Gunung Mulu National Park
In the morning I went to the airport to catch my flight to Mulu. My driver was an Iban so he did not celebrate Chinese New Year. I asked him about the long house where the Ibans live and he told me that the tradition is dying. Young Ibans when they get married no longer build another house to attach to all their relatives’ homes, preferring to move to the city and start a new independent life.
Today is the first day of my Borneo adventure.
At the Mulu Airport, Maria who met me asked me to hurriedly pack for a two-night stay at Camp 5 instead of the Benarat Lodge. In my hurry I failed to pack my toothbrush and mosquito net. I would be trekking up to the Pinnacles tomorrow instead of on the third day as was in my itinerary. There were four Dutch men, expats working in Brunei in the oil industry in my group and because of the Chinese New Year, there was a lack of guides for the Pinnacles and we were put together as a group.
We took a longtail boat to the Clearwater Pavilion and had lunch and continued our river journey up Sungai Melinau to Kuala Litut. It was an upstream ride and there were a number of shallow patches and the boat scrapped pebbly bottom. The crew had to jump off and pushed the boat. All the Dutch men jumped down as well except me to lighten the boat. We passed a few villages but mostly dense forest and at one point the steep cliff of a limestone hill.
At Kuala Litut we beached and climbed up a slippery muddy slope to begin a 9 km trek to Camp 5 or Melinau. The trek in the rain forest was mostly flat, strewn with pebbles and tree roots. Cicadas called incessantly and loudly, periodically we heard flapping of hornbills and saw shadows but no birds. The buttresses of giant soaring trees and figs tore through lime stones through the ages. We crossed a small stream balancing on rocks and bigger river over two suspension bridges. A porter carried a big basket of provision with the strap across his forehead. I asked him whether it hurt him in Malay, he replied,”Tidak.” (no).
We reached Camp 5 in the mid-afternoon. Camp 5 has dormitories built in the Malay style. In front of us loomed a limestone cliff. It was wonderful cooling off in the clear and cold water of the Sungai Melinau. While I was changing in the bathroom, I heard the “Chic, Chic” sound of a gecko as though saying “Shame on you”. I smiled remembering the numerous times during our secondary school when my sister and I burned the midnight oil back in our home in Penang when the geckos made the same sound seemingly chiding us for staying up so late. There was a persistent “Wok wok” noise out in the dark which I later learned was made by the frogs calling for their mates.
Dinner was a simple meal of vegetables, fish and rice with tea or coffee. Wan gave us a briefing about the trek up to the Pinnacles. There would be a series of stages whereby climbers would be judged by their guides to see if they are be fit enough to get to the Pinnacles and come back before it is too dark and dangerous to trek down. I worried about my right knee which I hurt in Tacloban tripping over an electrical cord and also my left chest wall which still gives me pain when I breathe deeply. We settled down early ready to be up before six in the morning. There were no mosquitoes at night and I was glad to have my sheets, it being somewhat chilly. All night long the crickets sang us to sleep.