Caves, bats, and bugs

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Warm, wet air engulfs us as we step off the plane and catch our first glimpse of the Mulu rainforest. We pass through a leafy, overgrown trellis onto a bouncy cable bridge across a swollen, muddy river and arrive at what feels like Jurassic Park. The electric hum of cicadas rings in my ears, the musky smell of earth and compost hangs thick, and the contrast between searing sunlight and dark, vibrant green jungle confuses my vision. The density makes every inch of this land feel alive.

The park is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Long boardwalks stretch through bogs and forests for kilometers. Still a bit sore from Mt. Kinabalu, we opt for the two popular "show cave" tours of Deer, Langs, Wind, and Clearwater caves. Beautiful speleothems, impressive vaulting caverns, and almost no tourists. The park also offers tempting adventure caving tours, but we've both been fighting a cold, so we'll have to make plans to come back sometime with a few other adrenaline junkies from home.

We get a good laugh out of a stick insect pretending it is part of the boardwalk. Tough little guy! I can barely pry one of his little legs off the wood. Several times we're enveloped by a fluttering cloud of brightly-colored butterflies, including the eye-catching red, black, and fluorescent green Rajah Brooke Birdwings, an endangered species. And Pygmy Squirrels, one of the world's smallest mammals, skitter around in the trees like kids hyped up on a few too many Skittles and Coke.

As we're strolling through Deer Cave, a frog-sized cricket catches my eye. Todd steps off the path to snap a photo and sinks up to his shin in runny black guano. The cave is home to millions of bats that supposedly emerge to feed each evening, but when we return to the cave entrance it's pouring rain. No bats tonight. We wait again the next evening. Just about the time the bats emerge the sky again fills with ominous clouds then bursts into sheets of rain. No bats again. Tonight is our final night here - it's now or never. It's cloudy again as we wait together with thirty Chinese businessmen who are wearing pantyhose socks, black dress shoes, and full length pants rolled up above their knees like shorts.

Then suddenly what looks like a swirling black stream of smoke rises from the cave entrance. Against the sky, a wavy linear mass of thousands of flitting bats flies overhead. Group after group emerges in enormous jetstream-like clouds. Sometimes a smaller flock doubles back on itself and forms a circular donut shape turning circles in the sky. The air is still, but when the swirling black masses approach then pass overhead it sounds like wind gathering in the distance then blowing past. The hungry bats gorge on two tons of insects each evening. I mention to Todd that I'd hate to be a bug in this neighborhood. And since Todd is such a mosquito magnet, he's just happy to ponder millions of mosquitos perishing every evening. It's a spectacular end to our stay here in Mulu!
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