So after the Philippines, we went to Malaysia and did some really fun stuff in Borneo. I'm going to skip ahead to the diving, leaving the Kinabatangan River to another blog.
Anyway, we met some pretty cool people on our river trip, including Peter Rogan, a Brit living in Australia. After viewing the wildlife, it was time for something else. Peter said he was heading down to Semporna to try and get in some diving in Sipadan. We'd never heard of Sipadan, but according to a couple of web reviews, it's one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
What the heck? We decided to tag along with Peter and see if we could go diving there. . .
The Malaysian government limits access to Sipadan Island to 120 people / day, including divemasters. We tried to get onto a trip with Scuba Junkies, but they were booked up for weeks. Peter walked around and found a trip a couple of days out with http://www.sipadanscuba.com/. In addition, we booked a day trip to Mabul Island with Scuba Junkies, staying in their resort for a night.
First up was Mabul. Our divemaster for the day was Aziz. Peter had seen him singing with his band the night before and he kept the energy up all day for us. I don't know why, but they were really loving Gandan Style in Malaysia. Aziz kept singing bits of it all day. Even though the song is super silly, it has a fun energy to it and I started going along with it too. Too easily swayed, I guess. . .
We did 3 dives there, with Aziz showing us lots of cool stuff. No dive camera so no pics. You'll have to take my word for how cool the things we saw were. The first dive was on Lobster Wall. Interestingly, there are no lobsters on Lobster Wall. However, there were turtles and lots of cool fish and coral. Our second dive was on an oil platform that had been repurposed as a hotel(http://www.seaventuresdive.com/). Strange, but true. Turns out, it was a pretty good dive. There were lots of artificial reefs there and some pretty big fish had moved in, including a HUGE grouper that swam around us. That fish was easily over 100 lbs!
The third dive of the day is what they call a muck dive. We entered the water right next to the dock and we went down to a sandy bottom. WTF? What kind of boring dive have they set us up for? Then, Aziz pointed out some garden eels, then a chunk of soft coral. Hold on, he poked it and it turned out that it was a frogfish. They have really big dorsal fins that they walk around on. This dive also had some artificial reefs. At one of the reefs, a HUGE cuttlefish was hanging out, posing for pictures. The real star of this dive though were the turtles. Really big green turtles were just hanging out, not minding all the divers around them. At one point, Val was waiting to get a closer look at the cuttlefish when a turtle brushed past her. Too cool.
After this dive, we hung out at the Scuba Junkies resort on Mabul. It was clean and had intermittent WiFi. Not fast enough to upload anything, but fast enough to check email if you weren't in a hurry. They had a big restaurant too and our meals were included in our time there. We stayed in the dorms, which didn't have air conditioning. Not a problem until the power went out in the middle of the night and the fans stopped. It got sweltering very quickly.
Rather than diving the next day, we took a rest day and explored the island. That didn't take very long, but we took our time and enjoyed it. The village on the island houses some Sea Gypsies, who often don't belong to any country. These guys were Malaysian though and appeared to living a subsistence life, fishing and selling trinkets to tourists. Unfortunately, their children had learned how to beg.
The next day was the big day! We were going to dive on Sipadan Island. Peter rented an underwater camera and we shared the cost. Pardon the pic quality, but it turns out that underwater photography is not all that easy, especially with a camera that you've never used before. It was a fairly basic point and shoot, but we still had trouble making things work the way we wanted all the time. The one thing that really frustrated me was not knowing how to turn the flash on all the time.
What makes Sipadan such a great dive spot is that it is an extinct volcano that rises from over 500m to the surface. This creates an upwelling of nutrients, which pulls in small fish, which attract bigger fish. The walls surrounding the island drop off quickly and are super steep.
A Seaweed farm on the way to the island
When we started the dive, we got to hang out with a bunch of jacks. Even better, we were able to swim with them!
Just another crappy day in paradise...
Peter with a couple of big fish in the background. Can't see the sharks!
Val with the big fish
Val uploaded a bunch more photos and they can be seen here:
Not sure when we'll get the photos up for our trip on the Kinabatangan River up. We head into Malaysia again and am not sure when we'll have good internet again.