On Tuesday we taxied from Similajau back to Bintalu, where we caught a long-distance bus two hours up to Niah. By 3 p.m. or so, we were all checked into our hostel (again, the only occupants of the building).
Colin and I seem to have a bad habit of starting hikes at 4. That’s when we set out on the 8-kilometer-rountrip hike to the caves of Niah—though this time we were armed with headlamps, and more importantly, the whole path was laid with planks. Try to lose us this time, path!
The path carried us about 4 feet above the forest floor, freeing us from having to pay attention to our every footfall and instead admire the canopy.
I bet flora gets jealous of fauna. I just wanted to see a monkey; the main reason I was interested in the dipterocarp forests we were walking in is because they were a main source of food for dinosaurs.
The planks were more slick than helpful. The caves were neat, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as I might have had I not needed to mind my every step. Colin and I gingerly walked, sometime sliding and once falling, through the Great Cave, where the bats and swiftlets live, into the pitch-black of the Moon Cave, and finally to the Painted Cave.
Guano collectors roamed the floor of the Great Cave, and rickety scaffolding showed where the men would climb up to collect the swiflet nests for bird nest soup. The park dispenses licenses to indigenous men to do so, as it’s been their livelihood for thousands of years.
The Painted Cave had been the site of a major archeological discovery back in the 1950s: they found a 40,000-year-old skull, upsetting the established narrative of when men came to the island of Borneo. The cave served as the burial chamber for the people, and archeologists found “death ships” filled with remains and paintings of the walls showing the passage of the dead from this world to the next. Unfortunately, with the sunlight waning, Colin and I had to get out of there lickety-split.
We didn’t make it out before darkness fell, but there was no getting lost with the planks to guide us. And the darkness revealed a really neat trick of the jungle that we would have otherwise missed: fluorescent fungi!
We made it safely back across the river and to our hostel with zero panicking or drinking river water required. And no leeches.