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The Bastards in Borneo II

From Pee to Poo

1 pm, Gomantong Caves, Sandakan
Anyone who has ever been to a cave, an old archaeological excavation, or keeps a pet bat must be aware of the horrible stench of its poo, better known as Guano. Well, it was everywhere and tonnes of it. Vast mounds of Guano cover the cave floor with new additions by the second. That’s what happens when two million bats decide to call a cave home, as did their ancestors thousands of years ago.

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Dead Bats and swifts, roaches, ants, centipedes, beetles and possibly every horrible creepy-crawlies you can imagine, lay strewn over the cave floor amidst those piles of Guano. As we entered the caves, notwithstanding the stench, another rain pelted on us. This was thick. This was bat shit. Fresh served from above. Now wasn’t the time to look up and shout, now wasn’t the time to get back, you had to move on, heads down, ‘The Walk of Shame and Shit’. Crushing the roaches beneath our feet, ankle deep in old Guano, tees spotted with fresh one, we moved in. It was the sight of an opening in the cave roof, the thought of fresh air, of actual rain, of light which cheered me up. It is like an Oasis in the cave.

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The Climb
As per RJ it was ‘climbable’, I was skeptical. A 10 minute freestyle and he was up. The monkey in him has struck, so did the phobia in me. The other two followed suit, making it look relatively easy. I was still skeptical. It took a motivational lecture of having come down thousands of miles, of having endured pee and poos, of friendship and trust, and most importantly it took a RJ to lead me up the treacherous rock face. With bruised elbows and knees, I somehow managed to pull myself up.
10 minutes later, another wall confronted us; RJ slipped but managed to pull himself up. This time there were three skeptics.  
RJ : “Grab this rope but don’t pull on it . Use it as placebo only. It won’t help you climb but it can save a bone or two from breaking.”
DB followed. Free styling, what was the most difficult part of the climb. Half way up, DB slipped and swung across the wall, the rope entwined in his left arm, hanging on the wall, a cut out from a MI movie. Only it was for real. Thanks to the fielding so set we managed to pull him down almost unscathed. AJ tried, slipped and gave up. I just gave up. DB went for it again, and this time he made it. Sweaty, bruised, given up, AJ and I smoked up while the other two explored.
The failure did cost us. Perhaps the most heart rendering sight in all of Borneo. The sight of an Orangutan baby clutched to his mother’s bosom looking at us, while the mother hung about with seemingly callous disposition. No noises were made. A sight, later told RJ, which left him humbled, a memory that will never fade away. We tried the longer route, through the rainforest, but the Orangutan had disappeared by then. It was time for another smoke.

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Finding Nemo
“There are no joy dives here, you would have to do a three day diving course which costs …”. The woman at the PADI helpdesk told us, “Besides, even that is booked for this month.” Dejected but without any options we decided to do a day’s snorkeling trip to Mabul. It is like a lesser brother to Sipadan, apparently one of the best diving spots in the world. An hour’s ride off the North Eastern coast of Borneo it is a haven for corals, fishes, turtle, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and an umpteen species of sea creatures. Next day we set off for Mabul with ‘una pareja de espanoles’, ‘une famille francaise’, ‘zwei Deutsh mannern’, a couple of British Lads, and an American Guide.
Pristine blue waters, sun bathed seas, an emerald green Oasis in the midst of the Celebes Sea. Mabul exceeded our expectations. Below the shimmering blue water was a world we had seen only in the photographs of the National Geographic. Shoals of fish-from the pancake shaped yellow angle, to our very own Nemo (common clown fish) swam right across our eyes. Nestled amidst the hard carbonate exoskeletons of the corals, they left us stupefied. Some of them stung as if we were not welcome in their world. A world full of hues; a world so different from ours.
Corals reefs, though cover just about 0.1 percent of the Ocean’s surface but provide home to 25% of all marine species. They are the marine equivalent of equatorial rain forests. As curiosity got the better of us, we ventured towards the open sea. Near the fringes of the reef, from the depths of the sea emerged a turtle, a beautiful green colored one. Gliding effortlessly, with its oar like limbs reaching for the surface for its quick grasp of air. As huge as my torso, it was silent, it was slow, and it had an enigma about it. It was a sea creature, yet it was so different-a monotone in the colorful reef. To our disappointment, the ‘Old fella’ soon disappeared into the depths of the sea. We searched for it for an hour, perhaps more. At a different location even but to no avail. We had heard that these green sea turtles can stay under water for more than five hours at a stretch. We had to give up. The Corals became passé, the fish too many to pay attention to. We returned to our boats while somewhere in the Celebes Sea, a turtle rose from the deep to take its dose of Oxygen, perhaps not very far from us.
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