Asia: Days 14, 15, 16
By now we had spent the last week in Borneo foraging in deep jungle, so it was about time to head to the coast and catch up on some downtime at the beaches. Fortunately Borneo is not only reknown for its incredible wildlife on land- but in the sea too- with Sipandan and Mabul Islands both ranked in the top 10 lonely planet dive sites in the world!
We departed Danum- having had one of the best experiences of the trip to date and were dropped back at Lahad Datu. From here we queued with the locals and took a bus down to Semporna- a 2 hour drive down to the South East Coast of Sabah.
It seems a common theme to berate the state of the Borneo cities and I don’t want to come across as a flashpacker or anything of the sort- but this was the worst of the lot!
Its was hard to imagine how these seas contained some of the most diverse species of fish and schools of hammerhead sharks and manta ray as waste of all sorts was careless thrown into plastic layer of floating shoreline. The place stunk, the people were weird and there was no money in any of the cash points. Furthermore the naval ships and large presence of armed soldiers did little to ease our concern and, upon inquiry, we found out that there was a stand off with Japan over the ownership of Semporna and the surrounding Islands.
We were obliged to stay the night however as the only boats out to Mabul were the following morning. So, in such a place there is only one thing to do- drink- and low and behold we actually managed to have a pretty crazy night out doing our best rendition of Hotel California at a karaoke in a backstreet bar.
Following advice, we booked two nights on Mabul with Scuba Junkie when we arrived in Semporna. They were awesome and had a really great set-up!
We turned up at the office early the next morning and were re-tested for our gear and equipment. Then it was a one hour boat trip, swapping the trash for turquoise blue waters and a small paradise island.
The island is beautiful, but can come across as a little weird. This is because there is a large sea gypsy village that dissects the island and which is bordered off like some sort of prison from the snorkeling and dive hostels. Don’t let this deter or sound unappealing. If you’ve ever seen the Planet Earth/ Human Planet documentaries of the people who fish by holding their breath underwater for 5 minutes- well this is basically them! They fish for a living and keep themselves integrated within their small shacked communities. The fencing and security guards are purely for the reassurance of Western guests.
Back to our dive exploits; we checked in, left our stuff in the luggage hold and then were ushered down to the water for our first dive- mine being a refresher course as I hadn’t dived in well over a year and Jay’s being his first ever Diving Experience.
After all the formalities ensued and I was re-informed on how to breathe, we were dropped into the water and straight into a huge tornado of Jackfish- some experience!
We descended to the floor, some 15m below the surface where we encountered smaller schools of tropical fish, lion fish and stingray.
Continuing along our dive site- known as Artificial Reef- we encountered some fish the size of myself before finally resting next to a giant Green Turtle- again which must have been the size of a MINI! It was one hell of a first dive!
We retreated back to the surface, pretty chuffed with our first dive and headed back to the resort for some Spag Bol and to check into our rooms.
We were given a couple of hours to linger at lunch, taking this time to top up on our sun-tans and navigate ourselves across island beaches.
After lunch we were back on the speedboat, heading to our final two divesites for the day; Lobster Wall- for which there were no lobsters and Stingray City- the same principle applies.
There were however lots of pipe fish, triangular fish and flat fish- which were the technical names I identified them as.
We completed the day back at the bar, going through our log book and identifying the actual names of the fish we had encountered through the day.
Of course the main draw to this area for more Advanced Divers is Sipadan; The island, another hour into the Celebes sea, is famed for its hammerhead sharks, manta ray and huge fish schools. However, as I am not at an advanced level it would be impossible for me to dive these areas with the required skill at the moment. It did however, make me want to delve deeper into the underwater world and will encourage me to take my Advanced Course when we get to Koh Tao, Thailand. A week diving on a Live-aboard in this area of the world has just been added to the bucketlist!
We spent our final day on the island down by the beach, heading out with the diving boats to snorkel the occasional reefs. The snorkeling is just as good, with tropical fish everywhere and crystal blue waters. Again turtles were common as were smaller rays and pipe fish.
Following a big buffet- all inclusive- we spent the evening down at the beach.
We were both paying for not putting enough suncream on during our snorkeling exploits and for overloading on the hot-sauce, residing us to the deck chairs through to sunset with a supply of cocktails as our remedy- sometimes life sucks!
As the sun dropped, a huge thunder storm developed in the distance, sending forks of lighting all over the place and lighting up the sky. Again not even a rumble could be heard- such a surreal experience!
In the morning we were packed and on the first boat back to Semporna- another great trip, made all the more enjoyable by a tiring week of trekking and hiking through the jungles the week before!
Scuba Junkie: *****
3 Dives: RM 300/ $80 *****
2 nights in dorm + Snorkeling: RM 590/ $155 ****