Trip Start Jan 09, 2010
10Trip End May 20, 2010
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We stopped at the border to clear customs (incredibly painless, although Bea accidentally got her Singapore Student Pass card stuck in the passport reader) and then walked back to our bus on the Johor-Bahru side. I always love going through Singapore customs now - having a student pass means that you don't need to fill out any forms, or even talk to anyone - all you do is walk up to an automated gate, put your passport picture up to a reader, then put your thumb on a print reader, and voila - the gate opens
A relatively painless 3 hour bus ride later, we got off right in front of the Mersing jetty, and were quickly ushered to the boat company. Bea and Phil ran off to find an ATM while I dealt with tickets and sat waiting, increasingly nervous as the tide was going out and the boat had to leave with it. They eventually came back, but before proving yet again what I've been saying is true - this is why you travel with other people - so they don't let the boat leave without you! The small boat took us out to the deeper water where we transferred onto a bigger, air-con, enclosed boat (more like a wide bus on water, than anything else) that would take us for the rest of the two hour trip. Yet again, I spent pretty much the whole time looking out at the water and marveling at how blue it was. The islands we passed on the way had almost unreal-looking perfect white sand beaches and coves, but were clearly undeveloped, uninhabited.
When we finally got to Tioman, the boat made 5 or 6 stops at various villages/kampungs on the island (there are no roads to travel between villages, for the most part), until getting to the last stop (ours) at Salang Bay
We got to Ella's place and checked it out a bit - open air cafe, slightly dinged but super-bright paint, flowers outside, a sandy beach and hammocks strung from every tree! Deciding this was a good place to try, we got a room key and found our 3-person 'cottage' (it was really cute, nice and clean on the inside and had a bug net for sleeping under and a hammock on the front porch) and threw our things down, got settled, then went right back out to grab lunch. I think we must have eaten half our meals at the Salang Indah Resort restaurant, really close to the jetty, although the food situation didn't start going in our favour until the end of the second day - the things we got weren't very appealing for the first little bit, but by the end, we were running out of nights to try all of the food we wanted
Our scuba work for the day completed, we headed back to our rooms, changed, napped, showered and went for a swim to brush up some swimming/water-treading skills in anticipation of the water skills test that's part of a PADI dive course. The water was really fun, although not at all wavy. The tide was high, so we didn't have to go far, the ocean came almost right up to our door! (Okay, thats a slight exaggeration, but it was pretty close). The tide at Salang went up and down over 2 meters - which was a HUGE distance horizontally, so when the tide was low, it was quite a walk out to the water. The beach to the right of the jetty was sandier and a bit wavier as well, but our beach was fun despite being a bit rockier
After dinner, we met some friends of Phil's who happened to be doing a dive course as well and hung out for a bit then called it an early night so we could finish our homework for the next morning.
In the morning we had the first of many sets of banana pancakes (Malay style - more like banana roti than traditional western pancakes) where Phil continued to prove one of the themes of the weekend - namely, that he needed to eat two meals for every one of ours (mine and Bea's), while still being skinnier than either of us. Forget the fact that he never puts on weight, I just don't understand where it all GOES - how does all this food fit inside this guy?? Ella makes a mean pancake though, it must be said.
That morning we had a couple more theory sessions, and got to go out on our first 'confined water' dive (basically just really shallow water) and breathe underwater for the first time while practicing some basic skills - mask clearing (getting water out of your mask while underwater, respirator recovery, what to do in an out-of-air emergency, etc
The afternoon passed much the same way, but we got to go on our first real dive (only up to 7 or 8 meters, I think) at the reef that was swimming distance (really close to the shore) and we saw so much - fish or so many colours, sting rays, pufferfish (these look like rocks painted with faded american camouflage) and even a sea turtle! Super cool! Although it was a bit hard to control our buoyancy at first - its sort of counter intuitive to put more air into your BCD (buoyancy control device) as you go deeper, and to let all the air out of it when you want to go up. But I got it mostly figured out by the end - the weightlessness of scuba diving is a really weird feeling - you breath in and you have more air in your lungs so you start floating up, and then you breath out and you start sinking - its like a low-speed roller coaster.
After another early evening, and another set of pancakes (coconut this time, for variety) we passed another fun day doing skills, some classroom work and another shore dive at the nearby reef, getting to know some more of the emergency procedures and skills, and learning to control our buoyancy underwater a bit better
And finally, there came Monday - we started early, had one and a half breakfasts (for Bea and I - Phil had his usual two), then went and took the theory exam (yay, we all scored over 90%) then suited up and got our gear ready for our boat dives, got into the boat then struck out across the choppy waves to our next dive site. When the boat anchored, we learned how to do a boat entry - the 'giant step' - then sank into this incredible world FULL of fish and beautiful coral. We saw bat fish (big and 'tall' but really thin - I pointed one out to Jon and he tried to mime the name to me underwater, but then I just got confused as to why he wanted me to hit the fish with a baseball bat) and yellow-fin barracuda, clownfish swimming in their flowing sea anemones, big fish, small fish in schools that moved as if they had one mind and surrounded you on every side, fish of a single bright colour and stripped fish, fish that were every colour all in one and fish that were no colour - so transparent you could only see them from a certain angle
A short break for lunch while we dove to the next site (yum, watermelon is the best dessert), where we had our swim test and float test (300 meter swim with fins or 200 m without, plus 10 minutes treading water), which we all happily passed! Then we learned another boat entry - the backwards drop (sit on the edge of the boat, hold one hand on your weight belt, one on your mask, breathe through your respirator and just drop into the water backwards). This dive didn't have great visibility, but it was still really fun. At one point, Jon even picked up a sea urchin and let it scuttle across his hand - apparently this is a "don't try it at home" kind of activity, but it was cool to see.
Then came the end - we cleaned our gear for the last time, wrote our last dive-log entries, got our temporary certification cards and took pictures then said goodbye to Jon and Kelly (although my camera chose this moment to go on the fritz, so I'm still waiting for Bea and Phil to send me the photos)