Up against the wall

Trip Start Mar 19, 2008
Trip End Jun 05, 2008

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Where I stayed
Sipadan Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Monday, May 12, 2008

After Uncle Tan's we decided to take on more wildlife - this time under water. And there's very few better underwater wildlife spots in the world then the very very small island of Sipadan, about 2 hours from Semporna.

Getting there proved a little worrying. We, along with our Uncle Tan friends Anwar, Kate and John, took a local bus from the river down to Semporna. It's a fair drive, especially in cramped conditions in the back of a mini-bus with about 10 members of one local familly. About 3 miles out from Semporna the poor buses clutch gave way and ground and crunched our way into town.

It's a fairly dismal town to be fair. It draws tourist types solely for its proximity to lots of very fine Scuba diving. We'd decided that we were going to go the whole hog and I'd take a scuba refresher course and Lisa would do an introductory dive. That way we could both get down to see what the local coral had to offer.

Our first days diving was at the little island of Sibuan, about 2 hours north of Semporna. We doned our heavy scuba gear and walked in from the shore. This being an introductory and refresher dive, they're supposed to go through the safety bits and bobs with you before you go in - considering I hadn't dived in 8 years and Lisa never had - we needed any info they'd give us. But without too much ceremony our instructors were firing through all the safety instructions and yanking our masks off under water to test us in the shallows. They kept signalling clever underwater hand-signals that neither of us understood. Sadly, when Lisa got down to about 10 metres underwater, she had severe problems equalising her ears (y'know, when you try to make your ears pop?). This can be excrutiating and dangerous, I had a dive buddy once who perforated her eardrum doing just this. So Lisa decided to give it a miss and retain her hearing. Mind you, the instructor taking her down wasn't particularly helpful and seemed put out by our inability. What'd she expect?

Meanwhile I was underwater floucing around like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Or rather trying very hard to breath normally and stay underwater. Who'd have thought I wouldn't be able to sink! That was a turn up for the books.

Sadly Lisa had to sit the next two dives out while I got to see my first Green Turtle swimming away into the murk - bloody huge! But when I surfaced it looked like she was having more fun. She'd befriended the local sea gypsy kids that lived on the tiny island and when we got to shore I could see she'd gained quite a following, mainly due to her unique sand sculptures. I was as much at a loss as the kids were but Lisa maintains it was a sand turtle she created. I should have taken a picture of it. The kids were lovely. Really smiley and curious. Although they were terrified of the local army people based on the island and would do a runner whenever they passed in boats. We took a walk around the little island and saw just how simply these kids lived. They were very excited about seeing themselves in my camera. I think we were a hit.

The next day was to be the exciting day - off to Sipadan! The reason the island is such a dive mecca is that it's the top of a huge tower that sprouts from the bottom of the ocean a long way down. This means that about 20 yards out from the beach there's a drop off and it's basically a wall the whole way down to the bottom. Fish love this!

The boat ride out was bumpy to say the least. This place is normally flat as a pancake but we got a bit unlucky. It was bang bang bang for two hours out to the island as our flat bottomed boat hit the water hard. Good for the stomach.

Diving on Sipadan was spectacular. In the 3 dives we spotted dozens of turtles (Green and Hawkbill incase anyone is interested), white tipped and black tipped reef sharks (not so scary until you see one slide past out of the corner of your eye), we swam through a huge swirling shoal of Barracuda and saw many many other wonderfully colourful fish and coral. What most fascinated me was the drop below. You just sat in the current 20 metres down and drifted along with a wall of coral in front of you, while the ocean dropped away for ever below you. It was wonderful.

So after a full day of diving we headed back (accompanied by a couple of dolphins at one point!) to grimy Semporna. The beauty is definitely underwater around here.
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