km to the national park and we managed to stow our backpacks in the cafe, I wouldn't have wanted to do the walk to the cave with mine on that's for sure! When we bought our tickets we found out that the walk to the caves was a little further than we had expected and so Kutching and ultimately our bed for the night seemed even further away.

To make things a little easier though the whole route has been carved out through the rainforest and an elevated pathway of wooden boards have been lain.
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It would have been nicer not to have the pressure of time ticking but it was certainly eased by the scenery. We were now really in the jungle and although it was all kept at arms length as we remained on the path it was still there surrounding us. You could feel the density of the place as the trees rose up all around, many of them hundreds of years old with their twisted roots snaking along the ground. On one side we had the forest and on the other shear rock faces began to rise up and we knew we were getting closer to the caves.

The once endlessly flat pathway began to turn into climbing stairs that hugged the side of the rock and when we rounded the corner we came to our first cave.
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I should probably mention that Bird's Nest Soup originated at Niah Caves. Traders Cave, the first one we came to was where the traders in the soup used to sleep. There are some still some remnants of their old dwellings, just a few wooden beams which would have been part of the main structure, it was interesting to see. We passed through this cave which although being impressive in size, was nothing in comparison to the next one.

Before we entered the main cave we stopped to look across at the view which had now opened up as we'd broken out through the trees. With the high mountains around us it felt like we were in the middle of no where and civilisation was a long way off.
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We turned our back on the bright light of day and made our way into the cave. As the mouth is enormous light does find its way in and the result is a slightly eerie green glow which illuminates the brown earth and the moist, uneven rock.
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I'm not sure if a 747 could park itself in there, it might be a bit of a squeeze at points but it could fit in at a weird angle I think. As we got deeper into the cave the smell began to become overwhelming, this would be the bat guava. The only way I can think to convey it to you, is for you to imagine the worst body odour you can and then times it by a thousand. I could almost taste it.

I think I've mentioned I'm not good with things that flap, so the combination of birds and bats made me a little nervous. Add in the fact that I'm somewhat claustrophobic and think people who enjoy pot holing or anything similar are clinically insane, and you can imagine I wasn't at my most comfortable. Still it was hard not to be distracted by the sheer size of this natural phenomenon. You could also see the primitive ladders which are still used by people to climb up and get the birds nests for the soup. I'm glad that's not my job!

As we continued to walk things began to get very, very dark and we realised why you had the opportunity to purchase head torches. However we hadn't and so our cave exploration came to a conclusion, much to my relief really. We retraced our steps all the way back to the cafe to grab our bags and then found someone to drive us back to the bus station.

When we arrived there was a bus going to Kutching so we thought our luck was in. We had been hoping for a bus that was as nice as the one we'd caught early, unfortunately we were disappointed a couple of times. Firstly we were informed that it would take twelve hours to get to Kutching, not the eight that we had thought and secondly the bus was not as nice. We were not very happy when we sat down but there wasn't a lot we could do and we resigned ourselves to a night on the bus.

In the end it took more than twelve hours because the bus seemed to stop every two minutes, sometimes we couldn't even understand why. We both had a fairly restless night, any time we did manage to drop off we were quickly awoken by the noise of people getting on or off. Finally we made it to Kutching at about 5am and a taxi took us to a hotel quite close to the waterfront which is the pretty and therefore touristy part of the city.
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Once in the room Adam went to sleep for a bit but I just couldn't manage to drop off so perused the internet trying to figure out what we should do here.

Kutching is a really lovely little place and has quite a quaint feel about it. There are lots of little streets to wander down and there is also a museum that we decided to visit.
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It is a small natural history museum and there was a whole plethora of animals, birds, insects, and all sort of marine life for us to look at downstairs. Then upstairs the history of the people of Borneo is depicted through scale models of their native dwellings; long houses and also there are many examples of weaving and tools which were historically used.

Although we had already had our Orangutan encounter, we had read that there was another rehabilitation centre that we could visit which was not far from Kutching. It was meant to be quieter than the one at Sandakan and we were hoping we may have a more intimate experience. We managed to locate a mini bus which was going and as we waited for it to leave it began to fill up with other Westerners and our high hopes were slowly being deflated. By the time we had disembarked at the centre and we were waiting to go in to the rainforest we were part of a crowd of tourists and then it began to rain, hard.

Apparently the rain would not effect the chance of seeing the Orangutans though, so at least this was something and as we made our way through the trees it was definitely more rustic than the other centre and it felt more real. As we stood on the raised platform we hard a crack and then a swoosh as a branch broke under the weight of a hairy, orange creature and then he used his weight to shorten the gap between one tree and the next.
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Soon enough there were a number of Orangutans in the trees above us all making their way to the feeding platform.
It felt much more wild than the other place and a number of times we were shepherded away from certain areas when the apes got to close. One of them was a female with a little baby clinging to her side, and it was really very, very magical.
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She grabbed some fruit for them and then retreated to the safety of a nearby tree, the baby then disentangled herself and climbed up the tree a little to munch on her banana.

When we'd boarded the bus to the centre earlier we were informed by the driver that 'The King' had been there at morning feeding time. This being the leader of the pack, the main man, and so we were hopeful we would see him too. He did not let us down and his arrival was marked by a low murmur which rolled through the crowd. Suddenly he came in to view and he was imposing, to put it mildly. He was much bigger than than the largest Orangutan we had seen at the Sandakan Centre. Unfortunately my camera had run out of battery and Adam's hasn't worked for some time now, so we just stepped back to take it all in. We over heard one of the employees telling someone that at his last weigh in, The King had tipped the scales at 160 kg/25 St. We were then treated to a moment of shared embarrassment as we witnessed an unusual show of dominance when one of the younger Orangutans tried to take some of The King's food without asking. I won't go in to details but just say it involved The King's face and the little one's bum! Needless to say we weren't quite sure where to look and people's eyes fell to the floor as they nervously giggled.

Although there were more people at this encounter it was in some ways a more magical experience, it felt more natural as far as the Orangutans were concerned. They arrived from out of the jungle, making their way through the trees high above our heads. We were witnessing them getting on with their lives rather than a kind of show being put on for us, which is what we had always wanted. We made our way back to the mini bus, pleased that we'd made the effort.

The last thing we really wanted to do before leaving Borneo was get ourselves in to the jungle. So the next morning we got up bright and early and caught a bus to Baku National Park. After a short trip in a mini bus and having paid our entrance fee we jumped in a speed boat which took us away from civilisation and dropped us off on a beach.

That kind of makes it sound like we were marooned there with the dark, uninviting jungle stretching out in front of us and a king of “you either make or you don't” set up. However it was in fact fairly organised and we had to go sign in and pick our trail so they would know where we were heading, we also arranged a pick up time with the speed boat guy, so rescue was almost guaranteed. The only slight problem we had was a big Macaque who didn't want us to pass and when I tried to he charged at me, teeth bared. Thankfully there was a man who was not scared of him and walked along and made a very loud noise and waved his walking stick around, the monkey backed off.

We had got there fairly early so as we finally climbed over a few rocks and disappeared in to the trees we were pretty much alone. We had picked a trail which would take roughly 3 hours as this is all the time we had. As it was our last day in Borneo we had a few things to sort out in Kutching. In the end though I think it was enough time and we got out before it got busy. The beginning part of the trail was quite strenuous, we were making our way up and although there was a sort of path to follow it was comprised of twisted roots and rocks that jutted out at different angles. Still it was good fun picking out the best route and moving quickly from one slightly precarious footing to the next. I am beginning to feel the benefits of a more active lifestyle and although we sweated buckets, I didn't feel like I was going to keel over after five minutes!

The jungle was heavy and oppressive, you could feel the weight of the humidity even in the morning. It was also teeming with life, lots of it was very, very small but it was there. We saw a whole army of ants, about ten abreast, all of which were heading off on some mission. Adam filmed the line for as far as he could follow it, it appeared to be never ending. Our trail then broke out of the trees and we were on a flat plateau of rock with scratchy grasses poking out through it and patchy, scrawny trees surrounding us.

We followed the little markers and the muddy jungle gave way to a sandy path and a much lighter forest on either side. The trunks of the trees shrunk and lightened and the leaves brightened. One of the things we had hoped to see here was the Probiscus monkey.
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It is native to Borneo and is a little unusual looking, well in the nasal region. We both heard a rustling in the trees and as we peered through the foliage, squinting our eyes, we saw one sitting in a tree. It wasn't the clearest sighting ever but it was there and we had achieved one of our aims.

The next part of the trek involved some very long, straight wooden board walks that guided us through the sandy, marsh beneath us and in the end brought us out on to a cliff above the beach. We sat for a little while looking down as the tide slowly drew the water back and exposed more and more of the beach. Once our batteries had been somewhat recharged we retraced our steps, snapped a few more pictures for the memory bank and emerged from the perils of the jungle fairly exhausted but otherwise unscathed. Our boat was waiting for us and we took off our shoes and socks and waded out in to the shallow water to climb aboard.

Once back in Kutching we tied up all the loose ends, had dinner and went to bed. We were looking forward to getting to Vietnam and finding out whether the people really did deserve their bad reputation for being rude, dog-eaters.

More Soon,
Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 03:50 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world

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