18/3/2006 Day One - The Beginning of the Mulu Mud Musical
I woke up in the morning and realized, “Project Week just started.” Then I ran all over the house finishing last minute packing. It was kind of sad considering I was the punctual one and I arrived last (yes, Rajeeta actually arrived before I did at the coach stop). I was carrying the smallest bag. Viola had one twice the size of herself. I was surprised she didn’t keel over while carrying it. We bought the tickets and checked in all the way up to Miri. To my chagrin, everyone else fell asleep and I was awake. I could never fall asleep for these trips. Then the immigration counter came up. We then realized we didn’t even remember what our coach looked like. We wasted a good five minutes scoping out various coaches before realizing it was right in front of us. Whoops. Not a great start. We rushed in and out of Johor Bahru because at first we couldn’t find the gate (that also was right in front of us as well. We were quite blind in the morning). When we arrived at Kuching, we sat down and played cards since we were already checked in and apparently we only needed to do immigration at Miri. An hour passed with us playing Black Jack and I fell asleep. I then woke up when we landed and then we waited again at Miri. We got our immigration cards ready after finishing them on the coach, but the guy didn’t even glance at them. He just waved us through. That was odd and very unnerving. But we soon forgot about it as we went through the Miri shops. Then we were up on the tiny plane. I was quite surprised it didn’t collapse, though it made some very disturbing noises.
Trees, trees, trees, oh wait; I think I see a clearing! Nope, just more trees. You’d think you would see some human inhabitation, but apparently the trees outnumber the people a good million to one. And the river looks like a live snake twisting on the landscape. It’s a thick orange colour (totally not the colour I pictured the river to be) that contrasts with the forest surrounding it. We got off and went straight to the national park and settled our payments (with some difficulty since we paid under two different names.). The rooms were basic as basic could possibly be, but we had no problems with them. Other than the odd discolouring of the water. Yellow certainly didn’t look very appealing at the time. So we purified the tap water for brushing our teeth. We would have gone on a Night Cruise, but the weather obviously had other plans. So the rain came tumbling down and the Night Cruise was cancelled. Later on, I suppose it was a good thing since it cost 75 rm per person anyway (really expensive).
Rajeeta: It was vaguely disturbing that not one of us had fully registered that project week had started. To us, Mulu was still that undefined, distant place we'd been debating about for four months. And project week was that trying event most of us had been sweating about for the last few years.
Subin: Project week was always somewhere at the back of mind. Frankly speaking, I wasn't very excited about it until the day before the flight as it simply seemed unreal, and way far ahead. I couldn't convince myself that we are actually on project week till we arrived at the Head quarters.
Viola: Even though I was the one who suggested going to Mulu in the first place, it was still only this distant place somewhere in Malaysia where, from what we had seen in photos, greenery reigned. I had been looking forward to Project Week ever since Grade 7, and it really didn't register that this long awaited event was actually on its way.
19/3/2006 Day Two – Holy Batcaves!
This is the part where we actually get it into gear and do what we came here to do. I must admit though, what I expected was quite different to what we ended up doing. For instance, I thought we would walk in muckity muck (a term we coined later on in this journey) and collapsing after the first five minutes. Surprisingly, we spent most of the trek on a wooden boardwalk. Of course, then came the Skywalk. We teetered on a rackety creaking bridge and below us was what seemed to me a million miles above the ground (a clear understatement on my part). I pretty much flipped out for the entire time we were on the bridge and when we were back on solid ground, we said, “Yeah that was okay.” I think Rajeeta enjoyed too much. After that, we came back, had lunch and tried to regain the feeling in our legs. Then, at around 3, we left to see the Deer and Langs caves.
This trek too was quite smooth (probably because they were concrete walkways) and we reached at around 4:30 pm. Then we went into the Deer Cave. I don’t know if I can express what I saw there adequately. For one thing I can say for sure. It was REALLY, REALLY big. It gave a whole new look to the Jonah’s stay in the whale, because this cave can apparently fit 4-5 jumbo jets in it (or was it 14-15?). At the entrance was a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln (which was quite cool actually. It looked just like him). We walked in deeper into the cave and then we heard a shrill noise surrounding us. We look up and saw a lot of bats. Well, we heard a lot of bats. We couldn’t really see anything on the account of the fact that it was too high up. It seemed more like a mass of formless black stuff plastered onto the ceiling of the cave. The entire cave had a small stream running through it and thousands of spiderwebs decorating the rocks surrounding the pathway. We trudged in deeper into the dark, got wet and slipped a lot. It followed a very distinct that went like this. I would warn Viola, “Watch out, it’s slippery” and promptly slip on the steps. It was a moment of great irony. It got progressively darker as we went into the cave and we were acutely aware of every sound around us. At the edge of the cave, we saw the Garden of Eden (or as I called, the Lost World). All you could see in the distance were lush tall trees all almost the same colour. It contrasted with the blackened rocks that filled the bottom of the cave. Because of this, the trees looked like they were glowing with some supernatural power. To me, it looked like the edge to a different dimension, one completely alien to our own. We couldn’t go up close unfortunately because the boardwalk stopped about halfway. I found that rather sad because I would have liked to visit the Garden of Eden.
After leaving the Deer Cave (and ogling the abnormally large spiderwebs), we went to the Langs cave which was a lot smaller than the Deer Cave (a LOT smaller). But it certainly had a lot more stalagmite and stalactite formations than the Deer Cave. They came in the oddest shapes and sizes. We saw one shaped like the Great Wall of China as the guide pointed out and we teased Viola about it. There were several features that looked alien spaceships and life forms (obviously Rajeeta and I have watched too much science fiction). There was one large one that looked like the Mothership of Mars. Most of them looked like gigantic squids and octopuses with extra legs attached to them. Some looked like creatures I really shouldn’t have been imagining. But the guided tour was over before we knew and we were outside, waiting to see the bats fly out in hordes out of the Deer Cave.
Again, the weather threw a wrench in our plans. It started raining and we realized that the bats weren’t daft enough to come out in the rain, so we headed back to Headquarters, had an early dinner as well as a well earned bath. Although we did not go to sleep as early as we should have, we managed to get enough sleep (I think. I can’t speak for everyone on this).
Rajeeta: A day to be commemorated, where Ayesha and I began the steady trend of periodically slipping and tying unruly shoe laces; tasks we juggled between us regularly. The formations in the Langs cave really did look alien and we identified a monstrous mothership there. It terrified us to no end to see several similar formations in the other caves. Aliens are trying to take over the world from Malaysia.
Subin: The shoelaces were jinxed, getting undone every 10 minutes! The caves were amazing, I was especially impressed the gigantic scale. The entrance of the Langs cave sheltered a small part of the forest, which looked really cool. It looked as if there was a mini forest within the cave.
Viola: Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my close friend of four years didn't know how to tie her own shoelaces. Add in the fact that said shoelaces keep untying themselves and causing general frustration. Ahh... yes, Project Week, a period full of planning, trekking, sweating, and discovering marvelous things concerning one's companions...
20/3/06 – DAY THREE - The inner navigators emerge
We were all upend a little far from raring to go at 6:25, not a little apprehensive about our first real trek, which was to last 5 – 6 hours. The destination was Camp 1, where the original pioneers first set up and went about exploring our beloved national park. So we suited up and made our way to park office to confirm at what time we were leaving and identify our guide for the day. Error number one came in the form of us having forgotten to confirm the guide the day before. Unfortunately, one could only do the trek without a guide up to a certain point, beyond which a guide was required. We slapped our hands over red faces (the ‘red’ being figuratively speaking), put aside our sheepishness and decided to make our own way to Paku Waterfall. The waterfall was on the way to Camp 1, and it was beyond that point that a guide was required.
I believe it was the nervous giggling that made the park officials lose faith in us. As we registered our intention to make our way to Paku waterfall for security purposes, one of the men there asked us if we’d ever gone trekking before. Three of us having spent at least four years in UWC with annual trips, we were quietly offended and assured him that we had. Yes, even rough trekking. He told us that it would take about one and half to two hours to get to the waterfall, depending on our pace. There isn’t much question that he didn’t think too highly of what he assumed was our pace.
Satisfied and feeling somewhat self-righteous we breakfasted and ordered packed lunches to have at the waterfall. We packed our little bags, filled up on water, collected a map an elementary kid would appreciate, identified Paku waterfall on it and then we were off! Having been along the boardwalk the day before, we knew there was a junction soon after starting along it. Previously, we’d turned right, so naturally we thought that to get to the waterfall we had to turn left.
Soon after, we arrived at a second junction, clearly nowhere on our map. Fuming and chewing out the park’s lack of signs, we debated on which way to go. A river was right in front of us and alternated between staring at it and the map. Rivers flowed towards waterfalls, right? So we should turn left. Of course, rivers also flow from waterfalls. So we should turn right. 5 minutes of heated discussion later, we did what amounted to a verbal coin toss and turned right, promising ourselves that if in fifteen minutes we saw no sign of the waterfall, we’d head back.
Fifteen minutes later: well, we were told it might take two hours, what if we turned back now and this turned out to be the right way? Let’s keep going for at least ten minutes, right? Well, this reasoning took us through one and a half hours, an elevated wooden pathway and over a hundred small, rickety, mossy steps. Finally it was Subin’s pivotal decision that took us all the way back down the overly mossy path towards the junction in half the time it took us to get to where we were.
This time turning left, we arrived at a small cluster of houses in two minutes. Overjoyed, we asked someone which way Paku waterfall was and how long it would take to get there. The answers were ‘that way’ and ‘half an hour’ respectively. We set off with renewed determination, arriving at another patch of civilization in five minutes.
A patch of civilization that looked suspiciously like our starting point.
A patch of civilization that was our starting point.
We’d managed, with our amazing navigational skills, to go in a circle without the smallest suspicion. While the others were still stupefied, I burst into laughter. Evidently, errors two, three and four had managed to creep in without our knowledge. Doubt anyone else could have done it. Needless to say, the park guides were even more stupefied than we were and showed us the right way to go on the map. It turned out that the trail wasn’t on the map. We were none too happy about that and decided to put the trek off until later in the day.
The packed lunches were consumed in our rooms. We relaxed until we were supposed to leave for the trek and suddenly realized we’d forgotten that the sun set everyday, sowed hadn’t thought about the risk of it getting dark on the way back. Scrapping the trek for the day, we decided to do a walk around the headquarters and look at the plants which were labelled. The walk was called ‘Plants for Life’ and lasted 30 minutes in the sweltering heat with exclamations of ‘oh look, this plant keeps away mosquitoes!’ and ‘do we have to do this?’ Finally we were done for the day and whiled away the time with carom, cards and charades, not chosen for their alliterative nature.
Another day had ended.
Ayesha: I think the camp guide knew from that point on that we were complete idiots. I concede to him at this point.
Subin: We nearly ended up at the Moonmilk cave. It was hilarious, relying on our instincts to get to camp 1, and eventually arriving at the starting point after. The map was really screwed up though.
Viola: So do the river actually flows from or towards a waterfall? We never did find out. Since there wasn't a waterfall there to begin with. Conclusion for the day: we were over-confident and also very lucky that we didn't get lost. One thing I noticed was that the people there are all really relax and easy going, the guides at HQ was helpful, but the map they provided really need some extra work.
21/3/06 Day Four - The right stuff
This day started off with a whimper when we realized we’d overslept by two hours. Luckily, we didn’t have a tight or full schedule for the day, so we were able to move on as planned without incident. Ordering packed lunches again, we went to tell the park people that we were leaving for Paku waterfall. We noted down our departure time and the time at which we expected to be back so if we hadn’t returned by then, a rescue party would come to fetch us. For safety’s sake, after the last embarrassing incident, we left a cushion of over an hour, estimating we’d be back at 5 o’ clock after leaving at noon.
We made our way down the correct path promptly at noon. We were nipped at by the residue apprehension from the day before, but eager to redeem ourselves. Ayesha and I transformed into radio request stations, churning out a half-mumbled, generally out of tune, fairly eclectic mix of music. We made our merry way to the mud trail we had been shown before and promptly expressed our disgust and exasperation with the excessive amounts of muck. We didn’t expect excessive amounts of muck after the clean boardwalks. We just dealt with the excessive amounts of muck.
The next hour was spent abusing our brand, spanking new hiking boots as they were given the first taste of the horrible fate that awaited them on the following days. Proud that we reached our destination in half the predicted time, we commended ourselves on a job well done. We’d torn through the forest like it was Orchard road and we were beyond late for a movie. Happily sweating from the short trek, we were mildly disappointed with just how small the waterfall was. It was more of a watertrickle, or waterdescent, than waterfall. The bank was rather small and the mosquitoes were considerable off-putting. All in all, we were disillusioned. This mediocre forest setting simply didn’t match up with our fantastic imaginings of Lord of the Rings like settings, with vibrant greenery, impossibly clear water and uplifting properties. Instead we had murky water, lots of sweat, mud and bugs.
Subin set a timer on her camera and we took a group photo, Viola soon followed suit. We had all been sitting on a fallen trunk, posing for the photograph, Subin and Ayesha on either side of me. Suddenly a look of bewildered horror popped onto Subin’s face and she pointed at my shirt with a ‘What’s that?’
A quick glance downwards revealed a large, orange hairy caterpillar boldly squirming its way towards my neck. I screamed without inhibition, jumped up and manically danced about yelling for someone to get it off. Plan A was Subin attempting to use a leaf to flick it away. My shrieks led to Plan B in which Subin flicked it away with a stick. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and watched on in annoyance as everyone attempted to take a picture of the offending creature.
Having had our fill of excitement for the day, we decided to forego lunch at the waterfall and headed back to headquarters to eat it in our rooms as we had done the day before. We washed off the coat of mud on our shoes when on the boardwalk and then guiltily attempted to wash the mud off the boardwalk. We collapsed upon return and chatted with each other, fending off the heat.
Soon enough, it was time for the Night Walk. A guide takes you along a boardwalk trail in the pitch black. We gathered ourselves, windsheeters and torches and scurried towards the meeting point in the dark. We got to wear hard hats with lights on them so we wouldn’t run into things. We tried to keep a tally of how many unusual things we spotted per person. Subin won hands down, spotting more than the guide without even the aid of a torch. Perhaps the most striking of these sightings was a lizard, asleep on a branch as three mosquitoes feasted on it. We gave a collective shudder.
We called our parents when we returned and then turned in. Another day had ended
Ayesha: Come on let's crawl...to the Ugly Bug Ball. What a happy time we'll have there. One and all to the Ugly Bug Ball!
Viola: Hairy caterpillars are furry and cute but poisonous. It was fortunate that that certain one landed up on Rajeeta's shirt instead of say, her arms. Regardless it was an amusing sight to see her shrieking and dancing around when I had no idea what was going on. All the guides at the Park are helpful and nice, and we really enjoyed the Night Walk. The lizard was creepy though. I've never seen so many different species of plants, insects and animals in one place before. It was quite an eye-opening experience.
Subin: The hairy caterpillar just appeared out of no where. I was relieved to find it on Rajeeta's shirt, just on her shoulders. Thinking of what might have happened if it had landed somewhere else gives me the shivers. It was kind of cute though. Too bad I couldn't take a good photo of it.
Day 5: Trek of the Living Zombies
We started our special day by double checking whether we’ve packed all the required items for the trek to Camp 5 or not. Finding it as hard as usual, we forced ourselves to stay awake and sorted out our food supply, buying some beehoons, Nasi Lemaks and 16 cup noodles. The actual journey began when we hopped on to the longboat with our huge backpacks at 9am. As soon as the engine growled, we found ourselves feeling almost ecstatic about the boat ride like a bunch of little kids. Some of us fell asleep in the boat, resting our heads on the life jackets we were all asked to wear. There were lots of plants hanging off the branches, so we had a great time ducking to avoid them.
Passing by some housings, we arrived at the Panan village, where the locals of Mulu lived, making their living mostly by selling elaborate handicrafts to tourists. Rajeeta and Ayesha bought handmade fans, which became very useful during the trek. After the short visit to the village, we hopped back into the longboat and arrived at the wind cave. As we predicted earlier, we had to climb up the endless stairs to get to the entrance of the cave. There was a passageway in the cave where the wind passed through. It was divine, as we were drenched in sweat and exhausted by the long journey.
There were benches and drinks at the resting area. We asked Jerry, the guide if we could have them too, but they turned out to be the privilege only package tourists could enjoy. So we fanned our selves using the two fans. We took turns fanning the remaining three, exploiting our energy to get some cooling. By the time Jerry signalled that we were visiting the other cave, we had used up most of our energy fanning each other. Another cave near the Wind cave was the Clearwater cave, which had an amazingly clear river flowing within. We stopped by the river to reward ourselves with the icy cold water. We drank and splashed water on ourselves happily, after waiting in the long queue.
Back to the longboat, our long awaited journey continued. None of us wanted to leave the boat, and one of our 1.5L water bottles started to get empty. But we couldn’t avoid the challenge that we had planned beforehand. We got off the boat, crossed some rivers and made our way through the forest, eventually arriving at the starting point of the trail to camp 5.
The endless trekking began. At 8km, we were already a little tired, but we strived towards our destination, searching for the 7km sign, which we never found. 6km, we were relieved to find the sign, and the mud started to get worse. We avoided the giant mud puddles by strategically choosing to trek over tree trunks and slightly drier stones. 5km, we stopped at the sign, and drank. We also took turns carrying Viola’s food supply (a.k.a trash) bag. 4km, we were relieved to find out that we were already half way there, but also exhausted by the fact that we still another 4km to go. 3km, we were getting even more tired. 2km, we were almost dead, and we started cursing Mother Nature. 1km, we couldn’t care less about mud and insects. Where IS the camp!
When Viola saw faint rays of light and some traces of civilisation, we ran towards camp 5, using whatever energy that was left.
We faced some problems, because of the lack of communication between the park ranger and the head quarters. The park ranger wanted the receipt for our stay in Camp 5, yet the Head quarters had never informed us that we needed it. This made us anxious, but it was eventually sorted out. We walked to the river which was right next to the camp, and cooled our tired feet. Some of us had leech bites. We discovered a tiger leech on one of Ayesha’s knees, which were smaller then the regular leeches, yet more painful. We used salt, which was wrapped in 5 layers, to get rid of the leech, and this worked really well. One of my socks was bloody from the leech bite. It was strange to see blood, as I hadn’t felt anything throughout the whole trek. Rajeeta had a leech bite too, strangely enough on the exact same spot as me. Viola was the only one who miraculously managed to stay away from them.
After spending some time in the river, we ate Nasi Lemak. The oil somehow had separated from the rice, forming a smooth, plastic-like coat on the surface. It was barely edible, so we all gave up finishing them. Then, we had a cold shower, because there wasn’t a proper water heating system. There was a frog, some moths and other unknown species of insects in the toilet and the bats were flying above our heads. It was an interesting experience, washing in the midst of the forest, while enjoying the presence of wild animals at the same time.
For each of the divisions (rooms), there were two wooden surfaces that came up to our waist, with some mats placed on. We slept on this wooden surface, inside our sleeping bags.
Rajeeta: The manner in which we encountered the leeches was interesting. There were two kinds in the area, brown and tiger leeches, and we met two of each. Subin and I were bitten in exactly the same place, by the same kind of leech, and never saw the culprits. The other two both had tiger leeches, and we promptly salted them.
Viola: 8 km doesn't sound so challenging, does it? But trust me, when you're carrying a backpack that's larger than your own size, and with no knowledge as to exactly where the Camp is, it turns depressing after a while. The post sign says 'Allow 2 hours". We managed to finish the trip just under 4 hours. Not very comforting.
Ayesha: You guys didn't even feel the pain. I got the ones that actually hurt. And where were the 1 km markers? And just for the record, Nasi Goreng tastes horrible when it's cold.
Day 6: Jurassic Park strikes back!
On the second day at camp 5, we went to trek in the Kerangas forest. It was a short two hour trek, going and coming back, but we learned a great deal about the different types of trees and their uses. Some of the hikers were getting ready for the Head Hunter’s trail to the pinnacles at 5am. We had Maggie cup noodles for breakfast. The trek to the Kerangas forest was a relatively short, yet a challenging trek, as we had to do some climbing. On the way, we saw some small pitcher plants and giant ants that were almost as huge as grasshoppers.
After exploring the forest, we went into the river and cooled ourselves. The river current was quite strong, so we did not have to worry about any more leech attacks, as we came up with a feasible conclusion that leeches can’t survive in such environment. Initially, we sat by the river and relaxed, but once we revived our energy, we walked towards the middle of the river and sat on one of the rocks. Viola slipped and almost got carried away by the current. We started splashing water on each other, having a friendly water fight. As some of us wore glasses, we ended up searching for dry patches on each other’s shirts to wipe our glasses with. We ended up getting completely soaked from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes. After having cup noodles for lunch, we looked around camp 5, observing the beautiful landscape that somehow reminded us of the Jurassic Park. Inspired by the surroundings, some of us sketched, and some of us wrote creative pieces and journal entries. On a side note, a butterfly, for some unknown reason, was attracted to Ayesha’s blue shirt. At the end, we all concluded that it was attracted to blue objects.
We had cup noodles for dinner again, and played card games with the special Saiyuki cards that Ayesha brought. The wind was strong, so the cards almost flew away, which nearly made her faint. Eventually, we all managed to protect all 54 cards. Following yesterday’s routine, we had another super cold shower, this time, in the company of a frog. The soap holder was black with fungus, and the water was freezing. After this, we went to bed at around 8 pm to 9pm as good little children do, to get ready for the dreaded return trip to the headquarters. Another 8 km. We cursed the 8km signboard as we walked by.
Rajeeta: It's a testament to how hot it was that despite two of us sporting white shirts, and three of us not having a change of clothes, we chose to wade in.
Viola: Advice to people wearing glasses: Always, always, have clean and dry clothe with you so that you can clean your glasses anytime, especially after a particularly nasty water fight down at the local river. Do not wear your hat if you choose to engage in a water fight, especially if you'll need it the next day on the trek back home.
Ayesha: Those butterflies just kept coming back....And I'm never bringing my Saiyuki cards on a trip with these people ever again.
24/3/2006 Day 7 – To Infinity and Beyond!
The alarm rang at 5:30 am. The sky was still dark outside and everyone struggled to wake up and get out of our sleeping bags. For breakfast we finished all the cup noodles we brought with us, and soon after we started the 8 km trek back to HQ. Nothing much happened on the way, as all of us had only one single thought in mind: mud, mud, mud, hooray, this is the last trek we’re doing, mud, mud, mud, mud… I think our previous trip on the route helped us a lot, since we finished the trek much quicker than last time and we weren’t as tired either. We stopped at the clearing for a rest, and had a brief debate on whether we were supposed to meet our boatmen there or at the river itself. I finally fell victim to the leech curse, but luckily for me it was latched onto the back of my shirt, and the others quickly got rid of it. A bunch of butterflies, all different species, settled onto our backpacks. Most were fluttering on my bag, which was bright green, blue, orange and other various colours. Not long after, another group from the Camp arrived at the clearing, and their guide helpfully told us that the meeting point with boatmen is actually at the river. We crossed the river this time without any help, and the fast current effectively washed off all the mud that had accumulated on our boots. We set off walking into the forest again in our clean, fresh and squelchy boots. They became muddy again in a matter of minutes.
Due to our determination to get to the longboat and go back to HQ, we finished that section of the trek relatively quickly. The boatmen were waiting patiently at the river, and we collapsed into the longboat, pulling out water bottles and refreshing ourselves. The boat back was speedy and breezy – just the thing we needed. We arrived back at HQ, collected our luggage and went back into our home sweet home, Kapur. Beds! Pillows! Clean bed sheets! Bathroom! Running water (still yellow)! We spoilt ourselves with milkshakes at the café, which tasted a bit diluted, and generally enjoyed the music, breeze and shade.
Rajeeta’s bag broke on our way to Camp 5, and we were trying to find a sewing kit to temporarily fix it. The café staff directed us to the house keeping staff’s accommodation, which were just six steps away from our room. The man who answered our knocks (we later realized that we woke him and his colleagues up from their afternoon nap) was an extremely kind person. He offered us a cobbler’s needle and asked us whether we know how to use it. Seeing our clueless faces, he asked us to bring the bag to him and offered to sew it for us. We were really glad for his help. He was good company and we had a talk while he fixed up the torn back bag.
Our last destination at the Park was the Bat Exodus. It was totally amazing. We were not able to see it before because of rain, and it was quite worrying when it started drizzling. But as the sun set, the first of the millions of bats began circling out of the Deer Cave. The bats gathered at the cave entrance in ring shaped formations, circling higher up the cliff face before flying off across the evening sky in long, black, spiraling ribbons. It was an amazing sight. All the people gathered were oo-ing and ah-ing and taking photos frantically. The return trip was also marvelous. None of us, in our hurry and excitement, had remembered to bring our raincoats. So we were walking in the rain and listening to the frogs croaking in the forest on our last night in the Park.
Ayesha: Technically, Viola was having conversations with them, the frogs, that is.
Rajeeta: I also think it’s important to mention that Viola was able to skip out on carrying the trash bag due to visibility deficits during the trek. Luckily, or rather unluckily for me, I filled in for her. There are no hard feelings. Of course.
Subin: Yeah, We were acting like a bunch of tourists at the Bat Exodus. Hmm, I’m not trying to imply that we’re not, but oh well.
25/3/2006 Day 8 – Airport Travel Blues
We started the last day, not with the usual egg and toast, but with pancakes and honey for breakfast for a change. Unfortunately, this decision turns out to be quite troublesome: hoards of flies and gigantic bees flocked towards our table, and there was much screaming abound as we fled from our table. But we were optimistic. It was the last day, and the only thing we were going to do was catch our flights on time and we would be back in Singapore in a jiffy.
Things turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
We had left the Park and were sitting in the waiting area at the airport when suddenly Subin realized that we hadn’t returned our room key. Thankfully, we were ahead of schedule, so there was still some time before our flight departed. Rajeeta and I, who was already slightly panicking at that point, caught another van back to the Park. I was yet again struck by how relaxed the staff at HQ was. To tell the truth, I was mildly annoyed when I realized that they weren’t at all concerned at the fact that we hadn’t return the key, as I thought that they would at least be slightly worried about the lost key. On the way back to the airport, we were faced with the local kindliness once again when the van driver who drove us there and back again told us that there was no need to pay him for the trip back.
All was well on the flight from Mulu to Miri. We managed to pass the six-hour wait at the Miri Airport by having lunch, looking at the shops (total number: around 10), playing games, and generally behaving like a bunch of tourists. Then there was the flight to Johor Bahru. At least we thought that it was a flight straight to JB. We were told when we were booking the flights that it would be a direct flight from Miri to Johor Baru. It turned out that we needed to get off at Kuching for immigration. So we tried to find Immigration, following signs and arrows and asking the staff. After being directed to three different locations, we finally got into the right room. My worst nightmare (being stuck in an airport) came true when the strict faced lady at the counter asked us why we didn’t have the Sarawak Immigration stamp that we were supposed to get when we first entered the region in our passports. That had been eight days ago. This greatly confused us since a) we didn’t really know what she was talking about, b) there wasn’t any announcement concerning immigration when we first arrived in Sarawak and c) well, double emphasis on a). There wasn’t even an Immigration counter or anything at our transit wing when we fist arrived! The lady proceeded to give us a lecture on immigration rules and then promptly told us to stand in a corner.
We were truly confused and nervous. Our chief concern was that we might miss our flight. All the announcements made at the waiting area were in Malay. None of us understand Malay. The departure time was once again not specified on our transit tickets. The result: we panicked. Really, really panicked. The moment we got our passports back, we ran. We ran and ran and ran, sprinting through the whole wing of the airport (the immigration counter was at one end, our gate was at the other end, literally), with water bottles, pens and even cell phones falling out of our bags and our pockets. It was a total disaster. As we neared Gate 3, a huge crowd had already gathered behind us and they were running like us, all clutching their flight tickets. I knew something was off when I dashed past the area where the attendants usually check the tickets and saw no attendant standing there, but quickly dismissed the thought. The crowd rushed past us to scramble onto the plane when we stopped at the entrance to the plane to catch our breaths, and not a minute later, a tubby airport official ran into the corridor and started shouting. “What do you all think you’re doing? It’s not yet boarding time! Why were you running? Think the plane won’t wait for you?” He started waving the whole crowd out and to our horror, we finally realized that many passengers had seen us running like mad towards the gate and had followed our example. It was terribly embarrassing. As we walked back out into the main waiting area, one of the waiting passengers looked at us and asked not so nicely, “What were you people running for?” And the airport official, who was both frustrated and amused at the same time, started speaking to us, saying something along the lines of “This is not Asian Airlines! You don’t have to run to get seats! You already have allocated seats on your boarding passes!” Some onlookers sneered at us or passed teasing comments at us while we walked passed them. Others simply stared. It was pretty humiliating. Somehow we understood it when the announcement for our flight finally came, and we safely got onto the plane. The tubby official once again made his entrance, smiled and said, “See? No problem!” My frustration and anger somewhat faded away after he said that. One thing I learnt from this little incident: in case of emergency, take a deep breath, drink some water, consult with your friends, and ask the locals before you freak out.
The flight took one and a half hour, and the coach ride from JB back to Singapore was a two-hour trip. We managed to drag our exhausted bodies onto the coach, and we snailed along with the heavy traffic at the borders as Malaysians and Singaporeans alike jumbled together to get back to their homes.
I never thought that it would be over so soon, but that was it, it was the end of our Project Week. Amen.
Rajeeta: It should be noted that Viola the Pioneer was the first to suggest that we run like the wind, and that the cell phone mentioned was mine. Though truly, we are still the best of friends. I promise.
Subin: Yeah, Viola makes the best decisions!
Ayesha: She’s a true hero to us all
ETA: Subin's changes have been added.
ETA2: Comments for Day four needed
ETA3: Viola and mine have been added.
ETA4: Subin's comment has been added. Both edited for spelling mistakes.