I awake at 2 am with visions in the darkness of cave rock formations around my head. First light comes at around six o’clock, and I watch the fine droplets of the morning mist swirl around outside the veranda.
We have a leisurely start and there is plenty of time for a big breakfast and to sort out the part of our luggage to send on to Limbang. We leave by boat about half way through the morning heading upriver. Despite yesterday’s rain, the river is still low, but the boatmen manage to get us through the shallows without requiring us to get out and push. We pass Clear Water Cave and Wind Cave and continue further upriver.
Finally, we put in on a stony bank and eat an early lunch. Then it is an easy half-mile walk in sandals to a river crossing. Once all safely across, we change into boots. A few drops of rain begin to fall.
We continue through forest along a well-marked trail, though muddy and slippery and criss-crossed by many tree roots. In a few places there are wooden boards to walk on, but they aren’t much help. The rain has stopped, but as we reach the second river crossing, it begins again in earnest.
After the river, I keep up a good pace with Cherie and Helen at the front and Mark just behind. The rain is now coming down in torrents and the trees are no longer offering any protection. My boots however are so far holding out well and my feet are still dry. It is really too hot to wear a cagoule, so I drape it cape-style over my head and rucksack, which keeps off the worst of the rain while allowing some air to circulate, but evidently looks faintly ridiculous to my confederates.
The inevitable cannot be withheld indefinitely though. The path has become a river, and it is no longer worth even trying to avoid the wettest parts. Presently my boots are full of water and at each step I can feel the squelch of water redistributing itself around my feet. We hurry through the final mile to arrive at “Camp Five”, on the bank of the river and directly underneath the pinnacles.
There are four open rooms under a corrugated iron roof with raised platforms along two sides for sleeping, a large open common area at the front, and a kitchen behind. The entire wooden floor is raised a few feet off the ground on stilts and there is a strict no-shoes policy. The view across the river is of trees and craggy limestone cliffs.
It soon becomes obvious why shoes are banned. Leeches. Melanie discovers one gorging itself halfway up her leg. Suddenly everyone seems to have one, and a barely suppressed panic breaks out. I reach for my anti-leech kit, which consists of a cigarette lighter purchased at Heathrow for this very purpose. But I quickly discover that it is much easier to set fire to myself than it is to burn off the leech.
(For the record, the easiest way to remove an unsuspecting leech is with a surprise flick. If it is more determined, you just have to pull until it finally lets go, roll it between two fingers to stop it re-attaching itself, and then throw it away.)
The rain doesn’t let up and the roar on the iron roof is deafening, drowning out all attempts at conversation. I’m also seriously feeling the effects of last night’s sleep deprivation. I revive a bit after dinner, cooked by Chris, and he then briefs us on the Pinnacles, shouting to make himself heard above the noise of the rain. The walk sounds tough. Again, there are many queries and clarifications sought, but Steve’s, Fiona’s and my attention is stolen by the bats that are flying through the building, gorging themselves on insects attracted by the lights. Steve has a bat-detector box that converts their echo-location pulses into an audible frequency, and reckons from the dominant frequencies that there are two different species present. We round off the evening playing cards until the generator goes off at 9 pm.
There are no mosquito nets, but we are provided with a couple of mosquito coils to keep away unwelcome nocturnal visitors. As an extra precaution, I spray my sheet sleeping bag and the wall by my head with DEET, seriously disrupting traffic flow on an important ant thoroughfare.
The thin PVC mattress is unbelievably uncomfortable. But the rain has finally stopped and the gentle roar of the river and chirrup of cicadas lull me finally to sleep.