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Published: February 4th 2008
two ants settle a minor dispute
Our next two nights were spent in Mulu National Park. This place has been described as being "indescribable", but that's just a cop out. It's a gorgeous region of rivers, mountains and jungle, plus some of the most spectacular caves in the world. The highlight was the Bat Cave, and I don't mean the subterranean lair of the caped crusader. It's actually called Deer Cave, and is home to two million bats (not deer). It's gets the name from the huge numbers of deer who came to feed on the bat guano. No accounting for taste. And two million bats can produce a lot of guano!
I used to have a very simplistic view of bats. Bat sends signal at wall. Wall bounces signal back. Bat realises wall is there, and doesn't fly into it. I thought bats spent their time flying around and dodging things, and trying not to fly into walls. But bats actually build up a very detailed picture of the world around them. First a quick reminder about sonar. A soundwave is sent out by the bat and reflects off a solid object. The time the signal takes to come back to the bat tells it
where and how far away that object is. This is called echolocation. A bat will typically send out 20 or thirty sonar pulses per SECOND. This enables them to build up a complex 3D picture of the world around them, in real time. So the bat not only detects the wall as a solid object, but it also knows the exact shape of the wall, including all nooks and crannies. A bat can tell the exact 3D shape of a beetle from thirty metres away. Bats can tell the difference between objects and shapes that are separated by only about the width of a human hair. This means they can detect the smallest of insects in midflight, make precise course corrections and eat as many as five insects per second. Amazing eh? What is even more amazing is that a bat can share a cave with two million other bats who are sending out sonar signals, and they can still tell which signal is theirs. Bats may be cool, but they are also butt ugly. They have extremely wrinkled faces which make them look like a ninety-year old man who has sucked too hard on a lemon. These wrinkles help
bats flying in formation
these bats fly in a rotating corkscrew pattern
them "shape" their sonar waves.
The cave itself was breathtaking. I have seen some caves in my time, but Deer Cave was something else. The sheer scale of it made you feel insignificant. Trees were growing at it's entrance, and they were dwarfed by the cavernous roof overhead. A Boeing 747 could fly into this cave with ease. It could probably turn around and fly out again too. Have a look at the photos if you think I'm kidding. On the ceiling of the cave, the two million bats gathered like a vast black smudge. And just before sunset, we we're lucky to see them fly out for their nightly hunting trip. The previous two nights it had been raining, and the bats don't come out when it rains for two reasons. Firstly, because it confuses their sonar, and secondly because they can't get a rainjacket to fit over their wings properly. But we saw them, and two million bats flying out of a cave is a serious sight to behold. They come out in a steady stream of several thousand at a time. They maintain a spiral formation, and the whole wave rotates in perfect sync like a
chilling out on a branch
giant corkscrew. Amazing. These bats are also the perfect mosquito solution. Each bat will consume between 10g and 15g of insects per night. So that's at least 20 tons of insects.
The bat's cave is operated on a time-share basis with the local swallows. As the bats leave for a night on the town, the swallows fly in to claim the cave. When the bats return at dawn, drunk and weaving all over the place, the swallows then abandon the cave.
As well as the bats, Mulu National Park was home to some very cool creatures. Such as the red-and-black striped centipede that was dancing along the branches, and a fabulous caterpillar that was dressed up ready for Mardi Gras. Oh, and the frog chorus that said "What? What? What?" over and over again.
Getting around in Borneo isn't the easiest task. It took us two internal flights to reach Kuching, the "City of Cats". Kuching actually means cat in Malay, and scattered throughout the city were large cat statues and shops selling wooden carvings of cats. But strangely, not many actual living cats. I had expected swarms of cats on the streets, rubbing up against your
all dressed up and nowhere to go
this caterpillar had a carpet of colorful hairs, like it was going to Mardi Gras!
legs and following you like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. But it was almost feline-free, and to my disappointment I only saw two. I used to think that cats were evil, cunning creatures that only give you the time of day when they want something. But I have warmed to cats over the past few years. It all started with a friendly black and white cat that would occasionally visit when I lived at Longley Road. One day I fed him some fresh salmon and cream, and after that he was our cat, hanging out with us all the time. We called him "Cat Stevens". About four months later, Cat Stevens disappeared, and I felt quite sad. I have even been considering getting a cat when I get home. I have a catflap, and Steve says it's a waste of a catflap to have no cat. Ideally I would love a dog, but dogs are a greater commitment still. Speaking of dogs, there's an interesting tale to tell about Borneo. An Englishman named James Brooke became the first white Rajah of Sarawak in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time, cockfighting was very popular in Borneo. Apparently James Brooke brought over
It's legs look like fillets of salmon
an English Pitt Bull terrier, and introduced dog fighting. He and his dog toured all over Borneo, and the pitt bull always reigned supreme, killing the other dogs. Eventually he arranged a match in Kuching, and his dog was pitched against a strange looking dog that was larger than his, and had no hair on it's body. This dog killed his pitt bull with ease, and then proceeded to eat it's remains! James later found out the dog was a tiger with all it's fur shaved off. Such was his fury that he ordered all the tigers hunted down and killed. Which is why there are no longer any tigers in Borneo. (I doubt this is actually true, but it makes a good story)
Kuching was our home base for visiting Bako National Park. This beautiful coastal park is home to some unique creatures. Firstly, the bearded pig, which does indeed have a beard. Then there is the proboscis monkey. This creature is the pot-bellied comedian of the jungle. The females have pointed noses, and the males have ridiculous bulbous noses which hang down over their mouths to their chin. The bigger the nose, the better chance of getting
the cave entrance dwarfs the trees below
lucky with the ladies. (If I was a proboscis monkey I would be eternally single). Both sexes have a big round belly that looks as if they spend most of their time down the pub. Oh, and the males have permanently erect willies, which means they are ready for action at any time. Promiscuous monkeys! We saw a few of these incredibly shy creatures at a distance.We also saw the silvertailed monkey. Each male typically has a harem of up to ten lady monkeys. This would seem to be an acceptable lifestyle ;-)
On a last note for Borneo, here's a couple of oddities which I noticed
1. A couple of the places I stayed at were selling the furnishings! There was a small leaflet saying "If you'd like to buy any of the items in this room, please contact reception", with a price list underneath. This included curtains, bedspread, TV and even the shower curtain!
2. In a pharmacy, alongside various medicines and treatments, I noticed a packet of "GameCock Power Tablets. Develop strong muscles and stamina for your cock". Obviously aimed at cockfighting, but what was it doing in a pharmacy?
3. I spotted
village in Mulu National Park
The buildings were basic. There were chickens running around. But some of the buildings had satellite dishes!
a stall selling an interesting take-away snack. A tub of sweetcorn and grapes covered in mayonaisse!
4. Fish head soup is very popular. Apparently the muscle behind the eye is the best part
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