Where the Sun Never Shines


as published in Virtual Malaysia Magazine [September / October 2006]

The singular most interesting thing about having a group of colourful characters with you on a cave adventure trip, is all the variety of expressions you can see as one by one, members are hoisted, slide, climb, duck and waddle their way through places where the sun don’t shine. Majidah Hashim tells you why Gopeng is the place to rock, and roll!

It was almost eleven at night when we piled into the beaten up off-road trucks,and another twenty minutes to arrive at the foot of Gua Kandu. The night air was cool, and even the slightest breeze sent shivers through our skins.

Marching single file, our group of thirty just-turned amateur adventure cavers made our way through waist-high shrubs to a steep hill of roots, oddly formed trees and earth. Uphill jungle trekking was one thing. Uphill trekking in the middle of the moonless night brought the expedition to a whole different level. Almost gracefully, we made our way roughly a hundred meters up the hill to the mouth of Gua Kandu, and skidded our way through its dusty opening.

Gua Kandu spans 1,100 meters in length. Besides a good torch, (the stronger the beam, the better) you might also consider bringing a headlamp, because exploring this cave is a handsand-knees experience. Long pants are almost a given and gloves are advisable. That, a small bottle of water, a good pair of shoes, a can-do attitude, and sheer guts was what was needed.

Caving or spelunking, is more than just a walk in a dark tunnel. The cave immediately descended from its entrance and as we picked our way between odd moulds of rock jutting from every direction, I could actually feel the sensation of us move deeper and deeper into tons and tons of massive rock. Luckily for us, there are no bats in Gua Kandu at this time of the year, or we would have had to contend with their droppings or guano.

Then came our first obstacle. It was a 10-foot rock cliff, which fell straight down, not good…. Our guides dropped a helicopter ladder and promptly disappeared into the chamber of darkness below! One by one, we followed suit. The ladder hugs the cliff, so to get proper footing on the rungs, a guide at the bottom of the cliff would sway ladder, with me on it of course, while I held on maybe just a little too tightly for comfort to it.

That was nothing however, compared to the second obstacle. Forty-five minutes into Gua Kandu, were giant moulds of smooth rock, which was far too dangerous to walk on, and with hardly enough grip to stand on. To our sheer horror (and excitement, really!), our guide sat right at the very top of the circuit of moulds – and pushed off – sliding into its dark bottom!

Then, we were made to sit at the very same spot, straighten our legs and trust the rock to give us the slide of our lives. To be perfectly honest, it was pretty steep, and the speed we went was gut-wrenching and exhilarating. Trust is one of those things you’re quickly forced to learn on this obstacle – trust in the rocks not hurting you and trust in your friends who are there to break your fall at the bottom of the rocks.

Our third obstacle really was literarily speaking, a series of obstacles. The cave roof got lower and lower, or was it that the cave floor got higher and higher? Before I knew it, I was crawling on my hands and knees, trying not to bump my head on the solid rock above. A damp patch appears and we cross the path of a small cave river.

That was when we arrived at the cave’s main chamber. It was massive. Nothing as huge as the caves in Sarawak, but when you consider that it is a pod of air in the middle of a giant rock, it is still immensely impressive. As we sat in a circle in the cave’s chamber, we turned off all our torches and headlamps, and observed an eerie silence, and let nature have her moment.

There was the dripping sound of water, and faintly echoing through the cave, a buzzing insect. I imagined that this was how cave dwellers lived. Perhaps a fire was lit at the mouth of the cave, but in here where the air was still, how could they have made their way around? Human determination to survive is one thing. Human perseverance is a whole different level of instinct, which we learnt to admire that night.

It is just past 1am when we exited Gua Kandu – about an hour earlier than expected. That was when our guides put forward the idea of going to yet another cave – a crystal cave! And we thought since we were already muddy
and dusty, why not?

Gua Angin is located fifteen minutes from Gua Tempurung. It is evident that Gua Angin is a more frequented by visitors. A makeshift wooden staircase has been built into and against the cave entrance. A far less challenging cave as compared to Gua Kandu, Gua Angin is a simple walk with just a few narrow tunnels at its mouth. The sights within the cave nevertheless, would literarily bring a sparkle to one’s eyes.

The stalactites and stalagmites of the cave glitter with millions of sparkling crystallites – the kind you can find at expensive Chinese gem shops. They shimmered as the beam of our torches fell on them. Gua Angin was named such because it is also a wind tunnel. This was evident from the hollow echoes heard from inside the cave.

Gua Tempurung, later that morning, was almost easy compared to the previous night’s adventure. The thing about this cave that makes the visit worthwhile are the rock formations naturally found within the cave. This is where getting a really good guide is almost essential.

There are basically two kinds of trails in Gua Tempurung – the completely dry ones, and the ones with a water element. Naturally, we had to go on the wet one. After almost two hours of immensely interesting rock formations, we come to what adventure cavers call, a rat hole – a tiny crack on the cave chamber floor that we needed to climb through. The crack led to a lower chamber in the path of a shallow cave river.

We followed the river route, practically walking on the water as the cave roof got lower and lower… and lower and lower. Eventually, we were on our hands and knees again, crawling through the low arches of the cave, almost completely soaked in water.

According to our guides, during the monsoon season when the river level rises, hardcore adventure cavers would have to go underwater in these very tunnels to get to the connecting chambers.

A host of other extreme activities are also available at Gua Tempurung, such as rock climbing, flying fox and abseiling. There is also a camping site just at the foot of the cave. We camped out for two nights there, motivating each other and learning a great deal about one another along the way – proof really, that although physical fitness is required to complete these extreme tasks, strength of heart is what it takes to appreciate its essence.

After three such thrilling experiences, I can see why going where the sun never shines can be so addictive. Carry on caving!

The writer touching the Top of The World in Gua Tempurung (June 2006)

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