After breakfast we hopped back into a boat – along with our luggage – and headed to the jetty on the other side of the river to await our transport to the Danum Valley. This gave us just enough time for another wander around the buidings at the jetty location.
Most of the village houses are very simple constructions. They tend to be on stilts, or else have a lower floor built from concrete blocks. The top floor is usually timber (if not concrete). Rooves are usually metal. They tend not to have much ornamentation; if they do it’s generally a turned timber balustrade. Some are painted, some are not. In the towns there are apartments, often above shops, up to around five stories high. The benefit of concrete as a building material is that it isn’t affected by termites. We have found that even in newer buildings, fittings aren’t always well installed, or are of dodgy quality. I figure that they are just working with what is available to them – or what can be afforded.
It was only a short bus trip to the starting point for Gomantong Cave. We kitted up in hard hats and gloves – I’ll tell you why the gloves shortly! The walk in to the cave area was through more lush jungle. I have to be super careful on boardwalks – on all surfaces really – as due to the wet climate, surfaces are often quite slippery.
See that cow? We happened to arrive on the one day of the year where the locals who live at and work in the cave were preparing for a ceremony to appease the cave spirits – and yes, the cow was an integral part of it. Fortunately for us the ceremony was going to take place later in the day.
As well as living beside the main cave opening, there were houses higher up on the cliffs beside other entrances. This cave system is incredibly important – and profitable – and there is no way that it’s going to be left unattended.
Stella only got as far as the entrance to the cave – it’s an assault on all the senses. The smell is unbelievable – an intense and concentrated mixture of bird and bat poo. It’s also incredibly noisy with the sounds of both bats and birds. There are droppings everywhere – underfoot, on the hand rails (hence the gloves), and in huge piles in the open areas of the cave. That said, it was amazing to visit. A boardwalk goes around the perimeter of the cave, taking you from one side to the other then back to the entrance.
That building in the photo above? Someone LIVES in that. It’s a guardhouse. Inside this incredibly smelly and noisy cave.
And had I mentioned the cockroaches? SO many cockroaches! Plus some poisonous centipedes.
Incredible to visit, but a relief to get out of! There is a display at the entrance to the boardwalk in to the cave area that explains more about the cave system and about the ways that the nests are harvested.
According to the government tourism website, bird nests that are produced in this cave are the best in the world. There are two types of nests produced in Gomantong Caves (Black nest and White nest).The harvest and collection of bird’s nests are conducted twice a year and is regulated by the Department of Wildlife, as provided in section 85 ( 6 ) EPHL97 . White nest harvesting is done in February and August, while the black nests are harvested in April and August. The task of harvesting birds’ nests in Gomantong Cave is done by contractors appointed by the government through a tender system, different from Madai Cave where the harvest is done by the heirs of the cave. Black and white nests produced in 15 caves and the remaining 4 caves just produce black nest only. The market price for a kilogram of white nests can reach up to RM7000 while for black nest is between 3,000 – RM4000 per kilogram.
Bird’s nests harvesting activities is an incredibly unique and impressive sight which can be seen during the harvest season. The workers who harvest these birds nest used traditional tools such as “piatau”, “gegulug”, “sesungkit” and “ambong” to harvest the bird’s nests. All equipment is made of rattan and bamboo. The ability of these workers which is climbing the “gegulug” and standing on the floating “piatau” provides an exceptional view for visitors.
After peeling off our gloves and refreshing ourselves, it was back into the bus for the drive to the Danum Valley, via Lahad Datu. In Lahad Datu we stopped off for luch at a local cafe – the food was delicious! Wonderful combination of flavours.
But then Mike had planned a little surprise for us – a stop at Multibake to choose a birthday cake for Clare! Hip hip hooray! Red velvet cake went down a treat.
The drive in to the Danum Valley took around two hours, on what had formerly been logging tracks. It was a slow and bumpy ride. We were staying in rest houses at the Danum Valley Field Centre, a rainforest research centre. Over the past couple of years it has added on facilities for tourists in order to provide more funding and to enable others to see the wonders of the Danum Valley. It’s best to visit on an organised tour through a company like Sticky Rice Travel, as we did. This means that you have your own guide who really knows what to look for and what you might find. We were especially fortunate to have Mike guiding us, as he’s spent many years working in this valley and is passionate about it. Once we’d settled in to our rooms – basic, but cofortable with fans and en suite cold water bathroom – we pulled on our leech socks for the first time and met Mike for an afternoon walk.
That hole of muddy water in the photo above is a pig wallow – the wild boar come to wallow in the muddy water to coat their skin to deter insects and provide some sun protection.
The tree with the black trunk in the photo above is ebony. And look – more red leaf monkeys!
We also spotted the pygmy squirrel – such a teensy little thing, that moved so quickly. Can you spot it in the next two photos?
After a robust and delicious buffet style dinner, we headed on a night walk. At this stage it had been raining, so we were walking with torches along muddy and slippery jungle paths. It was quite the experience! I don’t have photos from our night walks, but we saw some colourful sleeping birds, plenty of insects, and colourful fungi. There are some nocturnal creatures that I was hoping we’d see – but no luck on this walk. After all, it’s a huge jungle out there!