Diving for Turtles, Earaches & Ants in the Sugar

Trip Start Oct 22, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Thursday, July 9, 2009

So I flew from Kuala Lumpur to this island called Borneo which is just off the mainland of Malaysia... the purpose?  to go scuba diving in this place called Sipidan which is supposed to be the best in the world and is now being nominated to be elected as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world... The allure?  miles and miles of coral reef dipping down to a seemingly endless bottom of a monstrous 600 meters.  As divers are only going to a depth of about 30 meters, this seems like a massive amount of untouched and unadulterated underwaterlife a great source of excitement for avid divers. 

Im really not a scuba junkie as some would call it... I dont live and breathe to see my next cuddlefish or eel ray... I dive for the cool experience of seeing something I haven't before and doing something I wouldn't normally do... the challenge of it is invigorating and the impacts of seeing something amazing... last a lifetime.  Even still, I was driven or crazy enough to get the prestigious PADI certifications that seem to be all the rave amongst divers.  The first, my Open Water Certication is a beginners level certificate that basically ensures you know how to survive if something bad were to happen under water.... the second certificate, the Advanced Open Water certifies that you are more experienced and can do independent diving without the need of an instructor or a Master Diver with you.  I decided to get this certificate while I was diving off the Island of Mabul and the Island of Sipidan.
Sipidan... the elusive and amazing Sipidan.  When I arrived in Semporno after a long and arduous bus journey my full intent was to just get in, got off, get out...:-)... yes, I just wanted to go see what it was, determine if it was worth it and move right along.  However, while making my booking arrangements, I met the other diver going on the same journey as I was.... he went on and on about the great fish, the beautiful scenery and the advantages of being your very own independent diver and how important that was.  I buckled and decided I must do this advanced course or I would never be the same again and live in forever worth of regret. 

I arrived on June 30th... when I booked the journey I was told that there are permits required to dive on Sipidan.  Yes they only allow 120 divers in the area per day.  The Island itself is guarded by Malaysian army men standing around with machine guns as they are protecting the Island from the Philippino version of Al-Queda.  In the past, there have been tourists taken captive on the island by "pirates" and held for ransom.  To protect against this now, the island is manned 24x7 and 365 days of the year.  Its also because there is a great debate going on about who actually owns the island... is it Malaysian, Indonesian or Philippino?  Well, the last man standing wins apparently because currently the Malays are on it.  So my permit was available for July the 6th only... that means 5 days of nothing, 5 days of diving, or going home without diving Sipidan which was not a great option.  I chose option number 2.  Might as well dive instead of doing nothing which is also why I chose to take the advanced open water course.

Off we went then after a grimy and gritty stay in the Billabong Inn... with dirty walls, drippy taps and an air conditioner that didnt work... the next morning we went off to the island.  Now keep in mind here, I've just taken a 24 train ride from Bangkok down to Kuala Lumpur, then a plane ride from KL to a grimy little town on the Island of Borneo called KK... a 12 hour bus ride to Sipilok to see Orangutans, then another 7 hour bus ride to Semporno, now we are on a 1 hour boat ride to the Island of Mabul where we are within viewing distance of the prestigious Sipidan Island. 

The boat ride comes and we get rained on... no seriously poured on almost the entire way to Mabul island.  We arrive at about 9 in the morning and they tell me to get my gear on we are going diving.  My heart is in my throat... I've only just met these people!! What if they are terrible divers!

Anyways, I survive... for the next 5 days they take me on a variety of night dives and wreck dives and lobster wall dives.  It was fun, I see massive turtles including one called Elvis that is over 100 years old and is the size of my Dad or larger.  We saw some large sharks and some nudibranches, some big fish the size of me and some weird little fish the size of a little needle, we saw big swarms of fish that were hanging out together at the top of the water you could not see the light from the sky coming trhough the water, if was almost claustrophobic looking at them all.  After a while I was so used to breathing under water it was weird to take a breath above the water.... but thats when it all unwinds for me...

After a few dives, I realize that my little earache I started to get while in Phuket is back with a vengence!  And this time it is not going away... within a few hours of arriving I am completely deaf in my right ear!  I feel so much pain in my ear that it feels like someone is scraping out the inside of my head with a spoon and pulling it out of my ear.  Im in pain and miserable.  I manage to keep it together for a while though... even though the facilities leave much to be desired.  Within a few days I realize that they serve the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day... yes EVERY day.  Eggs for breakfast with beans and noodles, fish for lunch with veggies and rice, fried bananas for snack after diving and chicken with rice and veggies for dinner...

The life of a diver is really quite dull in my opinion... when you arent diving, you are sitting around putting in your surfact time until you can get your next dive in... on this particular island, there is only electricity from 7 pm to midnight every day so no internet, no tv and no air conditionining. 

It wasnt until the 3rd day I realized that oh my god, Im in pain, its getting worse and I need to self medicate.  I start drugging myself up with aspirin and spending time by myself in my room trying to re-charge my batteries.  I was lucky enough to find an inspiring author of a great book while on the island so that kept me busy between dives. 

Every day to me at this point becomes a count down to the Sipidan dive but as the day gets closer I realize diving is becoming more and more difficult.  The morning arrives and sure enough I am sicker than a dog... my equilibrium is completely off and Im nauseous!  My ear is splitting my head apart with the pain and Im in a massive uproar of a mood... do I dive Sipidan with an earache so bad I feel I could scream? 


Dive I did... miserable as anything... I get down there, see a few sharks and turtles realize that Im going to die or be deaf the rest of my life quite possibly if I dont go up.  In total I spent 32 minutes under water on Sipidan... so yes, I got in, got off, got out... spent the rest of the day on the island by the toilet trying not to hurl myself down the toilet. 

The ants... well once you get sick on an island, in a remote country, miles from home you are never the same again... your impression of the place changes completely... where my first impressions of malaysia were that this place was super cool, the later impressions were that I hated this place with a deep and bitter passion that will haunt me for an eternity...the last straw was the ants in the sugar bowl...

After "diving" (more like trying not to hurl on) Sipidan...I decided I NEEDED a cup of tea or something comforting... I go to put the sugar in my tea and find that there are ants crawling all over inside the sugar jar..... at which point I just about lose it and decide to hurl myself down the discusting toilet bowl at the back of the long house!

I could not get off of that little island fast enough...I told my new found buddies Im done... gone out of here... see you in Bali some day and I was off... waiting for transport off the island and gone back to Semporna... bye bye Sipidan!  Love the turtles, thanks for the memories of the ants!

To be continued...
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