When the generator goes off at 1 a.m. so does the solar power, so no light, no fan, just heat! We couldn’t wait for the power to go back on at 7 a.m. so we at least had the little fan again! So, Saturday morning started off rather sweaty; nevertheless, we were eager to get going on our second Mulu day since the first had been so fantastic
After breakfast at Kenny’s we got on a traditional longboat (with an outboard on back) from our garden jetty, to travel down river to more caves within the Gunung Mulu National Park. The longboats are the only form of transport here for the Penan; the Sungai Melinau is their highway. We felt snobbishly happy when we encountered a group of twelve tourists from the Marriott across the river, who were all crammed together in a longboat, whereas we were just four, ourselves and Fefi plus our boatman. The boatmen here have to be very experienced to negotiate the rapids and eddies along the way, especially since the river is pretty low but fast at the moment. Sometimes, it is necessary to jump out and push; fortunately, we
didn’t have to do so. There is usually a lot more rain in April and May than there has been this year. The longboats are very low, with wooden plank seats just about ten centimetres off the floor, so they not at all suited to Western bodies not used to squatting up and down all the time, especially when the river is low down from the little wooden jetties! Determination meant that I only fell in to the boat (most ungraciously) once during the first of four stops along the river. There are no crocs in the Melinau, they stay in the huge Sungai Baram of which the Melinau is a tributary; it is too shallow for them. Travelling up the river is a really great way to get to the caves and although it rained on the way back later in the day, this morning was bright and sunny.
Our first stop was to a Penan settlement, called Batu Bungan, where people live in traditional longhouses. There we found an Evangelical Church as well as a little craft market where the ladies sat weaving and threading seeds, nuts and stones to make beautiful jewellery. I bought myself a
seed and nut necklace. Then back in to the wobbly narrow longboat to negotiate more rapids and carry on down river to the Clearwater Cave system.
The first cave we entered was called the Wind Cave, where more amazing stalactites and stalagmites were to be seen. The Wind Cave is so called because it has some tunnels where the wind breezes through; so welcome on a hot day. In our ignorance, we thought it would be cold in the caves, and had long-sleeved tops in our backpacks. No such luck! It is certainly cooler than outside but still hot (and smelly). I found this cave more challenging than yesterday, with quite a climb to get to it, after getting off the boat and steeper ascents and descents inside. For this reason, I didn’t go in to the second cave, Clearwater Cave itself, which has 200 very steep steps to get up to it and then as many if not more, down and up again inside. The Clearwater Cave is named for the crystal-clear river that flows through for over 220 kilometres. This subterranean river then flows out and in to the Sungai Melinau, at its source, so by the
cave entrance there is a clearwater pool where one can paddle or swim. Whilst John and Fefi climbed up to the cave, I went down to the water pool and sat in the shade, with my feet in the cold clear water, surrounded by fish amidst lush tropical plants, some unique to this spot, enjoying views up to the limestone cliffs and down to the river. Beautiful! Meanwhile, John had a paddle in the subterranean river.
Two fascinating plants, unique to the Clearwater Cave, are plants that look just like large leaves, 30cm by 20cm; one of these plants produces flowers and the other doesn’t. They are most unusual! The scientific name for them is Monophyllaea. Yesterday we had seen two other very rare species, fauna not flora, a tiny but noisy Bornean Horned Frog and a little Bornean Tree Shrew, but the latter moved too fast to photograph!
We had a picnic lunch which Fefi had brought in the boat. We expected sandwiches and were pleasantly surprised when out of the large plastic container came containers with rice, vegetables and pork, as well as a flask of hot boiled water to make tea or coffee. Great style!
Another container contained sliced apple wedges for dessert.
After our picnic, the boat dropped us off at the National Park HQ so that we could visit the Mulu Discovery Centre (and sit in the aircon). We got pretty wet on this last boat ride, the heavens opened and the hot forest steamed its thanks. We were able to have a few beers at the Centre as well and we bought a bottle of Australian wine there, to take back to Kenny’s to have with our supper. So, our second day in Mulu had been as good as the first; the whole Mulu experience has been quite extraordinary. The company that we booked up with, “Tropical Adventure Tours & Travel SND, BHD” based in Miri and recommended by “Lonely Planet” are to be highly commended. Not only was our whole trip organised personally and individually to suit our needs, with a great one-one personal guide and no hiccups with connections or arrangements, but also it is impressive that it was done so well at short notice; we only booked up the day before we flew to Mulu. So “Thank You” to them.
we sadly said “Farwell” to the rainforest and flew back to Miri, to hot showers, air con, Wi-Fi, mobile coverage and the bustle of this busy little city. We treated ourselves to a slap-up meal; check out our photo of the biggest BBQ Tiger prawns we have ever eaten. They were wonderful!
One fascinating thing that we saw flying back was the huge serpentine Sungai Baram; the sky was clear and this majestic brown slow river meanders along for hundreds of kilometres down to the South China Sea through thick jungle. The brilliant green of the rainforest canopy and the winding loops of this huge river, reminded us of flying across wide Amazonian tributaries in the Amazon Basin in Brazil. Now, my old school chums, Ann and Barbara take note: remember how we learned all about “Ox-bow lakes” for “O”level G.C.E. Geography? Well, on this flight we saw several, a site we have never seen before. It was so clear to look down and see how the meandering slow-moving river had changed course several times, silting up one pathway and creating another, leaving loops isolated as great curved lakes. I was so delighted to see them! A geography lesson
Last year, our eldest son Nick, travelled upriver from Kuching, along the brown churning waters of the mighty Batang Rejang (River Rejang) to Belaga and then overland by 4 x 4 and bus to Miri. We planned to retrace his journey in reverse, from Miri by bus to Simpang Bakun, then by 4 x 4 inland along a logging road for about 140 km to Belaga, then down river to Kapit, on to Sibu and eventually to Kuching. Unfortunately, having made all enquiries possible, we have found that there is no guarantee that the water will be deep enough at the Pelagus Rapids between Belaga to Kapit for us to make the journey. A bone shaking journey inland by 4 x 4 is one thing; to have to return by the same route would be another, and this is the only other way out of Belaga. Furthermore, this would take too long because we still have so much to see in Kuching and Western Sarawak when we get there. So, we have just walked down to the Malaysia Airlines office here in Miri and booked two seats on a flight tomorrow afternoon
from Miri to Sibu a town on the Batang Rejang. From there, we can take a return trip upriver to Kapit for a few days, before going on downriver and across the sea to Kuching. Our flight will be on another 68-seater prop plane (or maybe the same one) that took us to Mulu. The fare is about £44, including refreshments and hold luggage; not as cheap as Air Asia but not bad.
One thing we want to note here (and thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Stephen and Carol) is how easy it has been for us to book up flights, trips, hotels and so forth without having to carry around our passports. When we were with Stephen and Carol in Benidorm (Spain) in March, we got small credit card sized laminated passport copies made in the market there, and they are acceptable everywhere here! Brilliant!
We have really enjoyed Miri; such a cheerful place. Today we found a little bakery that made lovely buns; very unusual in south east Asia! The baker was pleased when John told him that he had once owned a bakery in England. Tonight, our last night here, we are going to
an Indian restaurant that looks good, even although it is Islamic so no alcohol served. When we popped in there earlier, it smelt very good indeed! Tomorrow then, we move on again, this time to bedroom number twelve; we shall try to throw some more paint on the canvas!
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