The land of caves
As mentioned before I didn't have a specific reason to visit the island. Now I know a group of adventurists that have one. Big one. Caves. I must admit I have seen few caves before, one in the UK, one in Ireland and couple on Lanzarote. Those were definitely lower case in comparison to the CAVES you can see and explore on Borneo.
The trip I joined had a list of quite few of them and at some point in my head they turned into one big cave, luckily I was taking pictures like a maniac and they have date stamps on them.
The first cave we saw was the Great Cave in the Niah National Park not far from Miri. The caves there are important for two reasons: archaeological finds and gathering of the swiftlets nests and bat guano. Archaeologists have found a 40 000 years old skull of a modern human. It means Homo sapiens lived in South East Asia for at least that period of time. Some of the finds from more recent time you can see in the park’s museum.
Two of the tribes that live in the area have the rights to use certain natural resources from the caves. The Penan are custodians and collectors of the nests needed for the famous bird-nest soup, while the Iban have the rights to the caves’ other commodity, bat and bird guano, which is highly valued as fertiliser. As part of the tour we were able to stay in one of the Iban longhouses which gave us huge insight into the life of people in the area.
Upon entry to the village my spirits fell. To the ground. The rotten smell that hang in the air almost made me cry. It turned out later on there was a wedding reception in the village that evening and they were brewing special alcohol and it was the freshly fermented liquid that squeezed the tears from my eyes.
In Mulu National Park we started with the Deer and Lang Caves. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. And the most important of all: bats. We got there right on time to see the spectacle of the bats leaving the Deer Cave for an evening hunting. You can't really see them while they are inside as the ceiling is very high but imagine about two million of them leaving the cave, pouring out like a stream in the spring swirling across the sky.
The Deer cave is said to be the world’s largest cave passage open to the public: over 2km in length and 174m in height. It is actually quite difficult though to decide which one is the largest in size, do you do it by the length, height, volume, all three? In all honesty, it was and still is quite irrelevant for me, as the sites themselves were incredible. I had to catch up with the group quite few times because I was staring and taking pictures for so long they were way ahead of me. I was fascinated by the different formations and the texture of the rock. Aye said it has been recently discovered that a lot of what we consider texture in the caverns are actually rock eating bacteria.
You can also observe how the water starts dripping from the ceiling and slowly starts forming thin threads of minerals.
The caves are fantastic. And I don't just mean it as great, they are fantastic as in, they are places where your fantasy can run wild. As in, they seem not to be real, you kind of expect to see Merlin brewing his potions around the corner (or Gandalf telling you firmly that you shall not pass). Each one of those caves was special in its own way. One had the famous bird’s nests, another was covered by bat guano and another was formed in a way that the wind kept swirling in most unexpected places (Wind Cave). Surprisingly you also find a lot of fauna and flora, some of them are even endemic to Borneo. And it's fascinating how the colour of many species changes just because they spent their whole life under ground.
Then of course you realise the island is covered with those caves and you take a closer look at numbers and places. And you come to a conclusion that this part of Borneo is a Swiss cheese. Many of the more inaccessible corridors still haven't been fully explored and in some you can wander for days and not see the light of day. By "wander" I mean half walk half swim in the underground rivers. Of course, the usual tourists we were, we didn't venture into the more dangerous parts of the caves but our guide Aey has done few expeditions himself. You need special training and professional equipment. That is something I'll never do. On one hand I'm not properly trained and on the other I don't think I would dare. I'm not claustrophobic however the thought of spending few days somewhere enclosed to the point where I cannot leave at will and could get buried alive isn't exactly my idea of entertainment.