Mandy and the World

Find out what I've been up to on my overseas adventure!

In the City of the Cat

Welcome to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. ‘Kuching’ in Malay literally means ‘cat’ and while I didn’t see hordes of feline friends roaming the streets while I was there, there is an overwhelming array of cat themed souvenirs, an impressive number of cat statues, and even a cat museum to make sure you know it! Kuching is a lovely, laid-back city on the Sarawak River in the west of Borneo. It very clean (this probably has something to do with the existence of rubbish bins around town) and the concept of continuous footpaths seems to be embraced much better here than in Miri. Most paths in the centre of Kuching don’t even have holes in them, though the Main Bazaar features the hazardous inch tall step/drop every 2 meters or so, because for some reason, every shop front’s piece of footpath is at a slightly different height…

cat statue cat vs lizard

I arrived in Kuching by boat from a town called Sibu. My short stay in Sibu was mostly for the food (gasp! I hear you exclaim). It’s not a particularly backpacker-friendly town, with no hostels and not a whole lot to do (except for eat really cheap and delicious Chinese food) or see (aside from a pretty Chinese temple and the giant swan statue- the symbol of Sibu).

hua pek tong temple swan of sibu

I ended up staying in a borderline hotel which my reduced budget from Mulu allowed, so it had air conditioning (set to an Antarctic 18 degrees but no remote), a TV from the 80s and free wifi, but lacked cleanliness, a sense of security and décor… but it was only for a night, and I survived sleeping on top of the covers in my silk sheet!

security in sibu

The boat from Sibu to Kuching takes 5 hours, cruising out down the Rejang River past logging yards and small riverside villages to the South China Sea, before coming back into the Sarawak River. It may sound relaxing, but inside in the upstairs ‘VIP’ seating they played movies full bawl, the first dubbed in Mandarin and the following movies having an awful lot of shouting, sirens, shooting and explosions. I spent some time out on the back deck to take a break from the blaring cop movie soundtracks, though the wind tangled my hair into knots, and out there you often had the luxury of cigarette smoke blowing in your face too. The soundtrack outside was the engine accompanied by an occasional rooster crowing from inside one of four large cardboard boxes with holes in them.

the boat to kuching Logging by the Rejang

In Kuching, I stayed in a lovely B&B called Threehouse where the dorm was thankfully leaps and bounds above my hotel in Sibu- clean, secure, comfortable, nicely decorated and half the price! The guesthouse is run by a Swedish girl called Bindi, she’s lived in Kuching for 6 years and is now married to an Iban tattoo artist (Iban is one of the native tribes in Sarawak).

jalan china

I spent my first evening wandering down the waterfront which was really pretty and had lots of little food stalls. I ate some rojak, the malay ‘black salad’- basically a bunch of fruit and veg in this dark, spicy but delicious mystery sauce topped with peanuts. It looks intimidating, but it’s tasty!

Rojak

The locals were all very friendly and everyone wanted to chat. Once it was established I was from Australia, one guy selling beautiful batik said to me, ‘Is it true? About the kangaroo?’ and I was a bit confused, but was like, ‘Uh, yes… they do exist!’ Then he wanted to know… ‘How big are they? Do they really have a ‘pocket’? Can you keep them as pets?’ It was really cute! I really wanted to buy some of his batik but decided it wasn’t wise at this stage of the trip!

kuching waterfront

The next morning I woke to the sound of steady rain and debated whether or not I should bother getting up to catch the 7am local bus out to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre as I’d planned. I ended up hoping for the best and going for it. Kuching, unlike Kota Kinabalu, does have a bus schedule (in KK, the buses just leave whenever they are full, so you just wait. And wait. And wait….), however the schedule in Kuching does come with the disclaimer that the service is ‘not accurate or reliable’! I had been told if anything, the buses tend to leave early if they fill up so to leave plenty of time. Punctuality- particularly early in the morning- is not usually my forte, but I did well on this occasion and managed to catch the bus. Hooray! As is pretty standard in asia, the air con was cranked to about zero, and I got so cold I had to put on my rain jacket inside for most of the hour plus journey!

bus schedule

By the time we reached Semenggoh, the rain had eased. Semenggoh is famous for its orangutan rehabilitation programme, which aims to rehabilitate animals that are injured, orphaned in the wild or handicapped by prolonged captivity, with the objective of subsequently releasing them back to the wild. It is nowadays a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, with about 28 semi-wild orangutan living in the forest there (they are wild in the sense that they live in the forest not in an enclosure, but they do get some food provided by people).

orangutan tightrope

There are 2 feeding times a day, and if they are hungry the orangutan come down and get fruit off the park rangers. The morning I was there we were lucky and got to see quite a few of them, including the big alpha male and a mum with a baby clinging to her- very cute! It was funny to see the way they got as much fruit as they could hold in their mouth/ feet/ hands and still manage to climb up then dangle off the ropes and trees in these awkward positions, peeling their bananas and eating them whole!

orangutan arabesque orangutan eating

At Semenggoh, I met Jessica from Germany and Gustaf and Martin from Sweden who were all going to Bako National Park the next day and said I should join them. As it was school holidays, the park was busy- lots of the locals like to visit Bako too- and when I checked at the park office all the dorm accommodation for the following night was booked out unfortunately. Most people recommend staying at least one night in the park so you can see more of the wildlife, but I ended up having to do a day trip.

It was another early start with a 7am bus to catch to Bako town where you then charter a boat to the national park. We were told low tide was in the morning, so if we didn’t get the first bus the river would be too shallow and we’d have to wait til about 11am-midday for the boat to leave which would turn my day trip into a few hour trip.  I just got there in the nick of time with Ondrej, a Czech guy staying at my guesthouse, as the bus left from a different spot to the Semenggoh one, so we’d gone on a bit of a run around! We met the others on the bus, and again I had to wear my rain jacket inside cos the A/C was set to freezing!

When we got to Bako town we had to pay our park entry fee (which everyone thought was RM10, but was actually RM20) and then organise our boat. Everything we’d read and heard said it was 5 people to a boat- perfect for our group, but when we got there they said, no, its only 4 to a boat. They also make you arrange your return boat at the same time as booking one over, which was a bit tricky since I was only there for a day, Ondrej was staying 1 night and the other three were staying 3 nights. We ended up splitting, and Ondrej and I got a boat across with a Spanish couple who were also day tripping, but Ondrej had to pay for his return boat on his own (he was meeting another friend there so could split it with her later) so it worked out ok for everybody after a long time standing at the desk confusing the poor busy girl who was working there on her own! I was worried the tide would be out by the time we were done sorting the payment, but we made it…

welcome to bako

It was about a 20 minute boat ride to get to park HQ, passing houses on stilts by the river, then with views of the rocky cliffs out on the sea. As it was low tide, the water was way too far out to reach the jetty, so we had to take off our shoes and jump out in the shallows of the front beach and wade in. Our boat driver told us his name was Lee and we arranged to meet him at 4pm at the jetty as it would be high tide by then- this is why you have to pay in advance, because the same driver does your return trip. It’s a bit confusing but I guess the system works! On the way up to the park HQ, we were lucky enough to spot two Proboscis monkeys, or ‘long-nosed monkeys’, sleeping in the trees. To see some of these monkeys- a species found only in Borneo- was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Bako. They are quite shy and often out in the early morning or evening, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see any on a day trip, but tick- Mission Accomplished by 9.30am!

proboscis side profile

After watching the monkeys for a bit, we went to park HQ where you handover your registration to show you’ve paid your entry fee, pick up your map and can discuss which trails to do in the time you have. Since I only had the day, the others were all happy to follow wherever I wanted to go (lucky me!) so I chose to visit Telok Pandan Kecil- a beach where you can see the famous ‘sea stack’ (which is on every postcard or advertisement you see for Bako) and of course so we could go for a swim. That would leave us enough time to also walk the Paku trail, which is the main wildlife trail where you are meant to be able to see more of the proboscis monkeys.

bako trails

The start of the trail was shady, an undulating mesh of tree roots, but it was hot, still and humid. The trail then opens up to a combination of sand, rock or boardwalk- quite flat and easy walking, but out in the open with no shade- it was absolutely scorching by 10.30am!

jessica on the trail in bako  bako boardwalk

We saw lots of the carnivorous pitcher plants but we could now see why these trails were not renowned for wildlife sightings- the animals clearly knew not to fry themselves out here during the day!  With a few rests in the shady spots we found along the way, we arrived at Telok Pandan Besar, which is a lookout over the large beach. We were greeted with shade, stunning views and an occasional breeze up on the cliff top.

bako- telok pandan besar

After Gustaf and Martin had climbed everything possible (rocks, fences, trees!) and we’d all taken our postcard pictures, we were eager for a swim to cool off from the relentless heat and headed on down to Telok Pandan Kecil, the small beach.

bako liana swing

With some creative changing techniques, we all managed to get into our bathers as well as retain our modesty, and then rushed on down to the water. We were disappointed to find it was warm and didn’t give us the feeling of refreshment and rejuvenation we looking for! It was like taking a murky bath (amongst very beautiful scenery nonetheless). The ‘sea stack’ I had wanted to see was partially hidden by the cliff face- it seems all of the advertising shots must have been taken from a boat rather than from the coast. I tried to swim out closer to it, but gave up after a while as it was so warm and I was making very slow progress- I did get a reasonable picture for my efforts though (well, reasonable considering I was treading water at the time!)

bako sea stack

On the way back to the turnoff for the Paku trail, 3 out of 5 of us had run out of water. Luckily Ondrej had brought 3L so still had a bit and I still had about 500mL to ration, so we decided to push on. We moved quietly, scanning the trees for monkeys and taking care to stop moving our feet whilst doing so to avoid face planting in a spectacular way. After a little while we spotted a mother and baby proboscis monkey, and a bigger one munching on some leaves.

proboscis 1

The baby proboscis are sooooo cute! We watched them for a bit then continued on to Paku beach. The only other ‘wildlife’ we saw was a hermit crab who appeared to have got himself lost in the rainforest. He was perched up on a mossy covered rock and started to scurry across it, but turns out crabs aren’t so good on rounded surfaces and he slipped and tumbled down the side to the forest floor, poor thing! We left him to continue on his merry adventure.

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At Paku beach we drank the last of our warm water and headed back to park HQ with thoughts of cold beer on our minds. Just before we got back, we spotted some more proboscis monkeys- a couple of babies with their mum up in the trees and then a big fella sauntering around right next to the boardwalk! I was starting to think it’s a myth that these monkeys were rare- they seemed to be everywhere! We were lucky to get very close to the big one, most of the others we’d just seen from afar. We watched him just going about his business, chomping on some leaves, and snapped away like the monkey paparazzi! Eventually we remembered our thirst and made our way back to park HQ, but unfortunately they have the worst refrigerator ever and keep their drinks at ambient temperature minus one or two degrees. I crossed warm beer off the list and settled for a tepid coke and an icy pole instead (the freezer was actually functioning properly). After that I had to say goodbye to the crew and headed down to the jetty to meet the boat.

bako- low tide at the jetty bako- high tide at the jetty

Back at Bako town, we’d just missed a bus (as it had left 10 minutes early) so I read about the estuarine crocodiles in Sarawak (the same species we call saltwater crocodiles in Australia) while I waited. One of the boards specified that ‘larger animals prefer large preys such as dog, buffalo and human’. Another had facts and figures on crocodile attacks in Sarawak, complete with some gory pictures- one of a girl being attacked by a crocodile (good thing the person watching was taking a picture and not running off to get help!) and another of some body parts that had been pulled out of a captured crocodile’s gut! Quite graphic for a public noticeboard I thought…

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That night in Kuching I went to pick up a ticket for an event I had found out through Couchsurfers- the ASEAN Film Festival Launch called ‘Movies in the Rainforest’. It was a movie marathon running all night in the Sarawak Cultural Village. Sounded cool so I thought I’d go along. Besides, tickets were only RM18 (entry to the village itself is normally RM60) and for that price, you could wander around and stay overnight in the village as well as see all the movies. Bargain! The lady who’d organised the group had also organised lifts for everyone which was great, so we planned to meet at 10.30am the next day to head down.

I was late that morning as my watch kept losing time (I think I’ve accidentally worn it in the water one too many times…) so I didn’t get to the meeting place till about 11, but by then my lift hadn’t arrived yet either- phew! I was travelling down with a guy called Brian (who goes by ‘King Kong’) and he arrived with a flurry of energy. I chatted to his sister Ping who will be in Melbourne in a couple of weeks and talked things to eat, see and do. Since the rest of our contingent was yet to arrive, we headed downstairs to the Chinese restaurant to eat. Ping recommended I try the ‘cangkuk manis’ (or ‘sweet leaf’), a local vegetable normally stir-fried with egg- very tasty. Eventually our group of 8 had all gathered and eaten, and off we went to the cultural village.

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We arrived around 2.00 in the afternoon. The movies weren’t starting til 5.00pm so we walked around for a few hours, looking at houses and artefacts from each of the major cultural groups in Sarawak- Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and Chinese. My favourite was probably the Orang Ulu longhouse, which was up on these huge elaborately carved stilts.

orang ulu longhouse 2

At 5 we went to watch our first film, a Chinese Malaysian film set in KL, called ‘Kepong Gangster’. It was about 5 school friends who decide to join a gang once they graduate and what happens to them all. Lots of fighting and very melodramatic with the ultimate moral of: kids… don’t join a gang. But not a bad film. Afterward we decided to go and get some food; we met another Couchsurfer called Melvin who knew a good seafood restaurant nearby (randomly I had met Melvin’s aunty on the boat from Sibu! What a small world!). On our way out it was the opening of the festival and there were traditional musicians playing and lots of celebrities who none of us travellers recognised, but the locals were going crazy! At the restaurant, King Kong and Ping ordered us a whole bunch of dishes to share and a coconut each to drink (enormous ones, bigger than my head!) and we left feeling very full. We hung out down by the beach for a while and then went to watch some more films.

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Ping and I went to watch what we thought was going to be a Singaporean movie called ‘Boys to Men’ about soldiers, but unfortunately, in true Kuching style, the schedule was neither reliable nor accurate and had different movies showing in different places and at different times to what was actually happening! The film actually showing was a Malay one called ‘8 Jam’ (‘8 hours’) about a guy sentenced to the death penalty and the story about how he got there, so we watched it anyway.  Again featured lots of fighting and was quite melodramatic, but pretty good as well. By the end it was about 2am, so Ping and I relocated to the air-conditioned, mosquito-free auditorium to sleep for a few hours. Initially this was quite difficult with the movie soundtrack booming through my ear plugs, but eventually I fell asleep on the floor until Ping woke me at 7am- the end of the festival. We stumbled outside into the daylight, and met the others at the front gate looking equally as haggard and of course King Kong wanted a photo of the group so we all tried to smile!

Melvin and 2 of the guys were going to climb Mt Santubong and Melvin kept trying to get me to come, but having no gear (I was wearing thongs and day clothes) and on about 4 hours of broken sleep I was not really in my mountain-climbing prime! So I headed back to Kuching with the rest of the group. Ping and I went to get more local food for me to try for breakfast- the Sarawak laksa, Kuey Chap (‘pig soup’) and Char Kuey (a delicious fried dish with rice cake and egg in a sweet soy sauce- I think I have a new fave!).

char kuay sarawak laksa

Ping then took me to the Cat Museum, as I was so excited to see what kind of crazy cat paraphernalia was inside, but I forgot it was Good Friday and it was closed! Sad face 😦 I got the security guard to take a picture of me at the entrance which was almost worth the trip anyway…

cat museum

After freshening up, Ping thought we could go to Jong’s Crocodile Farm instead. They breed crocs there and there were THOUSANDS of them! Ridiculous numbers, they were all lying on top of one another in the enclosures. Methinks they need to separate the males and females for a while…

crocs

Oh and disappointingly, swimming is prohibited at the croc farm… Damn! I had brought my bathers and everything…

no swimming with crocs

We had by chance arrived in time for the main attraction, the crocodile feeding. The staff hang chicken carcasses from strings above the pond and the crocs make these spectacular leaps for them. I have to say, some of them had pretty bad aim- they missed completely, and others took 2 or 3 goes to pull the chicken off the string (if another croc didn’t move in and grab it in the meantime)…

croc feeding   croc feeding 2

There were lots of other animals in the park, including deer, eagles, giant South American fish (arapaima), monkeys, peacocks, otters, lemurs, and what has to be one of the cutest animals of all time, the Malayan Sunbear (cue collective ‘awwwww!’).

sun bear

On the way out we walked through a small ‘crocodile museum’ which was largely a collection of disgusting things (eg. Preserved crocodile foetuses at various stages of development) and a lot more confronting pictures of small children’s bodies/body parts being pulled out of crocodiles. FULL. ON. There was no ‘Warning: This section contains photographs which may scar your children for life’. It was like crocodile fun facts, cool. Pictures of crocs lazing in the sun, uh huh, crocs swimming, yep. Then BAM! Dead 8 year old boy. Severed limbs of 10 year old girl. WHAT?! I took pictures of the pictures just cos they were so graphic and horrifying it bewildered me that they were just plonked on the wall there! Worse than the ones on the noticeboard at Bako town. I won’t post them here, but if anyone has a morbid curiosity let me know and I’ll show you! But you have been forewarned…

That evening King Kong had offered for me to stay at his house- my first couchsurfing experience! We went out to eat more local cuisine- Kolo Mee, a type of noodle topped with pork, and cendol, a shaved ice dessert (which again looks intimidating but is delicious). In the morning he drove me to the airport for my flight out, but after checking in, we went to get more local food! We shared tomato mee in 2 varieties, kuey teow (large flat rice noodles) and crispy mee, as well as a Chinese sticky rice dumpling wrapped in banana leaf. When I was sufficiently stuffed, it was back to the airport to say goodbye and on to my next destination, Singapore…

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Miri and the Mighty Mulu

So because I am a smartraveller(.com.au), I heeded the Australian government DFAT’s warnings to ’Do Not Travel’ anywhere in the East of Sabah given the situation with Filipino rebels apparently hiding out in the jungle and the Sabah officials blocking roads and closing areas off, etc. Makes for difficult travel anyway, not to mention it would really ruin your trip to get shot or bombed…

Instead of exploring Sandakan, the sea turtle reserve, the Gomantang caves and diving down in Sipadan, I ended up in Sarawak sooner than I might have otherwise. There was a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Miri, but speaking to another traveller there are about 4 border crossings into and out of Brunei on this bus (see map).

Map-Sarawak

The trip was meant to take 10 hours anyway (so to convert south east Asia time to regular time, probably add 2-4 hours), and only left in the morning at 8am- there was no overnight option. I checked flights and the cost was the same as the bus, but took 50 minutes- DEAL! I love Air Asia! I did have to pay a bit more in the end to add luggage and get an early cab to the airport, but I saved a whole day for about AU$20.

Plane to Miri

So I got into Miri around 9am, and decided since I’d cabbed in to the airport in KK, I should be thrifty and bus into town. Seemed like a good idea, til I had to wait almost an hour for a bus to show up. 5 more minutes and I think I would’ve cracked and got a cab. Which probably wouldn’t have been such a bad thing given my following experience! The bus cost RM2.60 (less than AU$1), and dropped me at the bus station in town.

Miri bus station

By this stage it had started raining. Luckily the bus station was located right next to the Info Centre, as I don’t have a guidebook for this part of my trip. I went in, got a map and some brochures and asked a few questions about visiting the famous Gunung Mulu National Park– a World Heritage famous for its expansive network of caves, unique rock formations and mountains as well as being a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and having many species of plants and wildlife. Most of the stuff I had read seemed to indicate you needed to book in advance from Miri, and it would be easiest and most economical to book a package, however the guy at the Info Centre told me the complete opposite and said ‘Just do it yourself, just book your flights and book your activities and accommodation through park headquarters when you get there’. Oooook, got it.

the king's chamber- Wind Cave  Wild rhododendrons

Armed with my brochures and map, I hit the streets of Miri to find a guesthouse. Mind you, I was also carrying my big pack, backpack and an umbrella because of the rain, so kind of stood out. On my way out of the Info Centre I managed to drop my umbrella case (cue slow mo bend to the ground with full pack and quick hoist once object retrieved) and then my map (repeat slow mo bend and hoist) before I even got to the street. When I did get to the street I had to cross the road to get to a footpath, and then when I got to the first intersection about a block down, I realised I had gone the wrong direction. About turn, and back to the info centre for take two. This time I went the correct direction. It was so hot and humid because of the rain, even though it was only 10am in the morning, and I could feel the beads of sweat starting to drip down my face. By the time I made it to the guesthouse I’d looked up, I was saturated head to toe from hauling all my gear across town. It took me a good half hour I reckon (including my wayward initial expedition) and the info centre guy had told me 10-15 minutes. Clearly that was if you knew where you were going, didn’t have a lot to carry, were a confident kamikaze road-crosser and didn’t get disconcerted by the sudden disappearance of footpaths and finding yourself walking the line on busy urban roads.

Anyway, I must have looked such a mess, the moment I got up the stairs to reception thinking ‘dear god, please let them have a bed for me!’ and gasped out something along those lines to the man behind the counter, he said ‘Don’t worry, we can do this later! Come with me…’, grabbed me a towel, took me straight to a free dorm and pointed out the shower! Once I was freshened up I went back down to thank Willie and sort out the cash. He was incredibly helpful, and is from Mulu so recommended me a place to stay and gave me the number to book it, and also told me I can sort out bookings at Park HQ when I arrive and find a group. Great!

I spent the day wandering around Miri (much easier now that I was oriented) but there was not a great deal to see. Miri seems to be more of a gateway town to several surrounding national parks, beaches and dive spots. The star attraction is an old oil rig called ‘The Grand Old Lady’ where oil was first struck in Miri, and now they have built up a petroleum museum around it. As fascinating as that sounded, it was a little way out of town and only accessible by cab, so I didn’t go out there. I decided to walk out to see the ‘Miri City Fan’. I have no idea why it is called that, I was semi-expecting a giant statue of a fan of some description but alas, from what I could gather it is just a big park which houses the library and a public swimming pool (closed on Mondays, damn). Quite picturesque though I must say.

Chinese Garden  Islamic Garden

There is an Islamic Garden, a Chinese Garden, a ‘Visual Garden’ (which weirdly appeared to consist of much more pavement than garden) and there was meant to be a musical fountain which sounded like it could quite possibly be the highlight of my day, but unfortunately it was being cleaned when I came by and wasn’t in use. The place was almost completely deserted aside from about 3 maintenance staff and one couple with a small child in the playground. As I left the park I passed a fabulous sign prohibiting ice-skating in the city fan, although I’d salute anyone who actually managed to do that considering I was cracking a sweat standing still in the shade to take a photo of it…

Miri city fan

In the afternoon I tried to book my flights to Mulu and hit my first snag- I need a netcode SMS to put a visa transaction through with Malaysia airlines, but have no phone service! Before I left Melbourne I asked the bank for a token (kind of like a pager thing which generates the codes for you if you need a netcode) but was told it would probably be an inconvenience for me if I only wanted it on the off chance that I needed to make a third-party payment as I would need it for every netbank log in I made. So I didn’t get one as she said if I needed to I could just call the bank and get a half hour exemption which sounded simple enough. So next was a call to the bank and after being on hold for half an hour was told it was a visa thing and had nothing to do with the bank. Awesome, thanks bank lady. So then I phoned Malaysia Airlines to book instead, after another 45 minutes I had finally got flights, but the transaction couldn’t be processed over the phone because my flights were in less than 24 hours so instead I had to pay in person at the airport before 8am. Phew. Next I tried to book my accom- I called the number that Willie gave me and 4 other numbers on the info sheet from the tourist centre, but not one answer! Willie ended up calling his mate for me and got me a room, bless him!

Following on from the wonderful time I had just trying to get to Mulu, organising things once there went along very similar lines. So, from my experience and that of others, here’s some Tips for solo travellers wanting to explore Mulu!

MAS wings to Mulu

1.       FLY! If you want to come in by boat, it is likely to cost you. This used to be the only way in other than hiking the Headhunter’s trail and is meant to be quite scenic, however I met a Swedish guy just after I arrived who had done this and was broke because of it. He ended up having to get cash out in Mulu (not fun, see below) just to pay for food/accom etc, and then couldn’t really afford to do anything much so was leaving after a couple of days. With regular flights now running to Mulu, this path is much less travelled meaning you may end up having to charter boats to take you, and because you are stuck if they don’t take you, they can charge you whatever they like! You have to make several different connections too. The flights only take half an hour, you’re barely up in the air before they are preparing for landing! They run even if the flights are scarcely full- there were 15 people max on my flight there. And even though we didn’t board til after our scheduled departure time, we were only 15 minutes late because getting everyone on and off didn’t take long at all! Mulu airport is great too, only two minutes drive from the park. The highlight was the baggage claim which is literally just a bench where you go up and get your bag!

Mulu baggage claim

2.       If you don’t have unlimited time to hang around and wait for opportunities to come up, PLAN AHEAD if possible! Despite everyone in Miri saying not to worry, Park HQ recommend you book at least 1 month ahead of time! For many travellers this isn’t realistic, but a call or email ahead of your arrival to see what treks/ activities are running when and their availability would help you plan when to schedule your trip. Flights are cheaper if you book in advance too. Could have saved me a hell of a lot of frustration on my first day! I checked into River Lodge and then went straight over to Park HQ to sort out my activities. When I said that I would like to do the Pinnacles trek, they said there are no groups going until Friday, but my flight out was booked for Saturday so that was not an option for me (to change flights you have to go out to the airport, and even then, the office may or may not be open, let alone the extra cost associated). My options were: 1) find some people who wanted to do it with me (and then find a guide to take us as Park HQ apparently had none available), 2) find a guide and fork out to do it by myself (which means paying the equivalent of 3 people which is the usual minimum group size) or 3) not do it and try and do something else for those 3 days. There was not a heap else I wanted to do other than the Pinnacles however (aside from the Headhunter’s Trail or Gunung Mulu summit trek both of which didn’t fit into my timeframe this visit) and the adventure caving you have the same problem of needing a group to do it with.

Batu  Longhouse  the rainforest

3.       COME IN THE PEAK SEASON! The dry(er) season is July-September apparently. I assumed it would be similar to Mt Kinabalu where now (March-April) is the best time for climbing and the park is nice and busy, but that is not the case. It’s relatively quiet at the moment (only 3-4 beds out of 20 were taken in my dorm!!), so there are not a heap of people around and hence it can be difficult/ very expensive/ not possible to do the activities you want to do if you are on your own as mentioned above. I’m assuming there would be more treks running and more people to link up with in peak season. Despite me proactively approaching randoms in the park café, asking the people at my accom and hovering at park HQ to ask newcomers of the latest flight if they want to trek with me, no one was keen. The Park people kept asking me ‘Why you come on your own and don’t bring any friends?’ Way to make me feel like more of a reject loner than I already did! ‘Next time you bring some friend, better for you’… soooo any takers? I’ll be back one day, but will begin by recruit willing participants, so start sending me your expressions of interest 😉 Anyway, all this time spent trying to get on this trek strangely made me more, not less, determined to do it and I made the decision I’d pay up and not have to leave disappointed (I would however have to live on a more frugal allowance for some time after!)

Sunkai Melinau Pitcher plants

4.       Which brings me to the next tip: BRING LOADS OF CASH. More than what you think you’ll need. Mulu is expensive (in relative terms for Malaysia). Accom is about twice the price of the cities, as is food. Water is at least 3 times the price (and boy do you need it!). There are no ATMs in Mulu. Getting cash out is possible, but will cost you. Park HQ apparently sometimes do cash out from credit cards with a 2% surcharge, but they said they didn’t have any cash at HQ (hmmm, don’t know how exactly that works since I did see many people coming and paying for their activities… and did I not just give you 85 ringitts earlier?!). Anyway, once I’d decided to bite the bullet and do the pinnacles on my own, I needed cash as you can’t pay a freelance guide by credit. My only option was to go to Royal Mulu Resort to get money off my credit card for 10% commission plus a 20 ringitt fee, not to mention the cash advance and international transaction fees I’ll get smacked with by the bank! It cost me RM10 for the return trip there and back on top of that!! It turned out it was close enough I could’ve walked except I didn’t have a map so didn’t know where it was. Silly. Maybe add that to the list… get a map…

Butterfly and pagoda flower

5.       BE FRIENDLY! Everyone knows everyone in Mulu, so be nice and people will try to help you out. One of the guys, Macleans, from Park HQ must have seen me come in and out of the office about 16 times that first day and asked me if I was really sure I wanted to do the pinnacles on my own and when I said, ‘Yes! I reeeaaaally want to do it!’ he said he’d help me find a freelance guide. He found a guide and got him to meet me at 7pm in the torrential rain after I came back from visiting some caves, and we locked in a trip leaving the following morning. I handed over a massive wad of cash and hoped he would be there!  My guide’s name was Undi, and he was awesome. When people around town (everyone seemed to know about my dilemma by the evening!) asked me if I found a guide and who it was, they all said ‘Ahhh, Undi, he’s a good guy’ which made me feel better about the large sum of money I had just parted with! I also got chatting to another guide Omar whilst he was singing karaoke in a restaurant I was eating at. Singing along to ‘Sometimes when we touch’, ‘Words’, ‘Always’ and other such corny love ballads reaped its rewards on the trek later when it came to food!

Dragonfly  Centipede

6.       And the reason I was so grateful for bonus food is because MALAYSIAN TINNED SARDINES ARE GROSS! They are the cheapest tinned item in the shop at Mulu for a reason. Don’t do it! I thought I’d have rice and sardines (a la Chester Garcia) as an easy meal, but these sardines are cooked til they are practically solid. The sauce is nice on the rice. But it took me about half an hour to break up the sardines and force them down (my experimental vegan month earlier this year showed me how hungry I’d get if I didn’t eat enough protein!). Luckily I never had to cook my own rice, because Omar gave me his extra (the tour groups get all their meals included cooked by the guides- their curries and stirfrys made my dinners look even more dismal!).

sardines  sardines on rice

I also scored papaya for sweets on my first night and a honey pancake for breakfast on my last day. In addition, some other solo travellers donated me their spare noodles since they were leaving the next day (they felt sorry for me that I had to pay so much for the trek that I had the most povo food ever!). This is not the first time I have attracted food charity. On the Overland Track I became the disposal unit for any extra snacks people had and didn’t want to carry, and in Laos I was given bags of food on 2 separate occasions by 2 separate monks. I must just look hungry all the time…

Ode to Mandy...

7.       So now to the fun part… The Pinnacles! WEAR TRAIL SHOES/RUNNERS, not hiking boots if you want to do the pinnacles. These grip better and have more flexible soles which allow you to feel the terrain which is important for finding your footing and keeping your balance with the climbing. Hiking boots will be a lot more slippery. This is actually more of a clamber than a trek, with an ascent from 50m to 1175m over a distance of just 2.4km! You use your arms as much as your legs in the last parts of the ascent and in most of the descent.

the final 400m!  Up and up

It ended up there were actually 3 private tour groups (all couples) attempting the pinnacles on the same day as me (and for some reason I never found out about any of them until I had already paid Undi… When I said was definitely going alone, all of a sudden people would come forth and say, ‘Oh, but there’s another two going from here…’ Well, that’s nice, but I am already poor now and going on my own… ‘but we thought you find friends at the park office’ Nope, sorry, still a loner! I think it’s a scheme to get more guides more work…)

With Undi half way up  Climbing

Anyway, it ended up not being such a bad thing that I went with my own guide, as 2 out of 3 of those groups didn’t make it to the top (if you don’t make it to 2000m by 11am, you have to go back to camp 5, otherwise you will end up still on the mountain by dark which is not so safe). I would’ve been fuming if I’d had to go through all that rigmaroll to get there and not get to see the pinnacles, even if it was a third of the price. I think Undi knew that, as after the first 45 minutes when we reached the mini pinnacles at 900m (the ‘minicles’ as I liked to call them) he said ‘Mandy, you can have your money back. I don’t think I’m going to make it to the top…’ then grinned at me as I looked around for something to throw at him! However, after another 2 and a half hours of climbing we finally got there!

Made it!  The famous Pinnacles

Coming down was the painful part again. It took about 4 hours going backwards down sharp rocks and lowering myself down foot high drops to lessen the impact on my crippled knees (I think my body hates me for putting it through 2 mountains in two weeks after zero prep!). It was so steep going down forwards was worse- you could clearly see all the stabby bits that might get you if you slipped!  Undi kept trying to encourage me by sniffing the air and saying ‘What’s that Mandy? Oh, I smell the noodles already!’

down we go  Back at camp

I joked if he had a third daughter he could call her Mandy (his other daughters names also start with ‘M’- Murah and Maya) and he said he would give her 3 names- Mandy Noodle Soup! He also quizzed me on random nutrition stuff like ‘What is the most important vitamin?’, ‘what vitamins are good for joints?’ or ‘What vitamins are good for your skin?’… Really testing me Undi! So I gave lots of broad answers like, ‘all of the vitamins and minerals are important’ or ‘eat fish 3x a week’ or ‘green leafy vegetables’…  and finally we were back at camp 5. I had a quick dip in the river just as the rain came in then got into my curry mee to celebrate 🙂

the 'swimming pool' at camp 5 Melinau Gorge

8.       GO AND SEE THE CAVES. There are 4 ‘show caves’ in Mulu which are accessible to everyone with a guide. This is one of the cheaper and easier things to do, and the tours run generally have enough interest to run twice daily. The first day I was there I went to Lang’s Cave, which is smaller than the other caves but has some beautiful rock formations like ‘the jellyfish’, and this other one that reminds me of meringue!

The jellyfish- Lang's Cave  Meringue- Lang's Cave

Next to Lang’s Cave is Deer Cave, the world’s largest cave passage. It is estimated that 2-3 million bats live in there, so was a little whiffy in places with the piles of guano lying around! But it was a pretty awesome, there was a part where you look back at the entrance and it looks like a profile of Abraham Lincoln and another area where the roof had collapsed (known as a ‘doline’, this one was called the Garden of Eden) which was beautiful.

Abe Lincoln  The Garden of Eden

After going inside the cave, you go out to the bat observatory to wait for the bat exodus. After waiting for about 45 minutes the bats started to trickle out in groups for dinner- apparently the bat colony in Deer Cave consume about 15 tonnes of flying insects a night! After a while they started coming in droves and even though watching bats fly out of a cave doesn’t sound that exciting, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was actually incredible to see so many of them streaming across the sky in waves, it just went on and on and on!

Bat exodus Bat exodus

The other two show caves are up river by boat a little way. The first, Wind Cave, has some great rock formations, an amazing area called the King’s Chamber with some massive stalactites and stalagmites, and also some rocks that looked like an old man, an eagle, a camel and mating frogs! Wind Cave also has the helictites which grow sideways, not straight up or down, thought to be because of the wind.

Camel- Wind Cave  old man- wind cave

Eagle= Wind Cave mating frogs- wind cave

Clearwater Cave is the last show cave, it is part of the largest cave network in southeast asia (190km of caves altogether at the last survey) and is the 8th largest in the world. The Clearwater river runs through and there are some pretty massive caverns, as well as these interesting rock formations called ‘phytokarsts’ which look like spikes on the rock and are caused by cyanobacteria- the bacteria produce CO2 which mixed with water dissolves the limestone in the pits where they live leaving the pin shaped spikes. We also saw a plant unique to Mulu which forms as a single leaf hanging from the rock at the entrances. The caves are all different so it is worth checking them all out, I found it really interesting, but take heed of the next tip…

single leaf plant= Clearwater cave  Phytokarsts- Clearwater cave

9.       If you do happen to get yourself out on any activities, BE PREPARED TO GET WET! The first reason is from water. Either from the rain, drips from the trees, or constant drips from the cave rooves… As I was told during a torrential downpour… ‘What do you expect? It is the RAINforest!’ The second is from sweat… if you do any kind movement outdoors at all you are likely to end up soaked from head to toe, it is SO hot and humid in the forest with little breeze or relief until the afternoon rain.  A headband/bandanna/sweatband is a good idea! Nothing dries in a hurry either. The only real way you can get things dry is if you can hang it out in direct sunlight for a period (usually in the morning when it is clear, before the clouds start to roll in) otherwise it will stay in a permanent state of damp because of the humidity. When I got back from the trek, it was sunny and I got ambitious and decided to wash my clothes, but after the handwashing was complete (took me a little while, they needed double washing!) the sun had disappeared and a day later when I had to pack and leave they were still not quite dry dammit! So back to the laundry with them at my next opportunity…

torrential downpour  Ready for the rain!

10.   LEAVE THE MIRROR AT HOME! This is no glamour trip! You will get dirty, smelly, most probably bitten by something. It could be mosquitoes, one of the 70 species of ant native to Mulu, other assorted tropical insects, or if you’re lucky- a leech! You may even have a gecko fall on your head as I did at dinner the first night… his suction pads clearly weren’t in good working order that day. Too bad he didn’t fall in my sardines and attract me a donation of a better meal…

Rainforest  Rainforest

Hiking out from camp 5 on our final day, it was quite wet as it had been raining most of the night. I was wearing leggings but only had ankle socks. Not far out Undi pulled a leech off his leg and showed me and I freaked and tried to tuck my leggings into my shoes and avoid all brushing contact with leaves (very difficult in the jungle!). The tucking didn’t work so well with the whole walking motion, so I was on leech watch every hundred meters, checking my ankles for parasites. I would squeal every time a bit of water or mud hit my ankle, and then breathe a sigh of relief when it was just mud. Undi must have thought I was a complete nut. Anyway, one time leech watch successfully detected a leech- I thought I’d caught it before it bit me and I flicked it off, but it was too quick for me. I made it all the way to the boat pick up without any more leech watch incidents. The boat was late, so we waited about an hour, and when it finally rocked up I noticed a second leech had got me. As I was moaning and deliberating about what to do (thinking maybe i could get some saline from my first aid kit to squirt it with, would that have enough salt?), Undi came and yanked it off my ankle. I thought you weren’t meant to pull them off, but oh well… after that excitement, it was onto the boat, away from leechville and back to HQ.

Sungkai Melinau

On the afternoon I got back, I went for a walk out to the not-so-spectacular Pako Falls (the river was nice and cool for a swim at least after the hot 3km walk to get there), and on my final morning I did the canopy tree top walk, which I was hoping to see some wildlife, but only got to see tree tops (should have known from the name…).
Pako Falls  P1050399

The highlights were definitely the caves and the pinnacles, I was glad to have done the trek even though I am now a pauper. I would definitely come back again to explore some more, but with a bit more time and forward planning, and maybe a friend or two!!

Sunset in Mulu

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From the top of South East Asia

My adventure begins in Sabah, one of the two Malaysian states of Borneo. After saying a teary goodbye to my little sister Cara at Melbourne Airport, I flew in to Kuala Lumpur and on to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, to meet my dad. The signs on arrival advertised Malaysia as ‘Friendly and Professional’, both great attributes for a country I guess… As a lovely surprise, dad had come out to the airport to meet me (and take some almost certainly awful pictures of me coming out of the terminal after more than 12 hours in airports and planes!). That at least saved me having to find the bus to town and navigate my way to the hotel which was a nice start! Just down the road from the hotel there was an awesome fruit shop so I initiated my stomach to the visit with some fresh papaya and pineapple as a late night snack. Then it was packing for our big hike up Mt Kinabalu, south east Asia’s highest peak at 4095m, and off to bed before our early start the next day.

map-sabah

The next morning we were up at 5.45am for a 6.15am pick up to take us to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. Waste no time! Straight into the action for us. We ate some muesli bars and fruit (well I ate some fruit, dad’s not that into fruit) on the bus and made sure we were well hydrated on the 1 ½ hour journey up into the highlands. When the clouds momentarily parted we managed to catch a couple of glimpses of the peak of Mt Kinabalu towering above us to make us suitably nervous.

Off to Mt Kinabalu!  Dad at Timpohon Gate

On arrival at Park Headquarters we picked up our permits and met our mountain guide Freendy (pronounced ‘Friendy’!). The three of us squished into the back of a small van to take us to the starting point of the climb about 4.5km up the road- Timpohon Gate at a starting altitude of around 1800m. We started our climb at around 8.45am. Although the distance for the day was only 6km, the ascent of ~1400m made it very slow going indeed. It was pretty relentless uphill climbing for most of the way, a mixture of wooden steps, dirt/rocky trail and rocky ‘steps’. We made sure we stopped at every 0.5km marker for a picture to give us some extra breaks! It was pretty hot for the first part of the day, but as we got higher the temperature cooled. The clouds also started to roll in and shelter us from the intensity of the sun. A tip- don’t walk too close behind someone hiking with walking poles (though dad may have accidentally-on-purpose whacked me in the chest as payback for dragging him along on this trek with me!)

The neverending stairs...   What I mean by 'rocky steps'

We saw some interesting flora and fauna on the way up, the mountain ground squirrels were rife (or the lazy squirrels as Freendy called them- because they are ‘too lazy to learn how to climb trees’!) and we also saw some very cute little birds and the carnivorous pitcher plant (a big version of the plant I bought the PMac Nutrition Department as my parting gift!). The landscape changed a lot too, from rainforest, ferns, moss and greenery, to drier, rocky mountain scrub and variations between the two.

Pitcher Plant  'Lazy squirrel'

Other interesting sights were the many porters carrying everything you could imagine up the mountain- gas bottles, crates of food, I even saw a slab of premixed milo tetras being carried up (Caz, if you ever do this climb, at least you know you can buy your favourite malay beverage at the resthouse!) We even saw the remains of a refrigerator attached to two bamboo poles sitting on the side of the track about 2km up which was clearly a bit too ambitious even for the very fit and able porters! Getting it to 2km was still quite an achievement…

Porters and their loads  The abandoned refrigerator

Lunch stop was at 4km where we had our packed lunch provided by the tour company (Amazing Borneo)– a piece of fried crispy chicken, a hard boiled egg, an apple and 2 sandwiches (cheese and chicken loaf) with the crusts cut off. I ate it disregarding the blatant gaps in food safety and storage, what with carrying it up a mountain for 3 hours in tropical heat, and hoped it was salmonella free. I also discovered I am terrible at peeling hard boiled eggs… Lunch was tasty nonetheless, and a very welcome break from the climb! I was starting to feel a bit headachy by this point, unsure if it was the altitude, sleep deprivation or caffeine withdrawals or a mixture of all three. Actually, it could’ve been my brain hurting from all the effort I put into peeling that damn egg…

What a handy rest spot...

Freendy told us the climb was fully booked for the day- it’s peak season and bed capacity at the 6km mark is about 200 climbers. So there were plenty of people to say hello to along the way, and plenty also coming down, some smiling and wishing us good luck and others groaning and telling us how much harder it is coming down. I had already thought that in my head but was trying to suppress it… Thanks guys. Eventually by about 2.30pm we reached Pendant Hut, our accommodation for the night at an altitude of ~3200m. Those last 2km were the toughest of the day. I was thoroughly exhausted and fell into my dorm bed for a short power nap. We were woken at 3.30pm for our via ferrata briefing.

Dad on the trail     Pendant Hut

Via ferrata is an Italian term meaning ‘Iron Road’. It is essentially a protected mountain climbing route made out of steel cables, rungs and bridges which allows climbers to be secured to the rock face while they scale parts of the mountain that are otherwise dangerous or usually only able to be accessed by experienced rock climbers with full equipment. The Low’s Peak Circuit via ferrata is the world’s highest at 3776m. It is a 1.2km route with a vertical descent of 365m. It is an option on the way down from the summit of Mt Kinabalu which I had selected to add on to our climb- after all, might as well do it all while you’re there right?! Dad was not so sure…

The briefing took us through the use of our harness, carabiners and the safety rope. They also described the route’s vertical descents as well as the swinging bridge, wire bridge and ‘monkey bridge’. After hearing this dad said ‘What have you signed us up for?! You’re after my will, I know it!’. I told him I had emailed him about it and he should really read his emails properly in future and not just reply saying, ‘Yes, whatever you think dear’… Anyway, we found out he could change to the shorter ‘Walk the Torq’ route or cancel his booking if he wasn’t keen after the summit and that made him feel a bit more comfortable about it. Although when he asked what happens if you get part way through and are too tired, he was told, ‘No choice- you have to finish it’- basically once you’re on there’s no getting off til the end!

After the briefing we went down for an early dinner at the Laban Rata Resthouse. By that stage it had started to pour with rain, so we had got in just in time. During dinner however, the rain cleared and left some breathtaking cloud formations and new waterfalls running down the mountain, a perfect backdrop to our meal. Dinner was buffet style and featured real mee goreng (!) which made my day (I may have had 2 serves…) And there were banana fritters for dessert, score! To try and cure my headache, I popped some panadol, one of dad’s altitude tablets, had a strong Sabah coffee and a Tiger beer (on dad… I can’t afford RM25 for a drink now I’m a backpacker, but after seeing the porters carrying everything up the mountain you can understand the price rise on a luxury item like beer!) Nothing really seemed to work, so by 7pm I was in bed, which was probably just as well considering the even earlier start for the summit climb the next day.

Dinner at Laban Rata   The clouds after the rain

Day 2 of the hike- I somehow slept through the wake up call at 1.45am but luckily dad came over and poked me awake at 2am. It was warm and the beds were comfy so I had managed to sleep quite well despite a small incident of dad missing a step on the way down from his bunk in the middle of the night, falling off the ladder and in the process knocking his pack over and waking everyone in the room! We got dressed and packed the essentials for the summit climb as we’d be back at the hut later so could leave some gear behind. We got a ‘light breakfast’ (aka toast) before our guides came and met us to guide us up to the summit.

Ready for the summit  P1040414

It was a clear night and you could see hundreds of stars in the sky. It was quite a sight seeing the little trail of head torches winding up the trail too- like a little pilgrimage of sorts to the top of south east asia. I tell you what, I was glad I’d brought my thermals. In the heat of the climb on day 1 I was starting to think I mightn’t have needed them, but I sure did. For some of the ascent to the summit, you have to use ropes attached to the rockface to help haul yourself up. At the point where this started there was a bit of a backlog of traffic as some people were too nervous to continue and decided to climb back down and I was shivering uncontrollably. It didn’t take you long to cool down once you stopped moving.

    Climbers

Some other essentials for the climb up- a head torch, lots of layers, a beanie and waterproof gloves. My gloves were not waterproof and were soaked through part of the way from the ropes being wet, leaving my fingers freezing! Luckily my dear father donated his to my cause and swapped me for my soaked ones! It took me a while to realise that I could wear my raincoat for an extra layer of warmth, but it changed my life when I did. Can’t believe I overlooked that one for so long (I think it was because my brain was frozen). I did remember taking note of camo guy however- someone dressed head to toe in khaki camoflage print- even had a camo backpack and camo beanie. So hardcore. I’m glad my brain works for the highest priority tasks in adverse conditions…

Anyway, we made it to the summit by about 6.15am (took us about 3 and a half hours to do 2.7km!) and got to see the sunrise over the peaks. It was stunning seeing the landscape light up, as we couldn’t really see anything when we were climbing in the dark.

The summit!  Sunrise

One of the peaks is nicknamed ‘Donkey Ears’ and another- South Peak, I thought looked like the mountain top Jack Skellington sings on in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’… What do you think? After a little choccy break at the top of the mountain (thanks mum for sending me the best chocolate bar in the world- Cadbury’s Marvellous Creation with popping candy!), we started our descent to 7.5km where the via ferrata starts. Dad had decided he felt good after the summit and was going to tackle Low’s Peak Circuit with me.

'Donkey's Ears' peak Dad with 'Jack Skellington's Peak'

We got harnessed up and connected to the first steel cable, and as we saw the other groups in front of us descending, dad (our team leader) said a bit apprehensively, ‘It looks like quite a sheer drop there dear!’. And it was! The via ferrata was quite physical, you use your arms a lot in the first section (and I have like zero upper body strength) so it tired you out holding yourself up on almost vertical bits of rock! It was hard work, but worth it. The views were incredible and it was exhilarating being so high up, you felt like you were in the sky.

On top of the world!  Down into the abyss

The first section was the longest and hardest, it involved the suspension bridge or ‘swinging bridge’ which was super high up but had a wooden base about a foot wide to walk on, and the wire bridge, which you had a steel cable to walk on and one either side to hold onto- like walking a tightrope. And ‘only a 3m drop’ the guides told us! After we completed the first section we had a short break. Dad’s still got a bit of a competitive spirit even though he was initially reluctant to do the via ferrata, feeling happy to have ‘beat the young whipper-snappers’ – a group of 5 Canadians who came in just behind us!

The suspension bridge    the wire bridge

We then had a short ‘jungle trek’ and the guides encouraged us to wear our helmets due to low hanging branches. And it was lucky I did, as another passive-aggressive attack from dad came my way in the form of a rather large branch springing back into my head! :-p the last section of via ferrata was meant to be the easiest- and it was easier than the first in terms of less steep descents, but contained two of the most terrifying parts for me! The first was what I called the ‘spiderman wall’ where you cross a 90 degree section of rock on little rungs each about a metre apart with a massive drop below. The second was the ‘monkey bridge’- one cable to walk on with one above your head to hang onto which you have to inch your way across sideways. Dad sped off across it and I was barely on it yet. I yelled out ‘not so fast dad!’ and he said ‘but I just want to get off it!’ and I replied ‘but you’re attached to me!!’ -as we had about 10-15m of safety rope connecting us, I would’ve been dragged off my nice safe rung before setting foot on the wire! But luckily he slowed enough for us both to get across unscathed!

The 'spiderman wall'  Dad on the 'monkey bridge'

After the via ferrata, it was a 15 walk back down to Pendant Hut for second breakfast- a more substantial offering of sausages, beans, boiled eggs, toast and mashed potato with gravy. I thoroughly enjoyed my tasty but not very attractive ‘protein mix’ made up of a chopped hard boiled egg (peeled poorly with much anger and cursing) and a chopped frankfurt smothered in baked beans in sauce. Yummo. It was a stroke of culinary genius- try it! (You can thank me later).

The egg giving me a haard time...  Mandy's Own Protein Mix- get into it

After repacking everything, we started the last 6km descent to Timpohon Gate. It was drizzling on and off for the first part. I had taken off my coat because I was too warm with it on, and thought I’d see whether the rain eased, but it really started to rain around 3km. I was getting pretty saturated by this stage but then thought putting my coat back on would result in me being wet and hot and sweaty inside plastic, and just being wet seemed like a better option at the time. Meanwhile our cheerful mountain guide Freendy was just cruising down the mountain holding a giant umbrella and talking on the phone half the time, while dad and I groaned our way down each step with our walking sticks sipping and tripping every now and then (though thankfully no major stacks!).

Freendy and his brolly  Walking on water

I was pretty miserable for that last couple of kilometres, and it took most of my strength to keep from yelling out ‘can somebody please just get me off this god forsaken mountain?!!’ I was tired and sore everywhere and soaking wet- we’d been up for more than 12 hours at this stage and had spent most of it on our feet. I tried to distract myself by thinking of tracks to put on a ‘Mountain Megamix’. I came up with a few for each stage…

The Ascent

  • Hot in Herre – Nelly
  • Climb every mountain – The sound of music
  • The only way is up – Yazz
  • Harder to Breathe – Maroon 5

 The Summit

  • Starry Starry night – Don McLean
  • Stairway to heaven – Led Zeppelin
  • Sun it rises – Fleet Foxes
  • Up in the sky – Clairy Browne and the Bangin Rackettes

The Descent

  • Four seasons in one day- Crowded House
  • Summer rain – Belinda Carlisle
  • Everybody hurts – REM
  • I’m not crying – Flight of the Conchords (mostly for the line: ‘it’s just been raining on my face’)

The one thing that did cheer me up slightly was having a piece of my Cadbury Marvellous Creation popping candy choccy bar every now and then. Whoever says food can’t make you happy has clearly never eaten one of these. So eventually we made it back to the gate, soaked to the core and very weary, but very glad to have finished it. It was a big challenge but very rewarding. At park headquarters, we got certificates for reaching the summit of south east Asia’s highest peak, and completing the world’s highest via ferrata, woo! Anyone who’s looking to do the climb in future and wants to book in advance, I’d highly recommend Amazing Borneo. The staff were lovely, very responsive when booking over email, and everything ran so smoothly for the entire trip, from getting permits, guides, accommodation, food and transport.

Coming downcadbury

Afterward, reflecting over a local coffee (complete with condensed milk, mmm) and a plate of char kuay teow, dad said to me ‘this has been the worst day of my life’ :-/ I must be the worst daughter in the world… Then he tried to clarify… ‘I mean in terms of the amount of time spent hiking… before this my longest day was 8-10 hours on the trail, but today we’ve spent 14 hours!’. Ok, I guess that’s not so bad. But in all seriousness, it was amazing to share the experience with dad. I’m so very glad he agreed to come with me (even though for most of it I’m sure he was wondering why he had!) and I am proud of the way he pushed himself all the way through it and took on the additional challenge of the via feratta too. It was such a tough slog but very rewarding to have done it together.

Finally back at Timpohon Gate The Hill team with Freendy

I said goodbye to dad this morning, and with it my last night of a hotel room double bed to myself, private bathroom and breakfast paid for by dad. Now my backpacking life begins, however first I may splurge on a massage for my aching body…

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