sign in a cave in Laos

22 August 2008

Gua Cintamanis - All Malaysia Star

ALL MALAYSIA (from The Star)
Originally published in The Star on
Saturday August 14, 2004

Guano, snakes & creepy crawlies . . .
Story & pictures by Liz Price

With a name like Cintamanis (sweet love), you’d expect a story of passion and romance.

Instead, this is a tale of bats, creepy crawlies, mud and darkness. The location is a cave. The characters are a group of friends with a love for caving. It is this passion that led us to spend a Sunday exploring the Cintamanis cave in Pahang.

Gua Cintamanis is in this limestone hill in Pahang.

Gua Cintamanis is located in a kampung of the same name near Bentong. I have no idea where the name comes from. An English lady, Sheila Cousins, visited the cave in the 1930’s and called it Chitamani in her book. I assume this is a corruption of the spelling used today.

The team leader called for an early start. I am not an early bird so I was still bleary eyed and yawning when I met my fellow cavers in Gombak, Kuala Lumpur. We sorted ourselves out into our respective cars and set off for our day of adventure.

Once we reached the kampung, we parked by the football field and organised our bulky equipment. We had ropes, ladders, belays and climbing equipment. That was just the communal gear. Our caving ladders are special flexible ladders of about 8m in length, which roll up into a neat package. The only problem is as they get old, the wires tend to kink and become difficult to roll up. It is similar to manhandling an octopus.

The rope ladder takes practice.

As soon as everyone was ready, we set off across the football field to the base of the track.

Bukit Cintamanis is an impressive limestone hill rising proudly above the surrounding land. It was a nice sunny day, so the blue sky contrasted well against the white rock and green vegetation. The cave entrance is located about three quarters up the hill, so we were in for a climb. A series of about 200 steps snaked upwards. The path was surrounded by overgrown weeds and looked little used.

The cave entrance was fairly small. It took a while for my eyes to get used to the gloom of the cave after the bright sunlight outside. Once I had gained my “night vision”, I could see a huge chamber in front of us. It was impressively large. The floor of the chamber sloped downwards towards the rear. We followed a wooden staircase on the right which led to a chamber. It was used as an Indian shrine. Unfortunately there was a lot of rubbish on the floor.

We went back to the main chamber and headed down the slope to the top of the pitch. This is a drop of about 12m, and is the reason why we had brought so many ladders and ropes. It is not possible to free-climb it, especially considering the guano. The floor and walls, and indeed everything, was covered in sticky guano, or bat droppings. It stuck to our shoes and just about everything else.

We belayed a ladder and threw one end down the pitch. The beauty of caving ladders is that they have special clips to attach one ladder to another, thereby adding to the length. As it was the first time for some members of the group to climb a ladder, they were secured to a safety line. It was a messy descent. As my shoes knocked the rock wall, guano seemed to fly everywhere, and of course, coated the rungs of the ladder. By the time the last man descended, the rungs were covered in bat poo!

We all descended safely, although the novices were a bit shaky at this unaccustomed experience. It’s not easy to climb a caving ladder for the first time. At the bottom of the ladder, we found ourselves at the end of the main chamber we had just descended from. There were quite a few bats flying around.

Some people kill the harmless cave racer out of false fear.

Straight ahead of us was a steep slope. To get up this slope covered with slimy guano, we had to tread heavily into the muck and move up quickly before our feet had a chance to slide back. We had a good laugh watching people ascending this gradient. At the top – a dead end. However we were rewarded for our efforts as there were a couple of cave racers on the top level.

The cave racer is a snake adapted to living in the dark, and it feeds on bats. The snakes are constrictors and don’t have poison. They are harmless to man, and normally very placid. Humans are their only predators. It is sad that people kill these white snakes assuming they will attack. I have never heard of any incident where a racer has attacked a person.

The snakes didn’t take too much notice of us. This cave was ideal for them, as there were plenty of bats to feed on. And where there are bats in a cave, you generally find a host of invertebrates making their home. These include long-legged centipedes, crickets and cockroaches.

We had a look at the rest of the cave, then it was time to go back up the ladder.

I have climbed many caving ladders over the years, so I was able to help the beginners. It was a slow process getting everyone up the ladder, but it was a good experience for them. Everyone’s hands were coated in sticky guano. But despite the mess and the creepy crawlies, everyone had enjoyed their day of “sweet love”. W

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