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Published: April 23rd 2009
Three weeks off work. Two for holiday, one for study. Somewhere to hike, and somewhere to try out my new camera. Not too far away.
A couple of Christmases ago, I bought Justin a book called 'Trek', which has beautiful photos of some of the world's best hikes and has proven a winner at selecting spectacular holiday destinations. So, it was to this we turned again to decide where next. Borneo definitely ticked all the boxes. We debated whether to climb Mt Kinabalu or hike the Headhunters' Trail, settling on the latter to spend some time in a jungle and decide for ourselves just how horrible leeches are.
I'd just read 'Borneo and the Poet' by Redmond O'Hanlon, a naturalist and writer who joined an expedition of British special operations forces to explore the deep dark jungle via the rivers of Sarawak and expand the Empire. As our plane approached Mulu, the rivers snaking beneath us, I recalled his descriptions of filling his bag with dry socks to avoid blisters in the stifling humidity, pulling canoes up rapids and over slippery rocks, avoiding the twin evils of bearded pigs and blood-thirsty leeches, marvelling at exotic plants, and staring wide-eyed
at local men, unsure if their approach was to capture his head or invite him for dinner.
Sarawak is much easier to travel through these days - like most places, there's a fairly well beaten path even through such rugged terrain - but our experience was no less fascinating. The advice about the socks was sound, and the other themes were similar, even if we didn't see a bearded pig and head hunting is no longer common place.
We spent a couple of days in the caves. The highlight was definitely Deer Cave, home to millions of bats which and the world's biggest cave passage at more than 2km long and 174m high. Every few evenings, the bat colony ups and leaves en masse in search of food, a sight we were lucky to see.
The Headhunter trail saw us alternately hiking and travelling by longboat for 4 days through an area that used to see a lot of head-stealing action. The heat made the hiking tough even though the terrain was very flat. Not a lot of animals to see aside from the dreaded leeches. I only got 5 bites during the hike (although Justin scored
a few more) which was not so bad. Having something feeding on your blood is as creepy as I thought it'd be, and they're so sticky that pulling them off results in a ridiculous dance as they reattach themselves to one finger after another after you yank them free from your leg.
We took a side hike on the second day up Gunung Api, a 1200m climb over 2.4km which took nearly 4 hours - the last hour nearly vertical up ropes and ladders. The reward at the top was a magnificent view over the Pinnacles - tall needles of limestone that seem to reach to the clouds. I was less thrilled with the hike back down, which took far longer than the climb up as walking over wet leaves, rocks and slippery tree roots meant that it was difficult to take more than a few steps without stopping to get your balance. At one stage, I told (well, actually probably yelled at) Justin to never make me do anything like that again - exhausted and frustrated close to the end of a long day. He laughed about it for days as the climb was as much my idea
We stayed at a longhouse the last night of our trip - in one of about 50 adjacent rooms that house an entire community. We spent a really interesting afternoon playing with about ten small kids, who are still fascinated by visitors despite the fact that they have travellers stay every few days.
Another longboat the next morning took us to a town, and within a few hours we were in Brunei - taking the bus as the ferry wasn't running that day.
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