Well technically we're back in Miri right now but we were still in the National Park this morning...............
So, 4 days of jungle fun to catch up on. Here goes.
Thursday we left Miri and took a 30 min flight to Mulu in the heart of Gunung Mulu National Park. We met our guides and fellow travellers at our hotel on pick up in Miri, the other travellers were a Malaysian family from KL - mum, dad, 3 sons and one son's girlfriend. They were all absolutely lovely and a pleasure to travel with, just the sort of people you're happy to spend a few days with.
Mulu seemed hotter and stickier than Miri, if that's possible. We flew on a small plane, the airport was tiny but all pretty efficient. We got a minibus to a village not far away, walked through the village and met our two boatmen and porters. A short boat trip up the river took us to the first stop - Cave of the Winds (millions of years worth of deposits of calcite) and Clearwater Cave (with a subterranean river). We ran into Gillian and Peter again there (it really is a small
world). When we were about to enter the second cave the heavens opened, rain came down in buckets. So by the time we left the cave and descended the 200 or so steps we were soaked. Lunch was a rice and chicken affair in a plastic container, then it was back into the boats - no point putting on rainjackets as we were already soaked.
The journey upriver continued - a scream - in places the boat kept grounding as the water was so shallow so Mac and most of the other men were continually getting out to help the boat along, which meant their footwear and trousers were even wetter!
Eventually we got to the drop off point and the rain had stopped - the two porters went first with 3 days worth of food for 10 people, huge packs that they lifted easily. Kind of like meals on wheels but without the wheels?
We then had to trek 8.8 km along the jungle path, over a couple of suspension bridges and mostly flat - about 2.5 hours later we arrived at Camp 5, some of us with several leech marks for our trouble! (unusually, not
We walked through here to get to the boat
me, but Mac got 3 ha ha!). This was home for the next two nights, and we had a room for the 8 of us - the room was basically two long platforms with sleeping mats on (I would say mattresses but that would be an insult to mattresses) and dim lighting for the evening, with walls that stop about 2 foot short of the ceiling. So we put our mossie net up quicksmart, had a shower then waited for Omar (main guide) to cook dinner - rice, veg, chicken - not too bad. By 8.30 pm most of the camp were in bed as there's not really anything to do and it's pitch black outside, plus lights go off at 9.30pm.
We didn't really sleep much as it was too hot and sticky, not to mention very uncomfortable. Funnily enough the Malaysian lady (mum) said she didn't sleep because it was too cold! We didn't believe her!
Friday we had breakfast - eggs, sausage, beans and "toast" (I use the term loosely) at 5.30 a.m. then set off by 6.30 a.m. for the trek to the Pinnacles, a 2.4 km trek that rises 1200 metres and is
pretty much vertical all the way. The last section is just ropes and ladders, it's very vertical. It's said that an averagely fit person will take 9-10 hours to ascend and descend the Pinnacles, this is not for the faint-hearted. It's much harder and more time-consuming coming down. The Pinnacles, incidentally, are weird limestone formations that jut out of the mountain, some 45+ m tall.
After 2 hours I'd got to 900m (length, not height), where there are mini pinnacles and the guide advises you to leave some water there for the descent. I decided that was my limit, more concerned with the descent and holding people up - everyone was sweating like crazy, struggling in places, clothes stuck to your body .... drinking water just made you sweat more. I waited for Charlie, who was the "rear guide" and said I'd make my own way back down. Mac had stayed with me but could go so much faster so off he went, and lo and behold he was 4th to the top, one of those ahead being Omar! (If you don't reach a certain point by 11 you can't continue anyway).
So I managed to get down
in just over an hour and back at Camp 5 had a shower (heaven), read a bit and dozed a bit. Mac got back at 3.20 - (just short of 9 hours up and down, not bad), a few more people came in at 3.30, 3.45......... then it started raining, then it thundered, then it got dark - pitch black. All the other group were back (two groups climbed today) but none of the Malysian family nor Omar had returned by 6.30 pm, so two more guides set off to look for them. Just after 7 they returned, we were so relieved - the young girl had really struggled going down and needed help from Omar. I think mum and dad were very tired too, many people had difficulty walking in a straight line/staying on their feet. It was hard enough in daylight so I really can't imagine descending in wet, slippy and dark conditions. They'd had 12.5 hours out there. My description really doesn't explain how difficult this was to do. The whole route is a mass of tree roots and limestone.
So - dinner was prepared by Omar again - fish, veg, rice - incredibly he'd cooked
Our travelling buddies
Break time during the 8.8 km trek
breakfast, guided the group for 12.5 hours then gone straight into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Everyone crawled into bed that night but again we didn't sleep much.
Saturday was the 8.8 km trek back to the river drop off point, then a boat ride to Benarat Lodge, home for the last night for us - a lodge owned by the travel company downriver near the park HQ. The Malaysian family were staying at the Royal Mulu Resort just across the river. We arrived in time for lunch, very nice - HOT rice, chicken and veg plus fruit.
Mac and I checked into our room, one up from the camp but still basic - two beds and a fan (that may as well not have been there for the use it was) plus a bathroom with no light, but in any case electric was only on 6-11pm! We had quick showers then left at 2 - quick van trip to park HQ then 3km walk to Lang Cave (my favourite, bizarre formations, small cave) and Deer Cave (world's largest cave passage, home to 3 million bats and their droppings! Mounds (tons) of the stuff - top tip, put
At the halfway point on the 8.8 km trek to Camp 5
some tiger balm under your nose and you can't smell the ammonia).
At 5 we went outside to the observation area to await the mass exodus of bats from the caves - quite impressive to see them all exiting. Then 3km walk back plus van trip to the lodge for dinner - Mac and I seemed to be the only guests and were treated to rice, veg, chicken AND fish! Food is served in the main building (a big hut surrounded by all the sleeping huts) and as soon as we'd finished eating it began to rain - serious rain, thunder and lightning, the works. Impressive to watch! We waited it out and made a dash for our hut when it eased - another sleepless night, still too sticky and uncomfortable! Ah well, it's a jungle out there!
Today this all seems a distant memory! We had another early start, didn the canopy walk (480m long, the world's longest tree-based canopy walk) then left Mulu and flew back to Miri. Now we're in the Dynasty again - luxury. Air con, BBC world news, internet, a real shower, comfortable bed - guess I'm just not cut out for the
jungle. But I'm glad we did it, it was an adventure into the heart of Borneo and we some real highlights - fantastic and hardworking guides, excellent company in the family we travelled with, thunder and lightning shows, the orchestra of the insects in the rainforest............. I guess these outweigh the sleepless nights, aches and pains and additional bites that have appeared since we left Miri!
Oh and on a final note - if you ever decide to do this trip, take your oldest clothes and footwear. Two of the Malaysians destroyed a pair of trainers each (mostly through getting so wet in the water during the boat trip - they just fell apart) and I threw away our socks, gloves, sheet, towels, two tops and my trainers. Why? The smell (no, stench) coming off them was unbearable, I think even a laundry would reject them! Despite showers where possible you just can't shake off the stench of sweat-soaked clothing that's been wet with rain too; clothes here never quite dry out and often you're putting on wet trainers day after day. But it was an experience!
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