Caving in Malaysia

Harvesting the edible birds' nests. Hard dangerous work
Harvesting the edible birds’ nests. Hard, dangerous work.

The promo material was hilarious.

It promised a sickening smell, ten feet of guano deposited by millions of bats, plus beetles, cockroaches, centipedes and scorpions.

Who wouldn’t want to visit Gomantong Cave near Sandakan, Malaysia? With a sales pitch like that, I wanna be first in line.

What’s remarkable about the place, besides being big and smelly and full of bats, is the harvesting of edible bird nests. Mostly for export to China. The harvesting is carried out three times a year and I was lucky to be there during one of the harvesting periods.

Workers in the cave.
Workers in the cave.

I have no desire to eat a bird nest bound together by feathers and bird saliva. It was, however, fascinating to watch the workers climb along the ropes, extended high up, to gather the delicacy. Dangerous work. High paying too, I was told. But in exchange, workers were forced to sign away any right to sue their employer if they became injured on the job.

Smell aside, the walkway was slippery. Covered in the advertised┬ábat poo. My kind and considerate guide, Dozi, produced a hardhat from the back of his van for me. No guano was getting in this gal’s hair.

Those are bats. They were everywhere.
Those are bats. They were everywhere.

Not sure I would have requested this excursion if it hadn’t been offered as part of my jungle package to the Kinabatangan River.

Glad I went though. Especially as there was a wild organutan feasting in the trees near the entrance.

The cave is about 90 minutes by car from Sandakan, which can be accessed via plane or bus from Kota Kinabalu or Tawau.

A wild organ enjoying a meal of leaves.
A wild orang enjoying a meal of leaves.


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