Saturday October 27, 2012
Mother nature’s water theme park
By ANNE CHEONG
A ‘cave’ created by an ancient avalanche of rocks upon a stream is one of Malaysia’s most unique ‘water theme parks’. Want to walk, crawl and float through it?
WANNA go to Gua Batu Maloi this weekend?” asked Ahli a.k.a. Lee Kok Chung, the hiking buddy I have known since 1999.
The answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!”
Gua Batu Maloi is not a conventional cave but more like a huge pile of giant granite boulders that tumbled down from the mountains over a stream. The result is a kind of water theme park inside a cave!
Ahli, an experienced nature guide and birder who runs Endemic Guides, was bringing a group into the cave that weekend. This was my sixth trip with him to the cave in Negeri Sembilan’s Gunung Tampin Forest Reserve.
After getting to Tampin town via the North-South Highway, we headed towards Kuala Pilah through a beautiful forested road past the tail end of the Titiwangsa mountain range before arriving at Pekan Air Mawang. We then turned left and drove through kampung roads covered with “landmines” (cow droppings!) before finally arriving at Gua Batu Maloi.
Everyone was in high spirits as we started our 15-minute walk through the jungle towards the cave entrance.
A lazy stream flowed alongside the trail – the same one that flows through the cave. To get to the cave, we had to cross the vertical face of a huge boulder by stepping on some thick roots, while holding on to a rope so we wouldn’t fall off.
Beautiful ferns and moss grew on the gigantic boulders at the cave entrance. Huge roots from the trees above grew downwards and clung majestically to the rocks. The rays of the morning sun streaming between the trees made the place look magical.
Before we entered the cave, Ahli gave a short briefing on the cave, and on the safety aspects.
“Are any of you afraid of dark and tight spaces? Are any of you claustrophobic?” he asked. Anyone who suffers from claustrophobia may panic, and hence it was important for Ahli to check before we entered the cave.
He also advised everyone to always stay in front of our “sweeper” guide, Aki, 20, who was from the nearby kampung and had been exploring the cave since he was four. The group this time was relatively small, and this meant shorter queues in the cave.
We soon disappeared one by one into the cracks between the huge boulders and plunged into the cold water from the stream in the cave. The smell of guano permeated the air. We continued, wading and crawling through holes so small that it seemed impossible that anyone could actually go through them.
Some parts of the cave had only inches of space between the surface of the water and the top of the cave! We had to lie on our backs and push ourselves through those small gaps, with our noses just barely above the water, to get to the other side. It was indeed thrilling!
Some members of the group even had to be assisted out of these tunnels by having their legs pulled by the others. Hilarious. Halfway through the cave, Ahli asked the group if they preferred to continue using an easy or more challenging route. We chose the latter, of course.
We soon came to a part of the cave that was really narrow, where we had to crawl on our hands and knees. Soon, we encountered a huge submerged rock. There was no way across, except to crawl on our bellies!
It was rather tricky having to manoeuvre my body, and I found myself perched on the rock like a walrus! I had to figure out how to get off the rock and move forward without plunging head first into the water where the rock ended. With a little space to turn my body around just before sliding off the rock, I managed to land safely in the water.
While waiting for the others, I switched off my headlight and was plunged into total darkness. It was strangely relaxing, sitting on a rock in the dark cave, listening to the gurgling stream as the water flowed swiftly below my feet.
We then came across another narrow but sandy part of the cave where we had to literally dig our way through like giant nesting turtles! Who needs a spa when you can get sandy body “scrubs”, “aromatherapy” (thanks to the “wonderful” bat guano scent) and even natural “Jacuzzis” in Gua Batu Maloi?
We were in the part of Batu Maloi called Gua Kelawar (Bat Cave – home to many swirling bats rather than Batman’s lair!). This area was dry, with “sandy” areas all around, which we soon found out were actually hardened bat poo! We were really happy to plunge into the water when we saw the stream again.
We even got to do some canyoneering as we climbed and crawled through the many waterfalls inside the cave. There were many hydro-massage opportunities, too, as bubbles formed from the cascades, creating wonderful little “Jacuzzis”, even though it was rather cold.
It was like a water theme park, but this natural version was much more fun and exciting.
After a few hours of climbing, crawling and stretching over many waterfalls and tunnels, we emerged into the outside world. What a workout! We had used every part of our body to get through the cave.
On our way back, we came upon a gigantic boulder the size of a double-storey house. This was the actual Batu Maloi, after which the cave was named.
According to local legend, Maloi is the name of the guardian spirit of that area, which Aki told me he had seen a few times before in the guise of an old man. Being a silat (Malay martial arts) practitioner, Aki is more sensitive and attuned to the “other realm”.
We trekked back to our cars and changed into dry clothes, before going to Tampin for drinks, toast and half-boiled eggs at a packed old coffee shop. Food never tasted better.
Ah, what a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Gua Batu Maloi - not a conventional cave