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Miri, Malaysia

We arrived in Miri around 5pm after an eye-opening trip down through the southern part of Brunei and over the border. On the way we had the chance to see various towns and facilities that have been established on the back of the oil industry which was quite interesting. Once in Miri, we found our guesthouse, had a shower and found a place not to eat! Then we were approached by the hostel owner and a women from New Zealand about going to the Niah Caves in the morning, although we considered resting and doing much-needed laundry, we said yes! A very good decision as today after visiting the centre of town and there being not much to write home about, we can tell you about the magnificent Niah Caves and the stupefying Bird-Nest Harvesting that happens there, with photos of course!

Nous voila enfin dans l'etat de Sarawak, a Miri, apres avoir pris 4 bus depuis Brunei d'ou nous avons pu voir des puits de petrole le long de la cote de la mer de Chine. Ici le petrole est partout, il n'est pas surprenant que le litre d'essence soit a 25-30 centimes d'euros. D'ailleurs a Brunei, c'est un passe-temps que de prendre sa voiture juste pour rouler le soir apres le travail. Une fois installes, nous avons rencontre une neo-zelandaise qui avait prevu de se rendre le lendemain matin a la grotte de Niah. Nous avons decide de la suivre alors que ce n'etait pas prevu. On a bien fait car c'etait fantastique! Un de nos meilleurs souvenirs.

The Niah Caves are located around 45 minutes drive from Miri and an additional hour walk is needed when you arrive at the National Park Office. The walk is actually really nice as it is mostly on a raised walkway that cuts through dense rainforest jungle. There are plenty of animals to be seen incvluding lizards, butterflies, birds and other jungle creatures but perhaps more impressive were the Angkor-Wat style trees growing on/over/around/under rocks. In fact and as we agreed, many of them were more impressive than found in Cambodia. At the end of the walk you get a glimpse of huge cliffs through a few clearings in the forest canopy and before long the walkway becomes a flight of stairs. The introduction is quite something too! A huge chamber where the timber-frame remenants of former inhabitants [1970 latest] is the only feature in a natural wonder of colour and shelter. We saw one man, he carried a huge sack on his back and was walking from the far distant corner, a corner where we not only found a great picture point but also the path to the proper caves!!!

La grotte est situee a 45 minutes de Miri, puis il faut marcher environ 4 Km pour l'atteindre a travers le parc national, ce qui etait tres agreable. Ce qui a attire notre attention dans cette foret (apres en avoir vu pas mal maintenant!), ce sont les racines des arbres geants qui se sont developpees autour des rochers. Un peu comme a Angkor Wat mais encore plus impressionnant. Une fois arrivee a la grotte de Niah, nous avons ete frappes par ses couleurs. En effet, cette grotte etait sous ma mer il y a fort fort longtemps, ce qui a colore les murs par des nuances allant du vert au violet. Il y a une atmosphere indescriptible, on a l'impression d'etre "ailleurs" que sur la terre. La visite de cette grotte nous a profondement marque tant par ses reliefs, que ses couleurs ou encore l'echo des cris des oiseaux. Il est tres difficile de decrire notre ressenti, peut etre que les photos parleront d'elles-memes...

The first is that of the Great Cave, a giant compared to any other cave i have ever seen and that was before we even properly entered it. It was slightly surreal too as the colour of the rocks and the rounded surface to the opening entrance felt like we were somewhere else, another planet or the moon perhaps. All we could see were the steps that led to the back part and several interesting wooden structures that somehow hung from the top of the cave. The colour of the rocks was different in part due to the many swallows and bats that live in the caves, the same swallows that make nests from their saliva and the same nests that sell for the same price of the most expensive Caviar you can imagine. The Chinese delicacy in question is 'Birdnest Soup' and at a common price of 60euros a-bowl it's not that cheap but apparently the high price means having yougner skin! Another and more appropriate reason for the incredible price put upon this speciality is that people climb those ridiculously dangerous wooden structures on the cave ceiling to collect the nests! A high number of people are, as we were told, "cut in two" as they fall while working in this profession as there is very little room for safety ropes or nets. Did i say very little room - make that 'no room'.

These men miraculously climb and balance upon these wooden structures that have been passed from generation to generation, all in order to take a long stick and try to poke free a bird's nest that they can then catch in an attached net. As you can see from this picture this often means sitting on the end of a narrow plank a considerable height above jagged rocks on the cave floor. I am sure that they don't see the cave floor from where they are though as another detail about Niah Cave - it's very dark! Pitch black in fact! So dark that we spent about two hours with our torches at the ready for parts of the cave that literally dissappeared at the end of a staircase! It was a real adventure and perhaps one of the best parts of our trip, a true wonder to both nature and mankind!

Aussi dans cette grotte il n'y a pas que des touristes, il y a aussi des travailleurs ou plutot des recoltants. Nous en avons croise quelques-uns avec un grand sac sur les epaules. Nous avions bien une petite idee de ce qu'ils portaient... car c'est un enorme business ici. D'ailleurs dans l'entree de la grotte, qui est une grotte a elle toute seule tellement qu'elle est grande, on apercoit encore les structures en bois d'habitations de ces travailleurs, qui vivaient ici jusque dans les annees 70. Ce qu'ils recoltent, ce sont les fameux nids d'hirondelles dont raffolent les chinois. Il faut 45 jours pour que ces oiseaux construisent leur nid...avec leur salive!! Les chinois consomment ces nids (laves hein) en soupe, apparemment cela a un leger gout sucre. Le must du must. C'est un peu notre equivalent du caviar en Europe. C'est 60 euros le bol pour ceux qui seraient tentes! Ce qui justifie ce prix, c'est le risque que prennent ceux qui s'aventurent a la recolte car ces nids sont perches en hauteur et il n' a aucune prise pour les attrapper. La technique se transmet de generation en generation. Suspendus sur un baton de bois ils s'aident d'un autre baton pour faire tomber les nids, il n'y a aucune securite. Beaucoup d'accidents mortels, mais apparemment le salaire fait que cela vaut quand meme le coup.

The Great Cave can actually be traversed completely and in doing so another walkway took us to a second cave, the Painting Cave. In this cave several paintings and artifacts were discovered that date back 1,200 years! Considering the jungle and stap cliffs that surround the caves it is easy to realise why they went undiscoverd for so long. Sadly the real paintings are fading and we decided not to take pictures of them but of the examples given close to the fence which protects them. Hot, sweaty and with very little water left we set off back through the Great Cave to a chorus of bat and bird signals, the whole time still wondering 'how those men get up there!' A truly incredible place and well worth flying to Borneo for!

Nous avons traverse la grotte principale avec notre torche, car la grotte n'est pas eclairee artificiellement. Plusieurs passages se font dans le noir complet, et avec le bruit du demi-million d'oiseaux et des chauves-souris presents, c'est... quelque chose! Nous sommes arrives a une autre grotte, celle ou l'on peut admirer les restes de peintures vieilles de plus de 1200 ans. Malheureusement, il faut s'y prendre a 2 fois pour les voir car elles ont ete endommagees et on ne voit presque plus rien. Ces peintures representaient principalement des humains et leur conception de l'apres-mort. Ce sont des bateaux qui emmenent les morts vers l'au-dela. C'est ainsi que face a ces peintures, ont ete decouverts des petites barques en bois faisant office de cercueil et des objets qui sont desormais au musee du Sarawak. C'est une des rares grottes temoignant d'une presence humaine. Un squelette vieux d'environ 40 000 ans y a meme ete trouve. Comme vous l'avez compris, nous recommandons la visite!

permalink written by  Lenameets50 on February 23, 2010 from Miri, Malaysia
from the travel blog: Indonesia & Malaysia et al 2010
tagged Malaysia, NiahCaves, Birdnest and Miri

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