Tag Archives: sarawak

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

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From Hunter-Gatherers to Human Zoo

8 Aug View from a low-flying prop plane over Mulu National Park and the Mulu River. Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Leaving Mulu National Park on a little propeller plane, with rivers unspieling below us, a scattered handful of logging tracks carving their way across the hilltops, and merciful expanses of untouched forest before the gridded tracts of oil palms, it’s easy to see how remote the interior of Borneo once was.

In the days when the Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak — even during the heady couple of years when Sarawak had an airforce (two seaplanes, one of which broke soon after arrival) — the trip would have taken weeks, if not months.

And nomadic tribes like the Penan could live their life untouched, as they had for untold centuries. 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

So Long and Thanks to (All) the Fish

5 Aug Z in orange lifejacket in longboat en route to Mulu National Park with his grandparents.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Yesterday was a rite of passage for the nine year old. And one that I can, with hand on heart, say that I am glad to have missed.

He caught… Drum roll… His first fish!

And who was there to share the precious moment? The triumph of the successful bite? The joy as the catch is, finally, reeled in? The squirm-inducing process of torture by which one rips the hook from the soft palate of a living, suffocating, flopping creature, exterminates the last vestiges of consciousness and transfers it to a receptacle to await its ultimate fate?

Granny and Grandpa! Continue reading

Fighting Cocks and Jungle Ferns

4 Aug Fiddlehead ferns and shoots of jungle plants laid out on a blue tarpaulin. Kapit, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We took three boats to Gunung Mulu, the serene and beautiful national park deep in the forests of Sarawak, with ancient caves carved deep into Borneo limestone and jagged karst pinnacles towering over the whole.

One of the best things about travelling upriver in Sarawak is watching what folk buy and sell in the trading towns en route.

In Kapit, on the Batang Rejang, you can buy pretty much anything you’d care to think of. From badminton rackets to sofas, from hunting rifles to rubber rings. And sell, too. Upriver folk come down to Kapit in narrow longboats, almost daily, with goodies they have foraged from the forest and the rivers. Continue reading

The Coolest Fairground Worker Ever?

30 Jul

Illuminated fairground entrance with the legend UK Funfair, Bintulu, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Of all the places in which to find a “UK Funfair”, complete with British registration plates on the lorries, Bintulu, Sarawak, would come pretty low on my list. Thailand? Quite possibly. Peninsular Malaysia? Conceivably.

Borneo?

Nuh-uh.

Now, the nine year old and I love funfairs. The neon. The colour. The adrenaline rush. The cheesy music. The ephemeral, carnival spirit. And when the UK fairground concept meets Borneo safety standards, the results are extra-, extra-special. Continue reading

The Big Race

29 Jul

Men from the Kayan tribal minority of Borneo carry a 32-man war canoe down to the Balui River.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Watching two women’s eights, one women’s sixteen, and a mighty war canoe paddled by thirty-two men powering their way up the Balui River in the interior of Borneo, with a cox yelling instructions through a megaphone, has to count as one of the most surreal experiences of our travels so far.

Training for the Sarawak Regatta is Sunday’s big event in the tribal communities of Malaysian Borneo. And, for all its Oxford & Cambridge veneer, this river race dates back to the very different days of 1872.

And one of the earliest peace treaties between the warring head-hunters of the interior. Continue reading

The Vanishing Forest

28 Jul Three platforms laden with forest timber plough their way down the Batang Rejang, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]
Some things, simply, look too big, too plentiful to ever be used up. The herds of bison that clouded the American plains; the trees of Easter Island; the ice sheets of the Arctic; the world’s great rainforests… Continue reading

The City Slicker

26 Jul

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Asun and Mimi sit in a cafe off the waterfront in Belaga, a town of 2500 souls and the major trading hub of great swathes of Sarawak rainforest, a hundred and fifty-odd miles upriver from the coast of Malaysian Borneo.

“Chinese wedding?! No!!!” Asun exclaims. “Chinese wedding, one day, you have one table, cost 350 ringgit.”

Mimi chimes in. “And you need many tables. Big family. I have ten brothers and sisters, so…”

“We had a Kayan wedding,” says Asun. “With a Kayan wedding, all you need to do is buy a pig, and everyone from the longhouse eats. One pig! Three hundred ringgit…” Continue reading

Women of the Woods

21 Jul Orangutan mother cradling her one year old child: Semanggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]The Malay name orang utan means “man of the forest”, and, after a visit to the Semanggoh Orang Utan Centre, it’s easy to see why.

30-ish kilometres outside Kuching, Sarawak, Semanggoh is, technically, am Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. Not some kind of, erm, “rest facility” for the Lindsay Lohans of the primate world. But a place where illegal pets or babies orphaned by loggings are enabled to live in the forest, semi-wild. Continue reading