Niah Caves National Park
From Similajau we went to Niah, a cave site. The caves are impressive, but perhaps more impressive are collectors who scale the walls to harvest the valuable birds nests. The swiftlet, a kind of swallow, builds a nest on the walls and ceilings of caverns from its own saliva. Their nests are harvested and sold to Chinese merchants, who use them for medicine. The trade dates back hundreds of years. To protect the bird population, the nests may only be taken after the babies have been raised. Although it was not harvest season, there were still workers in the cave guarding their stock. At several thousand dollars a kilo, poachers had a powerful incentive to steal. We shared a drink and talked with one of the workers in Malay about the business. He slept in a makeshift shelter inside the damp, dark cave during his watch. The acrid smell of guano permeated everything. Although Malay is similar to Indonesian, there are many different words and expressions, and it was difficult to understand the quickly spoken local dialect. Still, Malaysians were always impressed that we could speak some of their language! Back outside, we climbed a limestone summit for a view of the surrounding landscape, but had to scramble down, as a storm was approaching. We saw red and black banded millipedes on the trail, and on the boardwalk sat a bright, green lizard with a long tail and a ridged crest on its head. A fisherman ferried us across the river into town and after a meal we walked back to park headquarters.