A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Mulu not so ulu

This morning I wake early and pack because I’ve only a half hour window to collect my laundry and get the bus to the airport to fly to Mulu – around 250km north of Kuching (i think). On the way to City Laundry to see the grumpy round faced laundry madam i notice the roti man flipping his wares and frying hem on his hotplate. The laundry isn’t open on time and I’m panicking slightly that I won’t get my clothes before the bus leaves but I can’t help that so I rush back to Tunes and grab the kids to see the Roti flipper. It’s hard to explain what roti is but it’s somewhere between a pancake, flat bread and puff pastry. We tried this at home but it didn’t pan out great so we’re keen to see the expert in action. Hopefully when we have time in KK or Sandakan we can convince a hawker to let us try. For now, this one and his beautiful plump muslim wife with gold head cover are mildly amused to to have an audience but are under the pump when I order 10 Roti Telur – roti canai with egg. They are bundled up with curry dipping sauce just like the laundry (eventually) and we’re off. Later at Starbucks after Mark orders some plunger coffee, we spread out the roti still hot and tear it up dipping each piece into the gravy. Each bite of the chewy, slightly sweet, soft eggy pastry was delicious and filling. At 1.70rm the only problem is I can only buy this for breakfast.

Only MAS Wings the regional arm of Malaysian Airlines flies directly from Kuching to Mulu and apart from our group with Mark and Deb the other dozen people are all foreigners. I don’t think too many Malaysians come here because it’s considered fairly “ulu” which means it’s pretty backward, rural and remote.

As we fly in we start to get an appreciation for the terrain. Huge limestone craggy grey and white cliffs rise from the densely green forest below. The pilot gives a running commentary. When we arrive Nani has already fallen in love with the place. It seems like a forgotten or at least a little visited slice of paradise – all lush, humid and green but without the dirt, grime and run downedness that we have come to expect.

Mulu stands in contrast with Bako in so many ways. On arrival we cross the river over a suspension bridge Covered over with foliage like some kind of green tunnel and appear at Park HQ which is a large modern air conditioned structure divided into office and education centre. The place seems to run smoothly. Outside the various types of accommodation are spread out but well maintained boardwalks and lush gardens separate them. The cafe is huge with timber floors, cane chairs and tastefully designed and decorated with a reasonable selection of food.

We stay at Longhouse 1 in the Stonehorse Cave room and like its name it is truly cavernous. Whilst most places we stay are simply a perimeter around the bed, here we get double the bed space and 10 ft ceilings with AC and a fan plus two showers and toilet with double sink. I discover that the place is managed by an Aussie couple and I check with the bloke and all the water in the room taps are totally potable so we don’t have to keep buying water like in Bako. It’s not cheap but we have decided to splurge here because there really isn’t anything on planet earth quite like it.

After lunch to cool off we dive into the fast flowing river for a swim. I go across first to check the current and I’m taken downstream a ways. When I reach the other side at a sandy spit my feet sink deep into dead leaves. Wondering what might live in those deep dead leaves is not useful. I walk back up stream of the jetty where the kids are and dive off a dead submerged log and swim diagonally back. I decide the boys should be able to do it and with a little struggle they make it and enjoy the swim in the clear turquoise river shaded by tall jungle. Nani crosses over and gets into a bit of trouble claiming she almost drowned. Possible her waterlogged clothes didn’t help. Getting back the boys are swept rapidly by the current and I stay downstream of them to make sure they don’t miss the old wooden tyre-slung pontoon.

We take around 45 minutes to walk through the jungle the 3 km to Deer and Lang Cave along alternately boardwalk and concrete. It’s a fairly sanitised walk but I guess it’s a compromise between making it accessable to tourists of all ages. Wheelchair access is fine here. We’ve come like pilgrims from all over to watch the bats emerge from the caves on dusk. Its raining slightly so our chances of seeing them are reduced as they may just choose to stay dry. Some tour groups are leaving at 6 and Nani asks me twice “should we go?” I’m not too sure why she is wanting to go, but I just like to sit here below the yawning mouth of the Deer Cave set into a limestone cliff and just be. I say she can go if she likes. The kids are stressing her out a bit so I suggest they can stay with me, but she stays anyway.

Luckily we hung in there and despite the soft drizzle, the phenomenon that I believe only happens in one other part of the world (Carlsbad) begins after 6pm. To avoid the feared Bat Hawk, the mammals congregate in the huge caverns and then as one, stream out in spectacular ribbon, globular, tornado like formations. Some make a giant caterpillar in the sky, others look a little like a question mark. With each burst, onlookers oohhh and aahhh. It’s too dark to photograph so I don’t try.

It is barely over and rangers are moving us on. I don’t know what the rush is so I’m hesitant. Finally I move off and am left walking the little monkey princess while everyone, keen for a feed takes off. She starts whining about 10 minutes in about sore legs (she also hates being beaten so that’s a big problem) and the rangers following up the rear say “See?! That’s why we said you should leave!” this gets up my nose because Abbey has done a 16km walk before up a mountain but the trick with kids is to walk at a constant 2-3 km per hour. Any faster and they blow out their gas tank and feel pain and tiredness then stop too frequently. Now I’m growling at her and telling her off for being a big whinging baby. I tell her it’s just pain and it won’t harm her. I wish these guys would just let me walk her back at our own pace. Eventually they do and we make it back along he slipper boardwalk in the light of my head torch. Mental note – make sure sleeping beauty gets enough tonight.

We book in for a guided tour through the Wind and Clearwater Cave systems tomorrow (one can’t enter without a guide) and sample the delicious if slightly expensive cafe food. Abbey has made friends with three Swiss blokes and joins them in the smoking area for a game of fish. Amazing how fast the little whiner can recover.


2 responses to “Mulu not so ulu

  1. Kristy Jackson December 13, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Sounds like you are all having an amazing experience – looking forward to reading the next chapter.

    • John December 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks Kristy! We’re having a lazy day today because we’re a bit knackered. Abbey has had a good spew, and we saw some orang utan up close 🙂

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