Borneo, Part 3 – Mountains, Caves and Bats

Gunung Mulu National Park

This park is deep in the middle of the Borneo jungle, close to the Brunei border, and accessible only by plane. Gunung Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Area, famous for its large caves. We first visited Lang Cave. It’s one of the smallest caves in the park, but is still massive in size with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites slowly growing to join each other. We felt that these intricate features made it the most beautiful of all of the caves in the park.

Lang Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park
Lang Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park
Lang Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park
Lang Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

Beside Lang Cave is Deer cave which is one of the largest caves in the world with a resident population of over 3 million bats. Because of the number of bats, there are huge mounds of bat guano inside the cave. You can smell the guano for at least 100 m away, and inside the cave, the smell is suffocating. One of the biggest thrills is to come at dusk and see the 3 million bats exit the cave by the thousands to feed on bugs. Streams of exiting bats twist and turn trying to escape bat hawks waiting at the cave’s entrance.

Alpen Glow on entrance to Deer Cave
Alpen Glow on entrance to Deer Cave
Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park
Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

Two other Mulu caves we went to were Wind Cave, which ends in a beautiful waterfall, ‘the garden of eden’ and Clearwater Cave where the Melinau River flows underground.  Over thousands of years, the river slowly eroded the cave leaving behind beautiful etchings in the walls.

Clearwater Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park
Clearwater Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

Our next adventure was a trek to the famous karst formation pinnacles on Gunung Api. To get to the start of the climb we took a 45 minute ride up the Melinau River on a long-boat and then an 8 km trek along the river. Things started out easy, but then, the rains began. It poured for about an hour and it was so intense that we were soaked after the first 2 minutes.  The bigger problem was that the rain brought out leeches. By the time we arrived at camp Richard had pulled off 8 blood filled leeches and Maggie had 6! Not a great start to this adventure. At 6:30 the next morning we started the 2.4 km, 1600 m elevation scramble to the top. We climb and hike a lot, so didn’t think it would be too difficult, but we don’t climb at the equator or in a rain forest. The trail was very steep; approx. a 45⁰ – 60⁰ incline, and was over slippery, mossy roots, sharp limestone and eventually ladders so it was tough going. As the trail approached the summit, we saw several carnivorous pitcher plants making the climb a little more enjoyable.

Pitcher Plant, Gunung Mulu National Park
Pitcher Plant, Gunung Mulu National Park

Finally, almost 3 hours later, we reached the incredible viewpoint to see dramatic, razor sharp, karst limestone pinnacles. They were formed by hundreds of years of rain water wearing down the limestone rock into these beautiful formations.

Pinnacles on Gunung Api
Pinnacles on Gunung Api

Getting to the summit was only half of the battle as we now had to retrace our steps down that steep, slippery trail.  After another 2 1/2 hours we were back at our camp and welcomed a refreshing dip in the Melinau river. As we relaxed at camp we were joined by dozens of beautiful butterflies, including the endemic Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing. The next day we hiked the 8 km back to the boat dock. It rained overnight but not during our hike and yet Maggie had another 4 leeches and Richard had another 6!

Our Penan Village Experience

We had the opportunity to spend 2 days with a local Penan guide in his primitive village of Long Iman. Penans are historically nomadic, indigenous people of Borneo. Their ancestors were headhunters but stopped practicing this in late 1890. To read the full story go to Our Penan Village Adventure.

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