MULU CAVES Continued

Next we visited Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. Wind Cave is named after the cool breeze that fans from its entrance, and famed for its unusual calcite formations. The formations here were less abundant than in Lang's Cave, but much larger. In a chamber called the "King's Room" were impressive stalactites and stalagmites that looked like polished chandeliers and candlesticks. Clearwater Cave, a stone's throw away, was much more impressive. With 107 kilometers of passage, it is easily the longest cave in Asia, the tenth longest in the world. It's name comes from crystalline water of the roaring river inside, which is purified as it passes through hundreds of feet of limestone. Near the entrance there is also a small, emerald pool - perfect for a soothing dip after walking through jungle heat.

Our last cave of the day was called Deer Cave. Claustrophobia did not exist there. Standing inside, its sheer volume almost induces spacial disorientation. It is the largest cave passage known to man, and its magnitude defies all description. No photograph has been able to provide a proper idea of Deer Cave's immensity, and so writers and scientists have invented an ever-growing lexicon of visual comparisons -- largely attached to humankind's own colossi. With a length of over 2 kilometers, a width of up 150 meters, and a ceiling that reaches 120 meters, the Cave can reputedly contain five St. Paul's Cathedrals, over 20 Boeing 747 jumbo jets, and four Houston Astrodomes. To these I offer an altogether non-quantifiable comparison (which I hope I may be forgiven for). Deer Cave would have made a perfect base for the Rebel Alliance. It has a rear entrance, and Han Solo could have easily piloted the Millenium Falcon into its mouth and still had plenty of room to land. It takes 40 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

Inside the cave was a world in itself, complete with hills and valleys, plains and forests (because of the huge entrance, there is enough light for trees to grow a quarter-mile in). There is a sizeable creek, which turns into a river when it rains heavily. Deer Cave even has a metropolis-sized population, consisting of an estimated 1.8 million wrinkle-nosed bats, who stream out of the entrance every day at 6pm sharp to spend the night feeding in the forest. (Later on, we would stand outside the cave and watch them leave in a single stream that snaked across the pale evening sky and took an hour to get from head to tail). The tiny bats are barely visible while they roost in crevices far above, but they have clearly left their mark on the terrain below. Bat guano, a fertile and pungent powder, covers the entire floor of the cave. In one place, there is a hill of it at least 20 feet high, and its rusty color turns the cave's interior into a landscape more reminiscent of Mars than Earth.

Ten minutes after we entered the cave, Jacob made me turn and look back at the entrance. Water droplets were catching light as they fell hundreds of feet from the ceiling, and it looked like it was raining stars. He pointed to a rock formation high above the floor. Staring out into space, was a penny-perfect profile of Abraham Lincoln. He allowed me time for a gasp and a photo, then we moved on.

"It's going to get a little dark now," he said as we climbed a stairway that led to the cave's second chamber "but it will be worth it." He activated his flashlight and I followed him around a rock formation, into an area of pitch blackness. Knowing that I was surrounded by vast quantities of space eliminated any phobia-induced anxiety. Jacob shined his light on a small centipede as it crawled across a stone face. He placed it in his palm and turned off the light. His palm was glowing with green, radioactive streaks - a luminous liquid that the centipede secretes as a defense mechanism.

The final pleasure was a view of Deer Cave's back entrance, called Adam and Eve Forest. Beneath a huge natural doorway was an impossibly lush stand of trees. Dwarfed by the huge entrance, the trees, some of which were nearly 100 feet in height, looked like decorations on a train set. Falling straight down from the ceiling was a mystical waterfall, dubbed Adam & Eve's shower.

"I thought you had claustrophobia," Jacob jibed as we stood on a limestone mesa high above the cave's floor. All I could say was that I did, but not in Mulu. In Mulu, they have caves for claustrophobes, and if you go you must see them.

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