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White Water Rafting and the Niah Caves

MALAYSIA | Saturday, 26 June 2010 | Views [928]

Once again apologies everyone for the lack of regular posts, since I know how you all hold your breaths in anticipation for my travel updates. Apologies also to anyone who is now dead, since the next couple of posts are about our activities from around 2 plus weeks ago...internet access since we left Singapore has been abysmal, and I had not been able to write up these posts in time for our brief stop in Singapore. 


On our penultimate day in KK, we decided to do a day trip to the Padas River for some white water rafting. Scuba Junkie (the dive operator in Semporna) has a sister company in KK called River Junkie; if you dive with Scuba Junkie, you get a discount on the white Water rafting day trip. One of the couples we met at Uncle Tan's (Patrick and Emma from Finland), were on the day trip with us and our group was rounded out by a couple from China. They were wearing matching T-shirts. I guess they were afraid that they might lose each other. 

It's an almost 3 hour drive to the train stop for the 12:30 train to Padas river; we got picked up 30 minutes late and were then driven to an automobile workshop where the driver proceeded to get some repair work done to the mini-van. Interesting way to start. The journey itself was uneventful, but at times we drove up very steep mountainous terrain. I had plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings as the mini-van had to ascend very slowly at around 10 km per hour. At first I didn't realise just how steep the roads were and thought maybe we had a particularly lousy van, but you soon see plenty of other buses and cars plodding along in the same way. We made it in time for the train, but it turned out to be one of those choo-choo toy trains. It only had two carriages so the majority of people had to stand, and chugged along at snail-speed for 45 minutes. I was sitting near a group of girls from Singapore who would start screeching in unison from time to time because they would see a tiny bug moving. It really was tiny, about the size of a fly. I tried to flash them looks of disgust and also said "Oh come on, it's not like there are no bugs in Singapore!", but I wasn't able to shame them into silence.

After what seemed like years, we finally reached the River Junkie stop and after an all-too-brief introduction into the basics of white water rafting, we set off on a rubber dinghy down the Padas River. I was sitting on the left behind the Chinese girl, and her partner was at the front of the boat with Patrick. We did a couple of practise strokes in the water and then headed off towards the rapids. At the first set of rapids the River Junkie guys doing the steering let us know which way to swim in case the boat capsized and instructed us to paddle hard. The river was roaring and tumultuous, the waves got bigger and higher, and suddenly I heard a piercing scream emanate from the Chinese girl who had stopped paddling and was gripping the boat and just staring at the river. I shouted "keep paddling!" so she started paddling, but at the next big wave she once again stopped and started screaming instead. Her partner too would stop paddling, so we were stuck with a dinghy where the left side was completely unproductive in the heaving waters. By this time, the others in boat had also begun chorusing "Keep paddling guys! Keep paddling!", but to no avail; as soon as the river became choppy, the couple would cease paddling. It was uber annoying but I guess they didn't realise that the key to avoiding the dinghy flipping over in the rapids was to keep on paddling hard. Sadly, the River Junkie guys didn't say anything to them, and didn't split them up either (one on each side of the boat). We managed to make through the first and second set of rapids, soaked but still seated in the dinghy. Unfortunately, the first two rapids were just swells in comparison to the behemoths that were the third and fourth sets, and sure enough by the middle of the third set we were perilously close to being tossed into the water. The boat would flip up to almost 90 degrees, lose momentum just in time, and drop back down. All it needed was a big enough wave, and this occurred very early into the fourth set. The dinghy was rocking, we got hit by waves going this way and that and suddenly, amidst a chorus of "Keep paddling! Keep paddling! Keep paddling!" we were confronted by a massive swell which dragged the dinghy up and flipped it 180 degrees into the water. We were all wearing life jackets, and I was pulled coughing and spluttering to the surface and into darkness. I realised that I had surfaced directly under the boat and there was no one else in there with me, so I ducked back into the water and struggled to come out from under the boat. We were still in the middle of the rapids and the constant splashing water made it difficult to make out what was going on, but I surfaced again to see that everyone was bobbing in the water to my right, and were trying to turn over the dinghy. The first attempt was a failure, the dinghy came crashing back down into the water, and I managed to swim out of its way just in time. The dinghy was righted on the second try; the River Junkie guys clambered back in at lightning speed and started pulling people back into the boat. We continued to paddle for a few minutes more and were finally out of the raging rapids, eager for the lunch break.

After lunch the Finnish couple, Emma and I insisted on splitting up the Chinese couple in the boat. We put them in the middle of the boat where they could do the least amount of damage, and then we went fine over the remaining rapids. Unfortunately, there were only two sets of rapids and then we were done with the rafting activity, which was disappointing. However, the disappointment soon turned to irritation when we discovered that we would have to wait for 1 hour for the return train. We whinged for a while and so did everyone else, but there was nothing we could do. Emma and I passed the time playing a game where we picked a word and then had to name songs which contained that word. It took me 5 minutes to think of a song containing the word “love”. I’m an organ donor, but I think perhaps my worthless brain should be cremated along with my weak body.

Just when we started to feel like KK was our second home, it was time to move on to Sarawak. Our first stop was the little town of Miri. Our time in Sarawak was all too brief, but we were mainly going there to visit its famous caves. We had initially hoped to be able to visit the Mulu caves but you have to fly there from Miri, and all the flights were completely booked. Alternatively, it is possible to reach Mulu via boat but the journey takes around 10 hours and unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time. We decided to visit the Niah Caves instead as they are a short 2.5 hours away from Miri by bus.

I guess the majority of tourists visit the Mulu caves, as we pretty much had the Niah Caves all to ourselves. We only saw a handful of other visitors while we were there, and it was a really cool experience. One of the caves is called Traders Cave, where people who are involved in the Birds Nest trade live and collect nests during the nest collection season. They use single ropes to climb to the ceiling of the cave; they must be really good climbers but it seems like an awful lot of effort for an object which tastes like nothing and has no proven benefits, medicinal or otherwise. The Great Cave was the next cave that we visited and it was ginormous. We ended up descending into the bowels of the cave (yes, a gross expression but it is the most fitting one since it certainly felt that way) with our pathetically inadequate headlamps which just barely illuminated the area immediately around us. As a result, I was constantly jumping at every sound regardless of whether it was an animal noise (scurrying, slithering, high-pitched squeaking) or merely water dripping. It was fun though, I felt like a bona fide adventurer. I had never been completely alone in a cave so I had not realised how magnified a little noise can become or how much it echoes. I had also not realised that light in a dark place makes the holder of the light very popular – with motherfucking flying bugs!!! AARGH!!! They kept zooming straight at my face, into my eyes, into my mouth, up my nose….It did not help that the planks we were walking on were getting more and more slippery and difficult to grip. I tried not to imagine where I would land if I were to slip off the pathway, and reluctantly held on to the guano-encrusted railings thinking, “Gloves would have been nice.” The last cave that we visited was called the Painted Cave, where you can see faint pre-historic cave drawings made in red haematite.

From Batu Niah we caught a bus to Sibu where we were going to spend the night and fly out to Bali the next day. There’s nothing much to do in Sibu, so we decided to head to the movie theatre and watch another movie for a ridiculously cheap price. There wasn’t much choice as we had already seen SATC 2 and Toy Story 3; the only other English option was Night and Day which turned out to be utterly idiotic and atrocious. It was fun to mock it though, and I was glad to see Tom Cruise burn since I find him very irritating.

Tags: awesome caves, caving, i am deluded, miri, padas river, river junkie, sabah, sarawak, white water rafting, wierd couple behaviour

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