Of leeches, belian trees and underwater cave (Travelogue Day 8)

Canoeing to explore the lower Turtle Cave which is completely pitch black.

By D’Drift Team

MIRI, July 6: Reaching Buda (meaning ‘white’ in Bisaya language) Caves is no stroll in the park.

The journey from Limbang town to Kampung Kuala Medalam longhouse, where our park guide Larry Siga is from, took one and a half hour drive.

From the longhouse, it took another 45 minutes of drive on gravel bumpy road to the Sg Assam trekking starting point.

Stopping by Kampung Kuala Medalam longhouse.

Setting off the journey itself was already a challenging task as it was a full throttle descending of 45 degrees to the lower ground where the journey proper started.

From there, The D’Drift Team who was accompanied by Batu Danau assemblyman Paulus Palu Gumbang and two officers from the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) Bell@ Isobeth Bana and Hosli Singa traversed the thick foliage of almost a virgin jungle consisted of biodiversity of vegetation.

Along the way, we were surprised to be told by Larry that there were countless number of priceless Belian wood (iron wood) in the Mount Buda National Park.

He revealed that the Belian trees were spared from being logged for almost 30 years ago as they were protected species and loggers needed a special license to harvest them.

Paulus was also bewilded with the fact that there were still so many Belian trees still standing proud with their majestic slender – tall, straight and strong, in this mountain.

It was indeed a sightful experience because we have never seen so many Belian trees in the wild in our lives.

As we proceeded on our journey, we traversed through small streams and rivers without proper bridges where we had to balance ourselves well, falling which we will fall into the rivers.

Larry (right) keeping an eye as Paulus (in grey shirt) and Hosli walk on the tree trunk to cross the river.

From the starting trekking point to the base camp took us about two hours. Upon reaching, we were neither surprised nor in disappointment with the kind of facilities provided because the park was after all an unmanned national park.

We sat for a quick bite to regain some strength while told to check our socks and shoes for leeches on our feet.

One or two of us got them but there was no hoo-ha as the jungle was known to have such creatures lurking for fresh blood.

Proceeding from the base camp to the cave took us another one hour of trekking. We were fighting against time as nightfall was fast approaching.

The base camp where we spend our night on the hammock beds pitched and set up by the guides.

Upon reaching, we were wondering where was the entrance to cave. While waiting, two other guide assistants who came along got the air pump canoe ready which took some 30 minutes and it was almost getting dark.

Then came a loud shout, ‘leeches! leeches! leeches!’, an assistant came promptly to remove the slimy leeches dangling as they tried to get a proper grip on the feet.

When the canoe was ready and all were set, Larry then introduced us to the lower level underwater Turtle Cave of the Buda Caves system.

Guide assistants setting up the canoe.

The entrance was narrow and moving just about 20 feet inside, it was already total darkness. Knowing very well some dangers may be lurking ahead, we had to fight our nyctophobia (fear of darkness) as well as other fears as the caves system had not been visited for quite a while before this expedition.

The fears were real and present as Larry and the other guide assistants were the only ones who knew about the caves.

Among the dangers we might encountered could be the local native small crocodile species, snakes, spiders and even the exodus of bats and swiftlets flying from the cave.

The entrance of the lower Turtle Cave in the dark.

The lower Turtle Cave itself was quite peculiar in the sense that it could be the only cave in Sarawak which required a boat to explore.

Rowing for about half an hour as we went deeper and deeper into the cave, we reckoned the total length of the cave was anything between 500m to 1km.

Herein, more detailed expeditions were needed to be done to explore and study the whole caves system.

Larry shared that 35 years ago, a group of American cavers had made a one month study of the caves system and found out that there were actually 20 more caves within the Buda Caves system.

After the brief exploration inside where it ended in a dead end, one can see some swiftlets roosting in the their precious nests.

The interior of the lower level Turtle Cave.

One of the guide assistants said that he used to stay in the cave for months to protect the place from thieves and intruders especially when the price of swiflet nests were as high as RM2,500 per kg at one time. But now, the market price was about RM500.

When we exited the lower Turtle Cave, it was already dark but Larry said there was the upper Turtle Cave, which both level were connected, and was definitely worth exploring but we did not have the luxury of time as nightfall has set in, making any attempt to the upper entrance, which was 15 metre high, an almost futile attempt.

The D’Drift Team spend quite a few hours trekking to the Mount Buda National Park.

After everything set and packed, we made our way back to the base camp where dinner was ready and served. It was delicious because they were cooked in bamboo.

With our tiredness, hunger and leeches bites, dinner and retiring to rest early was the perfect way to end our journey and exploration of this little known caves system.

The D’Drift Team is finally back to civilisation from a successful and adventurous but exhausting trip.—DayakDaily

Mount Buda National Park from a distant.