Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Borneo - The long awaited PADI licence!

The flight from Kota Kinabalu to tawau was only 45 minutes and then a 1hr taxi ride into Semporna. I think I saw my life flash before my eyes in that taxi as we arrived at about 10pm so it was dark with hardly any street lights and he must have been driving at LEAST 120km/h down winding roads. Wow.
Once we arrived in Semporna we checked into our hostel and passed out. The following morning we were up really early and off to Mabul island to Uncle Changs resort where we were doing our Open Water Diver course.
The lodge is all on houses on stilts above the sea so you have an amazing view at all times and you can just jump off the pier and go for a swim. There was a jetty connecting it to the island itself so you could take a stroll onto the island and explore around there.
We were at Uncle Changs for 6 days and 5 nights. 3 days were for the actual divers license and theory and exams. We had a day off and did some snorkeling and on the 5th day we went diving on Sipadan Island itself. We left early morning on the 6th day.

Chilling and reading in the sun on the jetty at uncle changs:)

Jumping off the jetty, the room behind us was the cafeteria. So we had amazing views all the time :)

Some of the houses on the water

View from the lunch table

Hungarian guys we met bought some octopus for dinner

One of the shops on the island

Some little fishies off the jetty at our resort

This was Mabul island itself

We watched baby turtles catch and make their way to the ocean!

Go little guy, go!

Doing our license on Mabul Island was great as we got to go into the water from the word go. Usually you would start out in the pool and practice your skills and all that but here you do that all in the ocean, just in shallower parts. Our first dive was mastering the skills such as clearing your mask of water, underwater, breathing through your regulator, establishing buoyancy and stuff like that. There were only 4 of us doing it so we grasped it pretty quickly and then our instructor took us a few meters deeper just to practice breathing underwater and how to swim with all the gear and get used to the weight and there, right in front of us was a huge turtle and sooo many colorful fish! So we got to see amazing things right from the start!
The dives after that all involved mastering different skill sets and then having a look around underwater. We saw so many beautiful fish and countless turtles.
The places we did our skills dives were also the sites of the sunken ships and artificial coral so that was really interesting to explore as well.
Once all the theory and the final exam was done and passed we had the day off to snorkel and relax and tan on the beach.

Those tanks are soooo heavy when you're out of the water!

Gabby's camera wasn't meant to go down so deep so the visibility is not great but this is a turtle :)


Messing about underwater

Our divers group 

Assembling and disassembling the equipment

Pretty rainbow fish

Gabby and I taking photos underwater with out stompy ruffers t-shirts on for some campaign thing. You had to take photos with them wherever you were on vacation and send it to them. We decided to do something a little different :)

Pretty blue fish i was looking at when the turtle appeared under me!


One of the sunken ships

Our dive crew. The south american guy in front is Caesar, our instructor.

Dive crew

Guy from holland, me, gabby, nat, alex

Certified divers!

The resort near ours

Snorkelling on Kapalai island 
Adorable baby at semporna
With Uncle Chang himself 

Beautiful mosque in Semorna

I met some amazing people here, one German girl named Selina who I got on very well with, she was working in Spain and just travelling for vacation too. A British couple named Natalie and Alex, Nat did her divers with us because Alex was already certified. They had both just spent a year working in Australia and were now just taking some time off and travelling for as long as their money lasted. Two American girls who were our dormmates actually happened to teach in Korea too but in different parts so we’d never met them but now we have some more friends in Korea J
There was another British woman who had just sold her house in England to get a new one when she realized that she didn’t really enjoy her job and she wasn’t really going anywhere in the company and her life was just very mundane so she thought if she didn’t do anything about it that’s all that her life would be. So she took the money she made from her house and left and she’s been travelling for about a year and she’ll go back when she feels like she’s seen enough. It was inspiring talking to her!
There was also a dive instructor from South Africa that is on his first of a few years of traveling while teaching diving along the way. Three more South Africans arrived on our 4th day who also happened to be teaching in Korea so we have expanded our Korean friends community which is always good!
There were two Dutch boys who I started talking to because the one was talking to his brother about something I can't remember right now but it was funny so I started laughing and they were flabbergasted by the fact that I could understand them. I was quite surprised by just HOW similar Dutch is to Afrikaans. I mean I know that’s where it comes from but I have never actually had that much interaction with Dutch people before. They then spent the next two or so days chilling with us and are two of the smartest people I have met and I nearly fell of my chair when I found out that they were only 17 and 18, what they hell do they teach them in Holland?? 

On the 5th day we did three dives on Sipadan Island. Sipadan is one of the most popular dive sites in the world. It is highly conserved and each dive resort is only allowed 7 permits (therefore 7 people) a day. There are not many resorts who do it so that does not amount to many people. You have to book far in advance for the permit and it is a bit pricey. It was WELL worth the money though!
If I didn’t need my regulator in my mouth to breath it would have hung open in awe. I was absolutely blown away by the amount of life there was under the water. You jump off the boat into crystal clear water and the second you make your descent you already see hundreds of species of fish all around you. At one stage I was completely surrounded by a school of Jack fish, it was spectacular. There were schools of barracudas and sharks and parrot fish and fish of all different rainbow colors.
We did three dives on Sipadan Island, one at South point, one at Barracuda point and the last one at the Drop off/turtle cave. The coral reef at the drop off is not like your usual reef that is on the bottom with you swimming above it, this reef is basically a wall that plummets 650m down to the bottom so you can just descend down in a vertical position and be astounded by what’s around you! I saw so many turtles that I lost count at a stage. We also went into a turtle cave about 12-15m down that was a pitch black cave where the turtles go to die. On your way out when you come to the light again you can see some turtle skeletons on the ground. It was unbelievable but also the one and only time I got scared underwater haha. There was a time when I was leaning quite close to the reef to see the coral and these tiny brilliant blue fish when I felt something under me, when I looked down it was a huge turtle and I had to lift my fins up so I didn’t scrape its shell!! Of all the fish and coral and things we saw I would say that the turtles are my favorite, they are just such beautiful creatures!

School of Jack fish!

Pushing the limits at 25m ;)

I was caught in the moment. I love this photo!

Gabby and I with our friend Craig we met at uncle Changs. He's also from South Africa.

The water was crystal clear!

This was definitely the most amazing part of the trip and I was quite sad to leave the Island behind. The people working at the resort were so friendly and even if the diving had not been worth it, just the people I met made it so worth while! The best part about travelling is the people you meet along the way. Someone who is in your life for a day or two but changes your whole perspective on certain topics and makes you open your eyes to opportunities you had never previously known existed.

Keep reading for more on our jungle adventure...