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When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Darkside Does Malaysia: Part 2

Sorry for the delay in posting, it's been that kind of week!

So where was I? Ah; Day 2.

Day 2

Day 2 found us packing our bags to head back to the airport, for our flight to Mulu. The Mulu National Park is located in the southern part of Malaysian Borneo, known as Sarawak. I was slowly starting to grasp how large Malaysia really was; the ads and testimonies from friends had given me a very wrong view of the sheer size and diversity of the place.

We touched down at the Mulu airport around 2pm in the afternoon. However, I use the word 'airport' very loosely; I have never seen a smaller airport in my life! In typical Jurassic Park style, we climb down the airplane steps onto the tarmac, walk over to this small hall where we just stand around until a small jeep brings the bags from the plane to you. Yes, no conveyor belts, no nothing; straight from the cargo hold, to your  hands. Turn around, walk 15 steps and you're out of the airport.

That my friend is how all airports should be! I later found out that the airport was the only way to reach Mulu; that or by road from Miri which is about 100kms away, or for the more adventurous, down the river. Anyway, as soon as we stepped out we managed to secure a ride to the park which was about five minutes away. We hadn't booked anything in advance, because we wanted to see if we could negotiate a cheaper rate at the place itself, as the internet prices seemed rather steep. Hopefully the Sri Lankan skills at negotiating would come in useful!

The first thing that struck me about the Mulu National Park - was the rope bridge we had to cross to get to it. But the second thing that struck me about the park was how incredibly helpful they were. We stood in line at the Information desk and when it was our turn we explained how we basically had just turned up here with little or no idea of exactly what to do, except that we wanted to see caves. The guy at the counter was extremely patient with us, as he explained all of the activities we could do at the park. He asked us how long we were here for, then proceeded to basically draw up our entire agenda for the next 4 days. Not only did he cover all of the activities that we wanted to go for, but he slotted it in so neatly that we didn't waste any time any day. We spoke to him about prices, and we were relieved to find that the prices on the websites had been incorrect; the whole 4 days worked out to about 15k LKR, which I found very reasonable given the number of tours we had signed up for.

As we left the park, R remarked on how much better Sinharaja would be if we had people who were this helpful over there as well. It was an interesting point.

We found a small dormitory right outside the park, since the park accommodation was full up. It was cheap, and manned by a friendly guy whose name we never got. Basically we got three beds in a hall of around 25, and a small common toilet and shower area. We were willing to forsake our privacy for the rates they were offering, and gladly took it as we went over the plan for the next few days. According to our agenda, we would cover four 'show caves', a 'canopy walk' which was a tour along the tree tops via rope bridge, and the big three day hike to the 'pinnacle summit'. The night was spent with a decent dinner and a lot of talk as we caught up on what we had been up to over the years. R and I hadn't seen S since high school, while R and I had only met 2 or 3 times over the last ten years. Our conversation went on for hours, and we decided to call it a night just after midnight. I'm sure our hosts were grateful, because what we didn't realise till that point was that we were running on generator power at that time, and the generator is only switched on between 5pm and midnight. Yes, 7 hours of electricity per day; something we would have to get used to.

Day 3

Day 3 started early, as breakfast at our princely abode was available only between 7am and 8am. So after a hearty breakfast of toast, beans, egg and sausages, we headed to the camp to start the Canopy Walk. Our group consisted of about 7 people including us, and our guide took us into the forest to start off. The paths were well done, consisting of a wooden walkway, so the walk was no difficulty. Somehow, despite the man-made path, the forest around still retained its wild aura, and I wasn't in the least tempted to stray off the path for my own 'adventure'.

After 30-40 minutes, we reached the place where the rope bridges began. Now, these rope bridges may sound very fun, but I had no idea exactly how unsafe those things would feel when you were on them. The guides probably realised that too, which is why only two could walk on them at a time. At some places there was only enough room to put one foot in front of the other, and the creaking wooden planks you were stepping on did not inspire confidence. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but the view was breathtaking, as we took in just how enormous the forest cover was. We even caught a glimpse of Mt. Mulu, with it's sheer limestone cliffs in the distance. My camera did it's best to capture the vastness of it all, but you really need a wide angle lens to see it properly.

I found this very interesting

My great travel friends

If I remember correctly, the rope bridges spanned a total of about 500m, and soon we were back on the ground and heading back for lunch; in the afternoon we would be heading out for our first view of the famous Mulu caves.

We left camp around 230pm in the afternoon, again along the wooden pathways, though this time for a little over an hour into the forest. There we reached a clearing where the mountain sort of rose up right in front of us. Again, the size of it was amazing; I couldn't wait to get to the caves.

We reached Langs cave after a short half hour walk from the clearing, up the mountain. The guide gave us a short lecture on the formation of the caves, the theory behind the formations and the time that would be needed to form such complex creations. As interesting as that was, I quickly forgot about that once I went inside and saw it for myself.

After a lot of fiddling with my camera settings, I was able to get off a few shots of the interior and the formations, which were all very strategically lit up so as not to ruin the darkness of the caves (we needed to carry torches with us and they were in use a lot!) but yet enough to provide illumination for the various limestone formations there.

Langs cave was great, but what we were really looking forward to was Deer Cave, which is supposed to be the largest natural cave in the entire world, able to comfortably house nine cathedrals inside it. Famous too, for being the home of around 3 million bats that rush out of the cave every evening in a spectacular display against the fading light of dusk.

After another half hour walk from Langs cave, we finally reached Deer Cave. The entrance was ominous enough, but once I stepped inside - well, see for yourself.

If ever there were a time for the use of the term 'mind-boggling', this would be it. My eyes just could not understand how huge the interior of the cave was. I felt like a cheap digital camera, vainly attempting to auto focus on a moving object. As you enter the cave, the near wall sort of falls away, revealing the other end of the cave in a manner that makes it appear miles away. There are giant boulders strewn across the floor, and the dull evening light that snakes into the cave makes it look otherworldly. The further in we went, the more our torches came into use, but they too were woefully inadequate to pierce the blackness of the cave. There was a lot movement above us, testament to the sleeping army of bats hiding in the dark recesses of limestone. And of course, where there are bats, there is bat poop, and there was no shortage of supply here - literally, small mountains of poop on the cave floor!

We finally made it out of the cave and headed to the clearing. Just in time too, as the bats started to make their way out of the caves in droves, making zig-zag formations across the skies in an attempt to evade predatory birds that wait near the cave opening to pick them off for an early dinner.

As darkness fell we headed back to our lodging, where thankfully there was electricity. Day 4 would involve more caving, but also the first day of our perilous 3 day Pinnacles trek. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Darkside Does Malaysia: Part 1 Of The Epic Borneo Trip

In what can only be described as a whirlwind of a month, I have finally found some time to sit down in relative peace and calm to write this post. The last four weeks have involved, in no particular order: (low cost) international travel, white water rafting, mountain climbing, jungles, bat shit, caves, Nasi Lemak, 3am wake-up calls, lots of driving, a wedding, lots of walking, and a high school graduation. And a substantial reduction in my savings.

Where do I even begin! Well, at the beginning, no doubt.

On June 26th, one of my high school friends (S) and I took off from Colombo to Kuala Lampur. We were on route to Kota Kinabalu, which is part of Malaysian Borneo, where we were planning on meeting another of our high school friends (R) who was at that time busy backpacking his way through most of South East Asia (much to our envy). The plan had been thrown together all very suddenly, with a little over 4 weeks of preparation for this week long adventure holiday. Either way, it was a much needed break for me, and I eagerly devoured all the material R had sent me regarding the itinerary for our stay.

Our first day was mainly spent travelling, from Colombo to KL, and then KL to KK. We landed sometime in the night, and took a cab to the lodge R was staying in. As our cab sped along on its way to the small side street off the main road that was our destination, I took in my first view of Malaysia. While most people are enamoured with the glitz and glamour of the capital, I knew that we were literally not going to set foot in Kuala Lampur, save for the transit in the airport. Kota Kinabalu would have to welcome me to Malaysia all on her own, and it did so with a brave attempt of emulating her capital, though without nearly half the grandeur. The streets were well lit, full of colour but the city seemed simple and unassuming to my eye.

As we carried our bags to the lodge, I was surprised at the place we were staying at. The word 'lodge' was a slight exaggeration; it had one medium sized central living room, and a few dormitories with bunk beds. The entire place was air conditioned, and very clean, the beds looked very clean and comfortable as well. We were bunking with 5-6 other people though, all travellers by the looks of them, yet no one seemed at all bothered that three loud Asians had just infiltrated their sleeping quarters with loud enthusiastic conversation.

Our first night we walked to the pier where R was already having dinner with a few travelling friends he had met that day. This concept of meeting random people while travelling and then joining them for meals and lodging was new to me; perhaps it is my Sri Lankan nature to expect the worst while travelling with strangers. However, we all had a great time as we got to know each other. And what a group we were! One Japanese nurse on holiday, one Texan oil rigger on leave (he was working on a rig off the coast of Malaysia if I'm not mistaken), one 19 year old Swiss girl who had just completed high school and was on a break. And of course, three Sri Lankans; one living in Singapore, one living in Switzerland, and yours truly. The night was long, yet enjoyable and full of fun, especially when R was offered free sexual favours from some transsexual prostitutes on the way back to the lodge. We literally fled the scene laughing, it was so awkward.

Day 1

Day 1 began early, because we had used some of S's contacts to get us on a white water rafting tour. We had heard the river we were going to was pretty rough, providing at least level 3-4 rapids (level 5 is the highest you can do without a license, if I'm not mistaken), so we were pretty excited about it. We got picked up by van, and a couple other vans joined us as we made our way to the river. As it turned out, the river was a good 3-4 hours drive away; that is, the train station was 3-4 hours away. From there we go by train to the river, because apparently it's not accessible any other way. No complaints, since the journey there was beautiful! We were climbing up to some serious altitude; at one point, the road climbed at such a steep angle that the van had to switch off the a/c and crawl up it.

After a light lunch on the way, we got in the train and headed to the river, where we loaded up the boats, got our life jackets, helmets, and got broken into squads. We three were in one boat, along with a Scottish/Irish single mom and her adorable 8 year old daughter. Now, you may think 'what is a single mom and her 8 year old doing white-water rafting?', and let me just inform you that she happened to be a former competitive Thai boxer. Yep, she hardcore. As for the kid, well, they said it was safe, so I was not too worried.

We got in the boats along with our guide whose name was King Kong. I can't remember the last time I've seen a man so chiselled. Needless to say, we felt pretty safe with him at the 'helm'.

The rapids were amazing! I doubt I can do justice to the whole experience, but me and R were in the front paddling our arms off and it was no easy task, especially when your boat is climbing up a crest and you can see the bottom of the wave a good 10 feet below you! Fantastic fun, especially when after hitting a particularly large wave head on, me and R turned around for a split second to see King Kong pulling S back in to the boat after a short 'out-of-boat' experience in a rapid. No time to burst into laughter though, another rapid was approaching! Between the rapids though we managed to coast and even get in the river ourselves to cool off a bit, while R bravely (or foolishly) took out his camera from his water-proof bag to take a few pictures on the way.

After a little over an hour, we reached the end point. It was quite a tiring ride but the fatigue was negated by the adrenaline rush. Truly a fun experience, and we made our way back to the train and back to our vans. After a short tea, we made the long journey back to KK, but not before taking in the amazing sunset from the mountains.

After reaching our rooms we decided to try out some of the famed sea food in the area, and after asking a few people for their recommendations we ended up at the largest sea food food-court I had ever seen. Only, it wasn't what you would expect.

Yes, there we were, surrounded by more aquariums than Sea World, filled with every variety of sea creature that is edible by man. I'm sure if we looked hard enough we'd find an aquarium labelled "Aquaman's Mom". All one had to do was pick one, tell them how you wanted them to die prepared, and Bam! there's your dinner. Now, I love my seafood, but this was a bit much. I had never craved chicked so badly; we decided to head back to the pier for some Singaporean cuisine instead.

So that was the end of Day 1; the next day we'd be travelling to the Mulu National Park in Sarawak, where we'd be staying for the remainder of our trip. I think this is enough of an update for now, will post the rest later!

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