A Wrong Turn In The Worlds Largest Cave (and my stairway to heaven!)

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September 20th 2009
Published: September 21st 2009
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Miri was our next destination after leaving Kuching. It was a 14hr bus journey to get there. A company was recommended to us by our taxi driver and the bus we would be taking was pointed out to us. Of course when it was time to get on the bus it wasn’t the same one, and you could say, a little less comfortable looking. We could only get two separate seats as it is the end of Ramadan here and all buses to Miri were full. When we got on though, the kind bus conductor arranged two seats for us together without us asking. It was at the front and I had no seat in front of me which meant I could stretch my legs to my hearts content. The 14hrs turned out to be long and hard for many different reasons. Because there was no seat in front of me I kept sliding off my chair when I fell asleep, the air con was also at freezing point and I was dressed more for the beach than for artic conditions and our bus driver at 6am put on a karaoke video full blast and sang along to every word, at full voice. They put on movies the night before which you couldn’t hear one word, but for some reason it’s ok to blast karaoke tunes at 6am in the morning. Planes and trains for us anymore if possible, which is doubtful though as buses are the most economical way for us to travel.

When we arrived at the bus station we rang Ms. Lee the owner of the hostel to get the address of where we were to go. I had foolishly forgot to write it down and none of the taxi drivers knew where it was, even though they said they did, but I knew from past experiences, when they group together and start pointing out directions and then another says no, no, no and point in another direction, that they haven’t a clue. When I rang Ms. Lee she said she was 5 minutes away and heading to the hostel and would collect us. Nice one, and so kind of her. When we were booking the hostel we asked about tours to the Niah Caves. When we arrived she had booked them for us and we would be going the next morning. She had booked a taxi, as taking the bus means you’re the last one there and first one out and the taxi provides us with a ‘light’ lunch as well. We didn’t do much that day as the bus journey had taken a lot out of us.

Next morning we were picked up and drove for over and hour to the Niah national park. It’s claim to fame is that it is the birthplaces of civilisation. The oldest modern human remains discovered in SE Asia were found here. The trek to the other end of the cave is nearly 5km which makes it a 10km round trip. The first 3.5km is through the jungle to the entrance of the cave. It passes fairly quickly and you pass through some smaller caves. We saw lots of lizards and big red centipedes along the route and of course lots of rustling in the trees. As it is a public holiday here, there were not that many visitors to the park. The end of Ramadan is like Christmas to us, so it is very family orientated and most have meals that day in their homes and don’t be out visiting national parks.

The entrance to the ‘Great Cave’ is huge and to be seen by your own eyes to believe its sheer size. Its over 60m high and 250m wide. We saw a walkway to up into the cave so followed that route. The smell of the guano (salivary secretions) from the birds and bats was kind of sickly sweet. It can get right up your nose. They use it to make birds nest soup which I haven’t tried yet and don’t think I will. We walked up into the cave and soon we needed to put on our head torches. The noise of the bats overhead in the darkness was a little uncomfortable and the fear of getting some droppings on our heads made sure we kept moving. Walking through the darkness we happened upon a guy standing in the dark with no light smoking a cigarette. I don’t know why he would be there and I hope there is some reason, but it sounds all too like a horror movie to me!

As my heading suggests we took a wrong turn in the worlds biggest cave. Now, to most people this would mean disaster and panic but it actually brought us to the place where we were originally meant to enter. The entrance and exit are beside each other at the front of the cave and we went in the exit. We had to turn around and start the whole thing again, also re-passing random strange guy in the dark smoking a cigarette. Hindsight tells us that it really is a good idea to know your route when entering a cave. For those who know the show Fr. Ted and the episode where they visit the Aliwee Cave in the west of Ireland and Victor Mildrew makes a guest appearance, that is what we were like. Every now and again you would hear “ I……..doooooooooont belieeeeeve it” echo through the cave. Funny at the time but probably not now! Back on track we had to walk through a part of the cave for about 10mins in complete darkness. The torch didn’t move from your feet for fear of veering of the track or worse again taking another wrong turn. Eventually we saw light and then walked another 10mins to the cave of the paintings.

The paintings here were very well sealed off from the public. In fact too well. The fence was 3 metres high and covered in chicken wire. I know they have to protect them but it seemed a bit extreme. It appears that a small minority have obviously ruined it for others. The paintings were hard to make out but came out well under the flash of the camera, even from 5m away. Also behind the fence were death-ships which symbolise moving into the afterlife. A skull was found here dating 40,000 years old and many other artefacts including ceramics and ornaments. We had our lunch there which consisted of a fairy bun and a some oranges. We returned back through the cave system and we could hear the rattle of thunder from outside. It had started to rain very heavily and we couldn’t leave the cave. We sat for nearly an hour before we decided to make our move. While waiting to go, a huge waterfall formed inside the cave from the rain outside. It just started like it was automatic and huge amounts of water poured into one side of the cave.

The wooden pathway had become extremely slippy after that heavy rain. It was literally like ice and we had to watch each step. This is where the stairway to heaven comes into my heading. Even tough we were watching every step my feet gave way on a stairs. I went flying down about 10 steps and came to a halt after hitting a large rock (which actually stopped me from going over a 2m drop). On route down I all I could hear was Michelle screaming. She said I had actually turned around at one point and my face look like I was going down one of those deadly slides in a water park. I jumped straight up and put my shoe back on. Adrenalin and my ego meant I didn’t feel any pain. For now. I was carrying Michelle’s bag and she asked could I check if her new glasses were ok in the bag after I fell on it!!!! In fairness to her she did ask was I ok first so I’ll forgive her this time! The only pain I could feel was my hands were burning and I couldn’t put too much pressure on my ankles. I limped along for awhile taking every step, as if it could be my last. It started to rain heavy again but we decided to just stick it out and continued to the park entrance. As I type now my heels are sore and the left side of my left hand is quite sore but not enough to warrant a trip to the doctor.

Although it was cold inside the cave it was very humid. Everyone we met, including ourselves was dripping with sweat. I would advise anyone to bring an extra t-shirt because no-one seemed immune from the dreaded sweat patches. My grey t-shirt actually changed colour. Very attractive, I know. All day long, all we had to eat were oranges, in fact I had 4 or 5 and now I’m paying the price, if you know what I mean!!

In a bit. DH

Song of the blog: Ronan Keating - Life is a Rollercoaster!

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21st September 2009

ahhh the famous Malay bus air con!
Had to giggle at your bus journey...we have found the same all over Malaysia they treat their passengers on the buses as if we are frozen turkeys that must be preserved at all costs, therefore the drivers whack the air con on as high as possible! We hate the feeling of 'defrosting' after one of those journeys. Defo look at Air Asia flights as sometimes they are as cheap as the bus journey would be! Have fun in the rest of Borneo!
3rd November 2009

that is so cool were did u see that centipede?weres niah cave dude?
3rd November 2009

were those rely paintings and cofins asome

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