May 6th, 2015
After the last few days of strenuous hiking and outdoor activities, today will be a day of relative rest, with no serious hikes on the agenda. I will revisit the Botany trail inside the park, then embark on a relaxing walk to the Marriott hotel, which is located several kilometres outside the park entrance.
With somewhat more light today, and a better sense of what the park has to offer, the Botany trail seems both relatively mundane but also comfortingly familiar. Gushing water provides a familiar theme in concert with the seething tropical vegetation around us. The crux of the sense of comfort always comes down to the humidity, but then it can seem reasonably cool and manageable … then suddenly you find yourself suddenly soaked in perspiration.
Along the way, intertwined vines, delicate flowers, clusters of rounded leaves with clean edges and regular veining, and long rows of identical narrow filaments that comprise an entire leaf. Parasitic orchids, featuring clusters of elongated of much smaller and slender specimens, and almost always modest in nature. Huge buttressed trees abound, with their sinuous ribbed surfaces, seeming to be under constant attack of vines.
The walk along the country road to the Marriott hotel is quiet, the surroundings unassuming other than a few shacks nestled in the bush. I had heard a lot about the wonders of the hotel the last few days at Gunung Mulu, and hope not to be disappointed after the lengthy slog.
Up above, the heavens have thankfully cleared other than a few clouds. The humidity may be momentarily lower, but then the heat has increased as well.
The landscape is spectacular, what with the lush tropical green, the mountainous topography, and the brilliant blue and white cumulus stacks in the skies above. I cross the bridge over the Melinau Paku river than runs along the western boundary of the park, and find myself in an entirely different world of luxury at the hotel, beyond anything imaginable in the wilds outside.
The site is divided into the reception, restaurant, lounge and common areas, then the various gradients of accommodation, including private cabins and rooms. In keeping with the fecund environment and reason people have to visit the site to begin with, the grounds also feature verdant vegetation, although the staff diligently keeps the grounds clean.
The hotel is a great place to hang out, obviously far more sophisticated and luxurious than anything in the area. There are next to no guests visible at the moment, at least in the common areas. Presumably, guests come here with one purpose in mind – and that is to see the park, so they won’t be spending the day hanging around at the hotel. The irony of course is that visitors are spending substantial amounts of money for something they really receive little benefit of, not that I would advocate the lodge I just spent the night at.
My bedraggled presence seems a bit strange to the staff, never mind the fact that I quickly embark in both ingratiating repartee with the management at the same time as critique as to how the place could be improved. Not that I have much to advertise in the line of hospitality experience, other than staying in the likes of the downmarket exemplars at the entrance to the park.
Beaded circular chandeliers cascade across the raised ceiling of the enormous open lounge area. The open plan lounge is divided into various areas by means of different types of furniture.
Graciously arced open-sided wicker chairs centre on rounded, low-profile glass-topped wicker tables, to the side wicker ball lamps. Long, simply-styled tropical wood tables are graced with elegant padded bench seats, the tables alternating with comfortable couches, large but of relatively conventional design.
Deep wicker diwans lined with rows of pillows sit back to back. Even more appealing, oversized circular wicker settees invite the visitor to recline against a collection of alternating mauve gabardine and ivory pillows with delicate floral patterns. At the sides of the lounge, comfortable stools flank a raised tropical wood bar, with a column of cylindrical wicker lamps suspended overhead.
A broad wooden bridge connects the public area with the cabins and buildings housing individual rooms. And no complex of this caliber would be complete without a pool, although the shallow rectangular pool set against blue tiling seems to be designed for nothing more than wading. Beach chairs extend in rows next to the pool, under the watchful gaze of baby-blue fabric umbrellas.
The grounds feature artful paths illuminated in the evening with lanterns, the beauty of which will unfortunately elude me, as there is no way I want to be stranded here at nightfall and have to walk back towards the park entrance in the dark.
Raised, covered platforms jut into the river. A thought that comes to mind is how the lodge may be laid out to maximize visibility of the astonishing sunsets regularly on display here.
The long discussions with the staff finally run their course, and it is time to get down to business, picking up my email, the wifi thankfully being excellent, and then also writing copiously in my journal.
I would happily stay longer, but am too cheap to spend the inflated prices in the local restaurant. And then given how early the sunset comes in the equatorial region, should really be making my way to the relatively tawdry environs of the park entrance.
The sky is threatening to erupt again, judging by the ominous clouds that have formed overhead. At least during the daytime, it would be hard to get lost, as the entire route is paved, so I am spared the potential humiliation I experienced trying to find the shack I was staying at on my first night out.
Immediately across the bridge is a larger structure with cafe, which would be a great place to while away the late afternoon, if I didn’t feel an incredible urge to get back to the hub of action. It turns out that this is not only the scenic centre of Mulu village, but there are also a number of other accommodation options that would represent an excellent choice, if it weren’t for the fact that they are relatively far from the park entrance.
The threatening clouds are breaking up, and another spectacular early evening light show typical of this area of Borneo is in the offing. The colours grow, from a purplish-grey shading that stains the thick cotton, to fuchsia, with touches of magenta, the variegated play of colour creating an otherworldly, shifting texture above.
As dusk approaches, the colours become enhanced, brighter, more intense and more dramatic. As breathtaking as so much of the nature is on this tropical island, the day’s departure probably represents the crowning glory of beauty. And as much I may have seen this show a number of times already, I am riveted to the spot on the road, my mouth hanging open in wonderment at the beauty above me.
The reddish hues dissipate with the progression of the afternoon, replaced by a deep, penetrating blue set against the darkening palm fronds. The gaping wondrous maw of the kaleidoscope tropical sky finishes its show for the evening, and it is time to return to the riverside restaurant for the conclusion to the evening, with the coterie of new-found friends, indifferent wait staff, and bellicose T.V.-numbed children …