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The quote: The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time. (Colette)

Its raining, its pooring, the old man is snoring!!!

It’s a ship, although it looks like an aeroplane.
When it seems like the sky is infinitely sad and won't stop crying, one of the solutions to not also end up crying is to get inside a cave; which could be a relative solution because sometimes it rains even more than outside.

Since the Monsoon keeps insisting in spoiling my fun, this week I visited the caves of two of the most emblematic National Parks in Sarawak, Niah and Gunung Mulu, this last one has been given the status of World Heritage Site of the UNESCO. With an added value for me because I found a virgin cave and millions of little batmen coming out of it, but lets go step by step.

Padoga of Sibu
My week began with a maritime fluvial route from Kuching to Sibu, on what it looked more like a jet than a ship; since distances are so long in Borneo (it is bigger than Spain and the second biggest tropical island in the world after Papua) they have created a plane without wings that sails at a great speed through the rivers.

After almost 6 hours of navigating we went up the river Rajang, I arrived to Sibu, where the city symbol, a pretty kitch swam and an amazing downpour welcomed me.

Sunset in Sibu
On the side of the river there is a seven-story pagoda which indicates the predominancy of the Chinese community in the city, something which can be clearly seen in the shops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses, also at the lively flea markets (daily and nightly).

In Sibu I could see the first sunset since I began my trip because as well as the sea opened up for  Moises, the sky got cleared of cloudbursts for me and I could enjoy a multicolored twilight with different shades of clouds disputing for a little piece of the red sky, which in the tropics extinguishes really quickly. In the equtor the sun doesn't set, it falls down.

Sibu Express
At night time I went for a walk around the market, where I bought one kilo of rambutanes, one of my favorite tropical fruits, which cost me 40 cents of an euro.

With the battery charged I faced 6 hours of bus to the N. P. of Niah, the last part I did in pay- hitchhiking, a way of transport very usual in Malaysia, which can save you a lot of money in taxis there where the buses don’t go. Malaysia is quite a safe country for hitchhiking.

To see the Olympus panoramic of the Paintings Cave in Niah, click here.

One of the few sunny moments I had in Niah

I had to wake up the receptionist to find out that I was alone in the park, can you imagine why?: the rain.

The paths were flooded, the environment was oppressive and the wood footbridge from the caves was a skating ring, as I painfully proved, but the effort was worthy.

In Niah, the oldest southeastern Asian human remains were discovered and there is a cave with paintings which unfortunately have almost vanished.

Niah Cave
To get to the Paintings Cave, you have to walk more than 2 kilometers through a huge cave, with continuous ascents and descents in an almost complete darkness. If it wasn't for the torch I was carrying and the small lights that flashed in the ceiling of the cave I wouldn't be able to see anything.

My neck hurt from looking up to find the carriers of the lights, just in case it was the Santa Compaña.

Great Cave of Niah
I could hear whispering voices coming from the ceiling which could easily be taking fro ghosts if it wasn’t because I knew the harvesters of swallow’s nests were doing their job, half acrobatics, half climbing and 100% dangerous.

Climbed to unstable structures of bamboo of several meters high, with a paraffin torch in one hand and a bamboo stick with a knife on the other, they collected the nests, which are a delicatessen in the Chinese cuisine.

To see the Olympus panoramic of the river in Niah, click here.

Endless trail
More whispers were coming from the surface, where the guano harvesters of the thousands of bats that inhabit the caves were picking up their smelly harvest in sacks.

The Guano harvest, which has been used as a fertilizer for thousands of years, as well as the swallow’s nests.

Nowadays this trade is strongly controlled and regulated because the over exploitation almost drove it to extinction.

I was looking to the ceiling of the cave searching for the harvesters when I slipped and fell down several rungs with my bottom and my back.

I was left completely still for several minutes meanwhile I was mentally counting if all my ribs where in the right place.

Luckily it was just pain and a few scratches what I got, apart from the fright, but from that moment on I forgot about Becker’s poetry and the swallows and I centered myself in the path.

To see the Olympus panoramic of the town in Niah, click here.

One of the cave paintings is the symbol of the National Park
I went back to the shack with no more incidents and for the following 16 hours it rained non stop, fortunately the houses are built one meter high from the wood piles because I thought the water was going to reach us.

My next combined route hitchhiking-bus took me to the city of Miri, the oil Mecca of Malaysia, which can be notice in the luxury hotels, the malls and the amazing cars stucking the traffic, also on the few backpackers accommodations there are.

The entrance of the Great Cave in Niah
I stayed in the Thai Phoo Inn, a small Chinese hotel in the most lively commercial street, Jalan China, which it seemed normal during the day although at night it made me suspicious that there was a red lantern in my room, then I realized that at night the empty rooms are rented by hours; Chinese people, as the clever traders they are, optimize the product to the maximum.

Music globalization is so general that there are few spots in the world where you can escape from Macarena, aserejé or Madonna plagiarizing Abba.

And speaking of Madonna, from Miri I went to look for the Virgin of the Cave, but thats another story I'll tell you another day.

Click to see more the albums from Sibu and Niah National Park.

To learn more about Malaysia, visit the official tourism web site, and the webs sites Sarawak Tourism, Sarawak National Parks, the
Niah National Park
, the Jungle Music Festival, Thingsasian, Wild Asia, and Geographia.

See you soon!


From Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia, January 29th 2006.

Translated by María Barros, mariab35(a) on April 5th, 2006

Published: 03/01/2008 00:00

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