After spending a couple of days on the Kinabatangan River we had one more activity planned before we left this area for Danum Valley. During dinner the night before this activity I mentioned it and one of the couples said, “Oh, we’ve been there … it’s interesting.” This wasn’t the most enthusiastic endorsement.
The Gomantong Cave is found in the district of Kinabatangan, within the Gomantong Forest Reserve Class IV. It’s the biggest cave and the chief producer of edible bird’s nest in Sabah. The novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng, mentioned these nests and before venturing to the cave I was curious about them.
From the outside everything looks fine.
After visiting I can honestly say I will never ever eat one. Our guide said when he was younger he ate the nests. Then when he started taking people on this tour he couldn’t stomach them anymore. So what’s the big turn off?
The smell inside the cave is one thing. It reeks. But I have to say, besides the swiftlets that create these nests, there are two populations inside the caves that ruined the whole experience for me: cockroaches and bats! And I’m not talking about one or two. I’m talking about tons of them. Of course there are other creepy crawlies as well.
There is a wooden walkway that all visitors have to walk on. It feels like you are walking on carpet since it is covered in poop.
And don’t touch the handrails. Not only is it smothered in crap, but all types of bugs are crawling on them, mostly cockroaches. I’m getting grossed out just writing this post and may have to hop in the shower again. Everyone says when you visit don’t wear nice clothes. Now I know why.
However, the gross factor aside, the caves are quite interesting and I’m glad I saw them.
The edible nests are collected and harvested twice a year and the practice dates back approximately to the year 500. Licensed locals climb to the roof of the caves, using
ropes, bamboo poles, and rattan ladders to gather the nests. The collectors ensure that they only take the nests that the young swiftlets have deserted. The Birds’ Nest Ordinance and the Forest Enactment of 1968 protect this area and unlicensed collectors are fined. And a person is always inside the cave guarding it. The guards have to spend ten days at a time inside the caves. They are braver than me. I for one couldn’t wait to get back outside.