From secluded beaches to breathtaking summits and colossal caves, hemiexplorers venture river deep and mountain high, check in to a city obsessed with cats and meet up with the local Scouts just in time to tuck into a feast…85 days in.
Another day, another flight, we’ve tried not to take too many so far, thinking about our carbon footprint, but this one was unavoidable. We were bound for Mulu National Park, accessible only by plane or a three day hike and boat trip! Beforehand Mike was alternating between mild concern as to the weight of our bags, thinking we might only have a 10 kg baggage allowance again (turned out we had 20 kg) and excitement as to how small the plane would be. The plane, a twin engine something or other was impressively small, cue obligatory selfie before boarding.
Mulu is famous for the caves (even David Attenborough has been) and trekking, including one to see a limestone karst formation called the Pinnacles. Having decided against Mount Kinabalu, Mike was keen to hike in Borneo and after the guide book description featured the words demanding, unrelentingly steep and actual climbing, he decided this would be much better (and cheaper)! I still hadn’t mentally recovered from Mount Pulag in the Philippines; the last time the guide book used the term unrelentingly steep, so had ‘washing my hair’ in the diary for those days! However on the day of our flight I changed my mind. It was a three day hike and day two was hard with all the ascent and descent, to the top it was only 2.4 km in distance but 1.2 km in height gain! I surprisingly enjoyed it, even the climb up and down all the ladders, although the view from the top and no rain on the way down (to make the descent even harder) aided my enjoyment of the hike! Although it’s a tough choice as to what was the best part, either the view at the top and the achievement of completing it or the boat rides to get to the start/finish of the hike, at times as the river is so shallow the boatman was using a pole rather than the engine to negotiate our way up the river.
The caves were an impressive sight, and until the discovery of the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, Deer cave in Mulu was (thought to be) the largest in the world. We just did the touristy traipse through the show caves, watching the stream of 3 million bats leaving Deer cave at sunset was spectacular, one of those sights that the camera just couldn’t do justice to.
After another short trip on the twin engine plane, we arrived in Kuching. The Scouts we met in Kota Kinabalu had already put us in touch with Patrick, a Scout leader in the city, we met up on our first night and he had plenty of suggestions for places to visit and for meeting up with the local scouts.
Kuching is known as the city of cats and has an array of cat statues around the city, time for more dodgy selfies. Naturally, we visited the wonderfully bizarre cat museum, home to everything they could think of cat related, including a slightly scary collection of wildcats, stuffed by a taxidermist who you assume had never seen the animals alive. More normal sightseeing trips included the Sarawak Cultural Village, which has traditional dwellings from each of the indigenous peoples of the state and you can learn about life in their communities. The staff were great fun and tried their best to get audience participation, which saw us dancing, playing the local flute and it turns out I’m a pretty good shot over 5 metres with a blow pipe.
Heeding the advice of other travellers we met, we took an overnight trip to Bako national park, accessed by another fun boat ride. Bako is our favourite national park in Malaysia, it may not be the largest but has such varied landscape, one minute your in jungle, the next coastal sandy brush then the jungle stops and you have a beautiful beach, stretching as far as the eye can see and all to yourselves. Heaven for wildlife spotters, we saw proboscis monkeys and macaques while we ate breakfast at the canteen. If it wasn’t for the heat, humidity and sleeping in our small, hot and sweaty tent, as we didn’t plan ahead and book accommodation, we could have stayed much longer!
What made our stay in Kuching so memorable, wasn’t the wildlife or the sightseeing but the scouting. Patrick organised a great itinary of scouting visits for us, firstly we attended the campfire of a local Scout troop during their training camp for the tenderfoots (new members). It was just like a campfire with our Explorer Scouts back home, we shared songs, learnt a new game and had a great evening.
Our stay in Kuching also coincided with the end of Ramadan, in Malaysia this is celebrated as Hari Raya and local families open their houses and invite friends and family to eat with them. Patrick had arranged for us to join a group of 20 Taiwanese Scouts, who were also in Kuching, to visit the Scout comissioner’s house to celebrate Hari Raya. We had a delightful morning meeting the Taiwanese Scouts, especially since we discovered that some were at the World Scout Jamboree last year and to experience the warmth and hospitality of the family with a delicious buffet, a great morning we thought as we chatted to the other local scouters as they arrived. What we were unaware of is that you visit many houses for Hari Raya, so then with Patrick we were invited to houses of other local scouters and at each one we joined them for food and we chatted about scouting. Returning to our hostel that night, we felt so fortunate to take part in a local festival but after five ‘lunches’ and then a late night snack (bowl) of rice porridge, we were so full, we wouldn’t need to eat for the next day. Once again our trip has shown us that due to scouting, we will always have friends in the countries we visit.