To get to Mulu, one almost certainly has to get to Miri. On a whole, the state of Sarawak is sparsely populated and too big to get to places by car. Mulu is one of probably thousands of small villages scattered across the state that is barely connected to the outside world by road. For example, there are around 30 cars in Mulu, and that’s a known fact because cars cannot leave the village. The last bridge connecting Mulu to the real world (built by the logging industry, mind you) was blown away more than a decade ago. Good question, these days, large cars and big machinery are ship by boat when the water levels are high.
There are actually two other ways to get to Mulu – 4 wheel drive and boat. Both aren’t really feasible unless those are the kind of adventure one seeks. The government built the airport solely for tourists, and probably subsidized heavily to keep the business going. Our flight is on a MASwings, a flight company owned by the Malaysian airlines for short haul. Didn’t write down the model of the plane, but it is a 100-seater propeller, and newish too. Not what I was imagining when we were told we are flying on MASwings. Since it is off-season for Gunung Mulu National Park, we are the only tourists on this flight; there are 3 more passengers but they look like locals/workers. The plane takes off after taking a sharp U-turn on the runway from Miri, and literally accelerated into the sky as we turn. It is a bumpy flight, but that should not have excused our flight attendant who sat in her seat the entire journey without offering drinks or snacks. As a result, we thought that MASwings is a budget airlines. The view though, is a mixed bag. Most of the trees near Miri are clearly part of plantations, and I bet that they are all oil palm trees. There are patches of very green, artificially looking trees, and those I believe are secondary forest, probably cash crop trees for logging. The real jungle finally emerge on the last 10 minutes of the flight (entire flight took about 30 minutes), and I know that because there are neither roads nor buildings in sight. It is sad that jungles are really being cut down for palm oil – don’t use the argument that we need to boost the local economy, because nobody lives in these areas. The big companies only hire low wage foreign workers to work in these plantations, and that Sarawak has so much oil that would put Brunei to shame. Greed and corruption destroy the art that nature has been sculpting for millennials. It is awful and heartbreaking.
My mood come back up when we are close to the airport because I could see the impressive mountains of Gunung Mulu (direct translations, Mt. Mulu), and that birds are just chilling on the runway until we make our final descent, at which they fly off. There is no jet bridge, and we disembark on the side of the plane, walking to the only entrance at the bare bone airport. (Did you know that passengers always enter and exit on the left side of the plane?) As for baggage claim, well, it is literally a dude putting luggage onto a manual roller while we stare at him from inside the building. At least there is a roof. My dad thought that there was some shops to buy snacks, and that vision is now dashed when he realized this resembles closer to a building with a long runway rather than an airport. We get our bags, and met the only person waiting for us, the manager of the tour company. All our food that we will be consuming in Mulu had been packed for us, and flew in with us in the plane. But none of that is our business, someone else is in charge of that – it is nice to not think about every single detail on a trip. What a change of pace.
Our transport to the lodge is in this van that have seen better days. Remember that vehicles are hard to come by here? I’m pretty sure this van does not pass any safety standards, but at least it still runs. Forget about suspensions, this van barely drives on a decently paved road. As we get closer to our lodge, the van even do some off-roading. (Apparently, the federal government promised years earlier to build roads here, but well, they haven’t been done.) We unload in front of a evangelical christian mission building, and escorted to our lodge next door. Styled like a traditional long house but with modern amenities. There are a few solar panels on the roofs for indoor lighting, otherwise, there is no power in the houses. We drop our bags, and wait for both the rain to go away and lunch to be ready.
Lunch is surprisingly good, as in, better than food we usually buy/eat in Peninsular Malaysia. Initially, we thought that lunch is going to be only rice with soup, but 4 more dishes come later on. We are well-fed and ready for the adventure for the rest of the day. By the time we are ready to go to the park, the rain has done its duty, and clouds are clearing. We might be able to walk the planks!
End of Part I.