Day 231: Flying, Bugs And Bats

Mon. 1st April 2013

Love the slogan, but not today!Our flight out of Sibu is the first of the day and when we arrive at the airport at 5:45am the shutters are still closed. It is still fifteen minutes before check in opens and slowly the staff arrive one by one. As it is Easter weekend, the schedule has changed and we are flying via Kuching rather than Kota Kinabalu and the early start means we are due to arrive earlier at Mulu. The first flight, from Sibu to Kuching, is just a short hop but then there is a wait for the next flight. Most of the group head off to find some breakfast but we opt to find a quiet corner, slaves to this blog! As we walked, we saw a sign for the executive lounge and recall that Bonnie had mentioned Air Malaysia had recently become a OneWorld member. As we have recently become Silver members (as our RTW ticket is through OneWorld), we can use the lounge – score. The coffee was great along with orange juice, scrambled eggs and croissants so we were settled happily for an hour or so.

Flying to the jungleWe take off late on the same plane that bought us from Sibu, but unlike us they have flown on elsewhere and come back. As we tucked into our juice Dave’s glass suddenly slips on the tray as we begin to descend and turn. We are returning to Kuching, apparently we need to go back for an engineer as there is not one at Mulu. Luckily he is ready and waiting, so we seem to queue barge and our plane takes off next so we are en route again. In just under two hours of flying over dense forests and watching muddy brown rivers wend their way across the landscape we see Mulu and begin our descent through clouds that have appeared from nowhere. Before we land, however, we begin ascending and are told the weather is too bad and we are diverting to Miri. Our tour leader believes we will be put up in a hotel and try again tomorrow, not good news as that will seriously mess up our itinerary.

Massive cavesLuckily there is a flight due to leave Miri for Mulu in half an hour, so we keep our fingers crossed and are quite hopeful when we see our printed boarding passes out on the desk. We were all relieved when the plane touched down in Mulu, especially those not keen on flying. Four take off and landings in one day is not helping our already bad carbon footprint. We are on the only plane of the day that manages to land at Mulu. It was a short trip from the airport to the park lodge, which meant three trips in a rickety minibus to get all fifteen of us there. Instead of being early to the park as we had hoped, we are now late and so it was a quick turnaround and off to the caves.

BIG hairy caterpillarOur guide for the next three days is one of the trainees who has been with us since day one. The walk took us along a boardwalk through the trees and over water in places and well as uneven rocky terrain. There was such a variety of wildlife, caterpillars, butterflies, stick insects, frogs and many more (we have the photos to show them!!) We were on a schedule as we wanted to see around the caves before dusk when the bats flew out. The first cave was the Deer cave which has the largest cave entrance in the world, and it is massive. We are lucky as all the rain yesterday means there are cascades of water, which only occurs about twice a month.

CurtainsWe walked through the cave to the other end, called the Garden of Eden looking out the other side of the mountain at the green vegetation. There were also many stalactites and two called Adam and Eve which have water flowing from them. We could also see that part of the ceiling was black, which was thousands of bats. This was a reminder of one of the sights to come so we retraced our footsteps to the main entrance of the cave. A swarm(?) of bats flew past and left the cave so we hoped we were not too late for the “show” but our guide assured us that it would take about half an hour for all the bats to leave for their evening feed. As we were behind schedule there was a choice of going to the second cave or going straight to the bat observatory. Dave elected for the former and me the later, also that way we would not miss anything!

Bat observatoryThe bat observatory was like a small amphitheatre and as the light began to fade we sat and waited. Shortly we saw a mass of bats fly out and weave across the sky like a black snake, then another and another. The still pictures I was taking did not give the feel of the display so I tried a video of the next wave of bats departing. Good choice as this was the largest swarm of the evening, there were thousands and thousands of bats and they just kept coming for at least the next three or four minutes. The sky was full of trails of bats weaving like snakes in the blue sky.

Bats snaking across the night sky It was an amazing spectacle and surprisingly the sky was not a mass of chaotic black bats, but pretty and uniform streaks as they played “follow my leader”. We just sat for, I imagine over thirty minutes, watching wave after wave of bats leaving the caves. Dave and the others who went to the second cave caught the tail end of the mass exodus of just small clusters leaving, but missed the spectacular large group.

Little frogIt was time to return along the trail to camp, looking out for nocturnal wildlife by torchlight on our way back. We saw more bugs on the way back than we had seen on our night walk in Bako and they comprised of frogs, spiders, big hairy caterpillars to name a few. All too soon we were back and time to sort out sleeping arrangements. We shared with Simon and Bonnie again in a lovely four bedded room, which was good as we got on well together. It was much, much nicer than the previous dorm we had shared in Bako and possibly the best accommodation in Borneo yet, especially once we found the hot water switch whilst Dave was in the shower. Those in first had had cold showers but as I was last I had a hot one.

With the greater number of bugs here, the open air restaurant was full of them buzzing around so eating was a quick affair. The nightly briefing had us excited hearing about our next three days heading into the jungle up to Camp 5 and prepare for the Pinnacles climb.

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