Tag Archives: caves

Of Canopies and Caves

9 Aug

Green leaves explode from the lower canopy, above clusters of tree tops. Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]This is the view down over the lower storey of the rainforest canopy, in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, from the longest canopy skywalk in the world. Nigh-on 500m of suspension bridge rattles and sways above the tops of the lowest trees, pinned to the sleek trunks of emergent giants.

It’s a place where I discovered that the nine year old’s theory of repeated exposure curing vertigo holds some force. And the nine year old, in turn, discovered a fear of heights.

Well, not so much heights, exactly. His objection, to be precise, was to the skywalk, and in particular the plastic packing tape which held the creaking boards together. Continue reading

Three Million Bats

6 Aug

Stream of bats swirl across the twilit sky. Deer Cave, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Deer Cave, at Mulu National Park, is one of the largest cave chambers in the world, and home to as many as three million bats. Towards twilight, on evenings when it’s not raining, they swarm out to hunt in the forest around, consuming as many as fifteen tonnes of insects every evening.

They follow a crazy, spiralling, swirling route, fizzing up in a stream of smoke, more like hornets, locusts or bees than mammals. The aim? To frustrate the hawks, which hover above the limestone crags which mark the cave entrance, diving into the morass in search of prey. For video, Continue reading

Round Halong Bay by Junk

2 Jun

Junk moored on beach of Monkey Island, near Halong Bay, Vietnam

Our junk moored on the beach at Monkey Island, near Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Halong Bay, North Vietnam, is one of the most dramatic seascapes the planet has to offer. Five hundred million years in the making, twenty million in the shaping, and still evolving before your eyes, it’s a rare chance to see geology in action.

Pillars of limestone, once the supports of vast underground caves, spike surreally out of nowhere. Fissured cliffs slide vertiginously into the jade green sea. Magical vistas of pyramid hills appear fleetingly between rocky gateways, flawless beaches peek through low archways, dark, low, caves lead through to marine valleys carved by underground rivers over millions of years, while brand new islets, ominous overhangs and decaying rock bridges indicate the shape of landscapes yet to come.

Seen from the deck of a classic junk? Amazing. By night, with sheet lightning flashing between surrealist outcrops, fengkong karsts shedding pyramidal shadows over smooth, dark water, as you lie on the basketwork roof of a gently-swaying junk watching the storm through the rigging? Words begin to fail. Continue reading

Easy Riders

30 May

Junk off the northern coast of Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Journey's end: Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

We’ve been exploring Cat Ba island, which splatters like a Rorschach blot off the northern coast of Vietnam, trailing 300-odd islets in its wake.

It’s an implausible landscape to Western eyes: classic limestone karst territory, where tectonic pressures coupled with groundwater erosion carve surrealist sculptures out of the land, and the monsoon climate clothes them in forests of deepest green.

Yesterday, we hired bikes to explore the island, winding south coast to north coast, then looping around the west coast. And it’s a moot point whether Z, having been driven by his dad, will ever get on a motorbike with me again. Continue reading

Here Comes the Rain…

28 Apr

View from the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Palawan, Philippines: jagged rock and turquoise water.

Not, actually, a waterfall. Just the rain beginning....

Maybe it’s El Nino. Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe we’ve brought the English summer with us. But it feels like the rains have come early this year. And Z is overjoyed.

We walked to the Puerto Princesa underground river yesterday — supposedly the world’s longest navigable river — under heavy skies and dripping leaves. And as we emerged from the darkness of the cathedral cave into the green of the coastal forest where the river meets the sea, the rain fell in great sheets, ruffling the waters and throwing up spray. It felt, for a moment, as if we were paddling out into a waterfall.

There was a thunderstorm last night. There is a thunderstorm now, with bugs sheltering from the raindrops and flooding the lights, the grass a vivid green, the streams swelling already, gouts of water pouring from the nipa thatch, and a blessed coolness in the air. There will be thunderstorms tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that.

Three days ago, this was the view from our beach hut. Continue reading

Desert Island Caveboy

28 Apr

View of caves on Lipuun Point, Palawan, the Philippines

Home sweet home for almost 50,000 years

Even with my spawn noisily constructing a hand-axe from fossil coral and driftwood and a six-year-old channelling his inner T-Rex, there’s something about caves that speak irresistibly of mortality.

More than 200 limestone caverns burrow deep into the rock of Lipuun Point, a protected peninsula of mangroves and scrubby dipterocarp forests half an hour’s boat ride from the little town of Quezon, Palawan. 90% or so remain unexplored, and excavations continue, apparently at random, exposing deep layers of peach, cream and dusty bronze.

In one of the largest, a tumble-down cathedral over 40 metres long and perhaps half that in height, they found the skull of Tabon “Man”, which some date to as old as 47,000 years.

It was hard not to wonder, as small modern children played noisily in the shafts of light between waterfall stalactites and tumbling vines, how different they are from the kids who played before them, almost 50,000 years ago, and the unknown man or woman whose bones miraculously survived that long. Continue reading

Does My Mum Look Big in This?

5 Feb
Boys With Their Toys

Z and friends outside the Kampot Caves

“I think you should wear something a little more slimming tomorrow, mum,” was tactfully meant.

“God, mum, your tummy sticks out almost as far as your bum and your bum is MASSIVE. Where’s your phone? I’ll take a picture and show you,” came straight out of the Viz Spoilt Bastard handbook.

I think, on balance, the kinder version was crueller, although the beauty of utter rudeness is that one can respond with high dudgeon/childish insults/patronising therapy-lite explanations about how “It doesn’t make Mummy feel very good when you say those sorts of things” (no shit, Sherlock). Continue reading