Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sipadan Part 2 - Eat, Sleep and Dive


When we reached Seaventures Dive Rig, we were greeted with cheerful 'hellos' and a cold glass of orange juice (Tang I think...). Then, the very first thing we were required to do was to sign the disclaimer! It basically cleared the dive operator of any responsibility if anything untoward happened to us!

Anyway, after putting away our things and having lunch we had our orientation dive. We were assigned a Chinese dive guide who was originally from Guangzhou, but was previously working in the Philippines. There was a bit of communication difficulty, as our mandarin isn't that great!


For the orientation dive, we were brought to the house reef, right below the rig. The water was calm and we managed to take some photos, but they did not turn out very well because we were not very familiar with the strobe (flash attached to an adjustable arm) and it's positioning. They used to have resident pygmy seahorses at their house reef, but unfortunately they've all gone!! It's so sad. They're really tiny (1-2cm) creatures and they must have died out, because I don't think they can swim very far to move house!!


Anyway, later that day, we took a boat to the nearby Mabul Island and saw some huge turtles. However, the current was abnormally strong, so it was rather tiring and not as enjoyable as it could have been. Hubby and I initially planned a night dive at the house reef, but scrapped that plan because we were worried about the current and also we had to leave the rig at 5:30 am for the boat ride to Sipadan Island the next day.

That day, a few guests left, and there was only Hubby, me and another French guy name Julien. Since there was only the three of us, we were served a sit-down, three course meal which was quite good, considering the fact that it was not a hotel :) Hubby said the food had improved vastly since his last trip there two years ago.

Julien entertained us with his stories from feeding sharks in Africa, to seeing a whale in the Galapagos Islands! There was also Ricardo, a Spaniard who was a dive guide on a 2-week work/ holiday there at Seaventures. He told us how, from working office hours and owning a pub in Spain, then couch-surfing and delivering sandwiches in the UK, he ended up working as a dive guide in Vietnam! 'Interesting' is all I can say of their adventurous lives which are so, so different from ours!! :)

So anyway, the next day, it was still dark when we got up and had a light brekkie of buttered toast. We were finally going to Sipadan! It was a 15 min ride to Sipadan Island and when we got there, we had to first register ourselves at the office. Then, we went to our first stop, the best diving site on Sipadan; Barracuda Point.


On this first trip, we were lucky enough to see all three of the famous 'big fishies' which swim in large schools, namely the Barracuda, Jacks and Bumphead Wrasse. Apparently, Barracudas love strong currents, and since it wasn't so strong that morning, we only saw a small school. But I'm not complaining! There was plenty of fish to see! The school of Jacks was so dense, it was like a solid 'wall' of fish!

Everything was so beautiful and colourful, like a scene from 'Finding Nemo'! It was like a whole other world, an underwater utopia! The peaceful quiet and serenity which comes with diving contributed to the dream-like beauty of the place.


 Speaking of peaceful quiet, I did hear a faint "boom" while diving and I remembered what Hubby told me. Apparently, there is another island around the area called Pom Pom Island. It is called that because fishermen illegally use explosives to stun the fish which float up and are then easily collected! It is quite a distance off, in fact, but sound travels very well in water! Interesting eh?

Anyway, after the first dive, we went back to Sipadan Island and had breakfast at the rest house. There were many divers from different countries spending their surface interval time (you have to spend a certain amount of time above water in between dives) chatting animatedly about their dive at this world-class location! The island also acts as an army base, as it is very near Malaysia-Philippines borders and also for more security since the tragic mishap, about 10 years ago, where the Abu Sayaff terrorists kidnapped a group of tourists!


Well, later that morning, we had another 2 dives, one to South Point and another trip again to Barracuda Point, as Julien was into 'big things' and wanted Barracuda Point to be the site of his last dive since he was leaving later that afternoon. Divers can be divided into 2 main groups; those who like the 'big stuff', like manta rays, sharks, turtles, barracudas... etc. and those who are into macro photography of the 'small stuff' like nudibranches, shrimps, crabs... etc. I suppose Hubby and I are a bit of both.


There was plenty of 'big stuff' to see at Sipadan. There were reef sharks and huge turtles aplenty! The dive master said that if you didn't see a shark or a turtle, you could get your money back!! :)

After three dives at Sipadan, we went back to the rig and had lunch. I was totally knackered that first day at Sipadan and felt a little nauseated. I couldn't wait to get back to the room and sleep!!

That evening, after a good nap, we were debating between a night dive, or the optional sunset dive to Mabul Island to see the two famous Mandarin fish that make daily appearances at 5:15 pm every evening! We decided to see the famous pair and luckily we did, because a group (another 3 new guests had arrived that day) had tried to do a night dive that night and had to abort due to strong currents.

In the end, we never did a night dive throughout our whole stay, but the sunset dive was very pleasant indeed, we went down in the evening and surfaced an hour later, when the day was in the process of getting dark. We could still see, but had to use our torches to help get a better view. The two Mandarin fish were tiny things (about 5 cm in length) and the poor creatures were surrounded by so many divers snapping away at them like the paparazzi! You would have thought the pair were Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt!! But I think they're so sweet though, the way they stay in pairs and come out ritually every evening! (The Mandarin fish that is, not Brangelina...)

(stole this pic off the internet... we couldn't get a single decent photo because the poor things were hiding among the sea urchins! - they're prettier than Brad and Angie dontcha think?)

 Anyway, that night we had another nice sit down dinner and got to know the 3 new house guests. Bernadette was from the UK and works with SAP systems and had been travelling for 2-3 months. Cheraq was a lawyer from Bombay who had something to say about everything and always somehow managed (through no fault of his own, so he claims) to delay everyone. Essi was a primary school teacher from Finland who had been travelling for 9 months! This is not her first long trip and Hubby got it right when he said that a lot of people dream to do what she has done, but few ever have the guts to really do it!

It was another early night, as the 5 of us would have to get up before sunrise for another trip to Sipadan the next day! Joy!

That day, the first stop was again, Barracuda Point! I didn't mind, since that was the best spot anyway! Then we did Coral Gardens, and then South Point again. This time, I wasn't feeling nauseated, because I took some pills before heading out! :) It was another beautiful day of marvellous diving!

After lunch, Hubby and I were still full of energy, so we decided to explore the house reef. Essi came along, and it was a relaxing dive. We took our time, hanging about and going slowly, scavenging the sea floor for macrolife to photograph. It was amazing that there was so much sea life to see, just under the rig itself. Since they throw food down to the sea from the rig, it makes the bottom rich with nutrients which encourages macrolife.

After the dive and an hour surface interval, Hubby and I went down again, because we didn't manage to find the resident Flamboyant Cuttlefish in the last dive. This time, we still couldn't find it, and the current became rather strong after a while, so we gave up. We did 5 dives that day, as much as we could, because the next day would be the last! :(

Standing, L-R: Ricardo, Bin our Chinese dive guide, Annie's boyfriend and Annie.  
Sitting, L-R: Essi, Hubby, me and Cheraq. (Ulysses and Bernadette sitting at the table behind)

That night was our last dinner. It was buffet-style this time and we got to know another Malaysian couple who had arrived that day. There was still space on the boat to Sipadan the next day, but Hubby and I decided to go to Kapalai Island instead to look for more macro stuff to photograph.

On the last day, we went to Kapalai Island, which is not really an island at all. It is an atoll, where land can only be seen during low tide. The resort there looks gorgeous, with bungalows standing on stilts right above the water! We must stay there the next time we plan a trip to Sipadan! :)

It was a good dive, with so many beautiful and colourful things to photograph! We spent a whole hour just covering a small 10m square area from where we got off the boat! Hubby was totally engrossed in the task of photographing mini creatures which were not too happy to have their space invaded!

(FYI: this pretty thing is as poisonous as the blue-ringed octopus, which is really poisonous!)

It was indeed a pleasant surprise when the dive guides pointed out a Flamboyant Cuttlefish to us! When we were in Manado last year, I saw one but did not manage to take a decent picture. Hubby totally did not see it... I think he was off goofing around with the others! Then we couldn't find it at the Seaventures house reef the day before, so we were really happy to find it then and Hubby took a gazillion photos of it! Though I think only one shot turned out pretty decent!

The second dive that day, we went to the nearby Mabul Island again, but this time it was a different dive site, called Froggy Lair, obviously there were many frogfishes to be seen there! The place had many artificial wooden structures, built to encourage reef life. A huge school of Jacks had made the place their home and it was like Jack traffic jam down there, with them swimming in schools and lines!

There wasn't as many macro things to see there, so Hubby and I agreed that we just have to return to Kapalai Island again one day. It was quite fun searching for frogfishes though. Their camouflages are so brilliant, sometimes it is right in front of your face before you realize it's a fish!! :)

When we got back to the rig, it was time for lunch and after that we would have to pack up and ship out! :( Bernadette, Cheraq and Essi were also leaving that day. Just in time too, because as we left, a huge group of 15 and another few arrived. With so many guests, they would not have the luxury of visiting Sipadan Island for more than a day. So I guess we were all very lucky to have gone for 2 days.

So, that was it, 13 dives over 4 days and 3 nights. Yes, it was a blast! I am already looking forward to next year's trip!! :)


Anyway, the boat sent us to Semporna, where a van waited to send us to Tawau. Thus began our journey home. 'Sipadan Part 3- eating our way home' will be detailed in my next post!

10 comments:

  1. fun fun fun!! By reading this I'm already salivating to go! Hope I can get there by Raya this year.

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  2. Yes Girl! It was a great trip! Must go back also! :)

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  3. Hi Priscilla, Holy Smoke! You a scuba diver, hubby too? Wow! I am impressed. First time see a mother a certified scuba diver. Outstanding. And the underwater pics are fantastic.

    I was only a swimming pool diver, ha ha, but used to swim underwater couple of minutes when at Pulau Kapas and Pulau Perhentian in East Coast old days.

    Very interesting, exciting reading thru your diving adventures. And pity about those seahorses, I love to see them.
    No lobsters? Love the pic of that shark.....your pics are great! Very clear and sharp for underwater.

    Priscilla, I am impressed.....come to think of it, my old days I knew SYTs with many talents, but never knew or met one with diving talents....and funny enough, I never thought of taking up scuba diving....prefer other activities, ha ha, like studying the moon, ha ha ha.
    You have fun and keep well, hugs to the gang, Lee.

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  5. stephanie garvinJune 17, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    fantastic trip priscilla! wonderful pics. my boy-boy loved looking at them! hopefully it'll inspire him to go swim in the sea!(:

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  6. Thanks Uncle Lee, the pictures were taken by Hubby. He especially likes the shark one too!

    I think scuba diving has become very popular only recently. I guess cheaper air travel now helps also.

    Yes, I think moon studies will hold your interest more??!! :)

    Have a good many-mooned weekend!!

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  7. Hi Steph! Thanks! Yes it was a wonderful trip! I'm sure your boy boy will love the water! Most kids do right? take care! :)

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  8. I can't wait any moreee till october..:) I'm planning an Ecuador Galapagos travel, I wanted to ask you for suggestions o recomendations for the trip? hope you can help me :) thanks

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  9. Hi Carol, I'm sorry I've never been there so can't offer any advice! I'd love to go someday...lucky you! Have fun!

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