Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 151. Across Sabah

The northernmost portion of Borneo is part of the Malaysian state of Sabah, and today I went across it from west to east, partly because I am told that the east is the best place to see the rain forest, and partly in search of the place where Cheng Ho was presumed to established a trading post.

As I drove up the coast I cut across the sedimentary basin that hosts the petroleum reservoirs of Malaysia and Brunei. Lots of tilted sandstones and minor limestones, but I am not sure of what age, or what caused their deformation.

Farther into the country I approached the massif of Mt. Kinanbalu. Since I am going to come back in three days to climb this 13,000 ft peak I will reserve a careful description for that later date. I will note, however, that the outcrop pattern of Mt. Kinanbalu suggests an intrusive body.

After many twists and turns, past the towns of Rinau and Telupid, I took the dirt road to Sukau, with the idea of visiting the Gomantog caves. I was happily driving along when I saw a dinosaur laying across the road. Full of wonderment I stopped and got out of the car. This startled the darn thing, which must have been a good one meter long and quite fat, and she darted into the grass before I could take a picture. Later I learned that it was a monitor lizard, and that indeed they can get quite large.

The Gomantog caves are not very impressive as caves go, but they are famous because they used to be one of the main sites for collecting swiftlet (swallows) nests, which the Chinese consider a delicacy. The good nests are made almost exclusively of bird saliva, and can fetch $3,000 per kilo. The not so good have a good amount of dirt and sticks in them, but still sell for $1,000 per kilo. The collectors live in “longhouses” at the mouth of the cave (a longhouse, as the name implies, is a large long house where four or five families live together, in collective harmony), and use long ladder ropes to do their collecting. The caves are also famous because of the bat guano, which forms a 10 m high mound in the middle of the cave. I was advised not to step on this mound, because you can sink to your ankles in the stinky stuff, which as an added bonus is crawling with big, far roaches. Collecting guano must be high in the list of most disgusting jobs.

It was getting time to find a place to rest for the night, and with this in mind I caught with the corner of my eye a simple sign announcing “Community Tourism Enterprise”. I backtracked, took the small exit road, and found myself in the quaint little village of Mangaris, by the side of the Kinabatangan River. I asked about the Community Tourism Enterprise, and a friendly villager directed me to the community center. Indeed, I was most welcome to the village, which could offer lodging in a home stay arrangement, and a couple of days or activities in the river and surrounding rain forest. So I decided to park myself here, to rest for a couple of days from my frantic trekking.

Note: Thank you again to all those of you who have followed this blog. I appreciate your comments very much, and am delighted to have this opportunity to share my trip with you. Someone has asked me what is my profession: I am a geologist, which is why I like spending my time in the country. Within geology, my specialty is Applied Geology, which is the application of geologic knowledge to solve problems that are relevant to society, such as finding good sources of water, locating oil and gas reservoirs, locating mineral deposits, or assisting civil engineers in the design of civil works such as bridges or dams.

No comments: