When someone thinks of Mulu, they may think of a small rainforest hamlet, but with ready facilities. Think again. This is a remote place, where mobile reception is limited, WiFi even more limited and 4G a mere whisper in the clouds, literally. It is the ideal spot to get away from it all and to concentrate on your adventures. With that in mind, I went on a 2-day expedition to visit the 4 Show Caves of Deer, Lang, Wind and Clearwater.
My trip started as soon as I landed in Mulu on the 1045 flight from Miri. I checked in to the Mulu Marriott (a stunning retreat) and after a dip in the pool, I got the complementary Mulu Marriott shuttle bus to the Mulu World Heritage Area Park Office: a short 3-minute drive.
There I was met by my two guides who were super helpful and super knowledgeable: two local boys named Ipoi and Harvey. Our trek started at 1300. Our first stop: the Canopy Walk. Truth be told, I initially was not too keen on it, but since it came inclusive in my expedition package, I went along. On hindsight, I would have regretted had I not.
The Canopy Walk is a 450m detour up in the high trees, 30m above the jungle floor and river below. Apparently, it is the world’s longest canopy walk when measured between trees. I have a head for heights, so I was game for it.
Walking from tree to tree, up in the upper canopy, you notice the ingenious construction of the structure. Not a single nail was used, with the entire canopy walk supported by one very long, continuous durable cable.
If looking down at the jungle floor makes you jaded, then perhaps a view of the river below may change your mind. If that is not enough, then the view of the limestone cliffs that hint at the caves beyond should stir on your inner adventurer. Add in a little drizzle on a narrow walkway that is wet, and your guide walking 20 steps behind you as the walkway sways just that bit and you get a feel how Indiana Jones felt running along his makeshift rope bridge in the Temple of Doom.
3.5km from the canopy walk (and being tempted by the Mt Mulu sign), we reached the first of the show caves: the Deer Cave. The cave got its name from deer tracks spotted by the local trackers. Why do the deers go in you ask? They want salt, and in a giant cave filled with millions upon millions of bats, you are guaranteed salt from the literal mountains of guano (a.k.a. poop).
Mother Nature has a way of making a grand spectacle: Petra has the Wadi Path that leads through a chasm in the desert rock to the Treasury. Mulu has an equally stunning approach towards the Deer Cave grand entrance. As you walk along left rock face, you pass a somewhat narrow pass, cut through the limestone from erosion over a period of a million years. You get hints of what lies beyond through ‘breaks’ in between the massive boulders. Glimpses of brightly lit interiors against the darkness of this pass make you ponder, wonder at what lies beyond. A prelude, a hint, a tease.
And then it hits you as the path opens up: the sheer scale of the chamber. Pictures do no justice to the majesty of the space. You definitely need humans for scale. Standing at the edge, the cavern dwarfs you, with the high ceiling soaring above, greater than any grand cathedrals of Europe. The light dancing between the cracks and caverns, the nooks and crannies of the cavern walls playing, teasing your senses. You take a picture, you try every angle, yet it fails to capture the sheer sight of something that must be seen in person
You ignore the smell, the hint of stench, of manure. You ignore the damp, the humidity, the stickiness you feel. All you sense around you is the primeval beauty, the sound of water dripping from the cavern ceiling and the clicks of swiftlets flying above. For a brief moment, you are one with the nature, awestruck by the sheer scale, and now miniscule and insignificant we truly are.
Yet this is just the start. You proceed further, deeper in to the chamber. You suddenly see a traveller, gingerly balancing himself on the edge of a rock high above, taking a picture before going back behind the railings. You wonder what he was up to, before your guide tells you to look behind, as you stand in one very specific spot. You look back, and then spot an old friend.
Now, this image has been used as a tourism poster for Sarawak for as long as I could remember and I could see why. There at the entrance is the famous profile of Abraham Lincoln against the rock face, his silhouette against the light. You try, you struggle, you adjust the light settings on your camera, you take a picture. You try to recreate that iconic image, yet that mental and actual image can never truly translate in to a digital copy. Some things must be seen in person.
You proceed further down in to the cave and finally catch the sheer size of the space. The water dripping down, echoing through the chamber as your party looks around in amazement at this sight, as you stand in the middle of the entrance, the soaring heights daring you not to be amazed. You see hints, reflections of light further beyond, and you wonder what took you so long to visit this place.
Water trickles all around: above from the ceiling, against the walls, down below and in the distance. You walk up along a path, concrete in some parts, steel in others. You notice patches of brown piled high in certain corners and are reminded of what that brown this is on the railing. You try to stop yourself from touching it, despite the occasional want for a handrail. The thought of having guano on your hands must stay firm to prevent you from touching anything.
Walking up along rocks and ledges, raised sections and platforms, you finally see what was causing that rushing sound: a stream flows through the cave, that artist’s brush which carved this massive cavern from the limestone. Artificial lights illuminate the flow, the rock and the cave face, focussing on the sight.
And then your guide tells you to look up, yet your eyes are transfixed ahead, towards that bright ray of light ahead. You listen to your guide, occasionally looking up at a ‘shower head’ with a steady shower streaming from it: the famous ‘Eve’s Shower.’ You hear something about ‘Adam’s Shower’ yet you look ahead, transfixed.
“The Garden of Eden” your guide says, finally breaking the spell which caught you in this daze.
‘Ah’, you think to yourself. ‘No wonder Adam and Eve have shower heads here.’
That source of bright light is truly a garden, with lush greenery, beautiful majestic trees and foliage being framed against the cave chamber’s wall. It makes you think of a terrarium, and in scale, it does look small, before you recall how massive rainforest trees can truly get. The light and the dark, the green and the brown, life and death, of an everlasting renewal of nature’s cycle, all in one diorama.
Your guide notices your fascination. He may not have known you for long, but he knows that look on your face, that look of wonder, that look of amazement, that look of need: that explorer’s look of wanderlust. “There are guided hikes to explore the Garden of Eden,” he says with a smile, before leading you out.
Walking back through the path we were just on, the cavernous chamber still mesmerizes you. The second time around and you still get awestruck. You try and sneak another picture, just to capture the moment. ‘There, people for scale! I can finally get that #humanforscale shot!’ Naturally, that shot failed to capture what you want to portray, and you mentally tell yourself to delete that picture.
We exit one cave and enter another, just a short 5-minute walk from the entrance of the Deer Cave. Before entering, our guide tells us that the cave is narrow, the cave is low, the cave is not as fantastic as our first show. Yet it was still something we had to see, so onwards we went, some with glee.
Lang’s Cave, or Lang Cave, was discovered by a local named ‘Lang.’ The sights inside it may have either mesmerized him or terrorized him. The sights of the stalactites and stalagmites at the entrance was a mere tease, with both the white of the limestone and the brightness of the sunlight hiding what the shadows could throw in for effect.
We walked in, with the ceiling at times almost reaching our heads. If you were 6’, you may get a sore neck, as you bow your heads continuously in between sections of the passageway. Away from the light, the small water-and-light show of a stalactite-in-progress, and nature’s science lesson of a limestone column in various stages of formation, you enter in to what could be a page from the Necronomicon.
There you see images in the rock face. Depending on who you ask, you may see different things. My party saw jellyfish. My guides saw jellyfish. Against the light and shadows, I on the other had saw something else. I saw an Ancient One, an image, a companion of Cthulhu set in stone. There, frozen, nay, encased in limestone, grimacing with an intimidating show of teeth, with a face like an angler fish, or some creature from the deep. Had I come here with a torchlight in the darkness, I would have thought I found an entrance to R’lyeh and encountered that image which brought Alhazred to madness.
Before long, we exited and headed out towards the bat observation area. Our timing was good, so we found a good corner to view the evening exodus of bats off for their dinner. It was 1700, and it was a good time for a drink, so I lay back against the seating and sipped from my whiskey flask.
The bat exodus, the flight of the bat, the bat flight, or whatever you want to call it, is one of the highlights for a Mulu expedition. If you can catch one, you are in for a treat, as these microbats, the same ones pooping in the Deer Cave, can be quite temperamental when the weather is not ideal.
We all sat, watching the entrance of the Deer Cave for a sight of bats, as we were told they fly out from 1700 onwards. We waited, and waited, and waited. If the people around you talk too much while waiting, tell them ‘oh, look! I see something!’ and there will be sudden silence.
And then at 1745, we saw the first round. It was still bright, but a flock flew out from behind the cave. This group must have come out from the Garden of Eden. We waited ever patiently, and more groups came out, first from the back, then from cracks in the middle against the trees. The sun was setting fast, and as the last rays of sun left the face of the Deer Cave entrance, they came.
They came in droves, in a continuous large group. You could hear the clicking, the flapping of their bat wings, the sounds being made in this large movement. They do not fly in one continuous line, but dance and twirl, somersault and vault, twist and curl like a great wave. Some saw an image of dragons dancing, others a snake slivering. I just saw something that will without a doubt continue to feed my wanderlust and fascination for adventure and exploration.
For part 2, click here.
I used Borneo Rainforest Trekking's personalized services for my Mulu trip. Contact them for your bespoke adventure. www.borneorainforesttrekking.com
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.