Published: September 25th 2009September 8th 2009
Part 3: When Joe, Justin and Jenny enter the other worldly realm of underwater exploration.
Semporna and the surrounding islands, are some of the best dive spots in the world. In fact, Sipidan, and island an hours ride away on boat is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It is home to so many underwater creatures and marine life that it is impossible not see at least a dozen turtles and sharks in one dive. This would have been great to experience, but alas we are not dive certified, and weren’t on the waiting list to dive there.
This last leg of the trip was our need or want for ocean and beach. Simple as that. We had decided even before leaving that the last few days of the trip would be well spent relaxing on a white sand beach under swaying palms while taking frequent trips to the sea. I was very much ready for this part of the trip by the time it came to it. I enjoyed my time in the jungle, but was quite frankly burnt out on monkeys and spiders.
Being the laid back easy going travelers that we are,
we figured showing up in the town of Semporna with out reservations would be no bother, but as it were the peak dive season for the area, most of the town hospitality was in use. Fear not rugged wanders, we shall find a place for our heavy bags and to rest our weary legs. Luckily the bus stop was close to the main drag of town and there were many options for accommodation, just not at this time.
After about an hour of trolling around the streets sweating and growing more impatient with the situation and each other, we found a cozy spot above an Indian restaurant. It wasn't the Hilton, but it did have AC and running us around $3 each a night, we decided to snatch it up before some other unprepared vagabonds came by to steal from us.
During the search for a room, I had walked into a few dive shops and found a company that could take us snorkeling the next day. So when it came to figure out our next plan of action, which was get set up for tomorrow's snorkeling adventure, we had just the place. The people at the shop
were really friendly and helpful, and got us set up on two consecutive days of oceanographic research.
That night we hit the local "dive" bar, pun intended, and put back a few tigers before calling it a night. This whole trip had been a constant of early morning rises. The latest I had slept in to this point was 7:30am on the first day. Since then it has been 6:00am wake ups, and this was going to be no different. The boats left at 8:30, which meant we had to be ready fed and packed for the day by 8:29. I slept well that night (with help from the AC) and was pumped for our first day of beach time. After a mild set back with the engine of our boat, we were off. Engine blasting away waves crashing against the hull as we did easily over the recommended knots out to the island. When we arrived I was grinning from ear to ear. The place was what you picture a tropical island would look like. It was quite the stereotypical island that we were all hoping for. The water was luke warm, and cyrstal clear. We swam around
Hanging out in the market
for quite a while barely cresting the jagged coral with our bodies in places, and came out ready to relax in the mid day sun.
Now this being the equator at roughly 12:00pm sharp, you would think that a quick dosage of 35spf sun screen, applied 3 hours ago, would do the trick. Well lets just say it doesn't help to fall asleep for a good hour in the sun with just your cool aviators to shield ya from the UV assault. One of my favorite re-tellings is by Justin, when he woke up from his own slumber. "I woke up after laying in the sun for far too long, and looked over and saw Joe's mouth wide open passed out on his back with his aviators on just taking in the rays." When I awoke, I felt that sun sensation. It's the one where you feel a little tingle where the sun is still attacking your body. Well ignorance is not bliss, in fact in this case it is a deep deep deep sun burning with heat stroke to follow. We had spent the entire day out on the island snorkeling and laying in the sun, that by
working on a building
the time we got back, I knew I was going to be "achy". I showered and looked at the incredible tan lines and then tried to put on a shirt. This was some of the most torturous activities I have had to do, and by the time I had it on, all I want was a beer to numb some of the residual pain left on my body.
I went down the Indian restaurant below our hotel and had small bite to eat and beer and quickly started feeling terrible. I had stomach pains that were not going away and I was weak. I didn't want to move at all, and sat there until Justin and Jenny came down to join me. They were pretty hungry, so we went to a place just down the road and ordered a beer and and some food. My stomach was still in bits and I couldn't even sip my beer let alone eat the fruit plate that I ordered. I felt that any sudden movements was going to put my stomach over the top and spew all over the table. I told the other two that I couldn't finish my food/drink and
everyone wanted their picture taken
that I was going to go back. This was the first time that I had gotten heat stroke, and it was bad. I bought a bottle of water and made my way back to the hotel. As soon as I hit the bed I was out. I made sure to chug as much water as possible and give my body a chance to recover. My last thoughts going through my head as I quickly entered dream land was, "we have another day of snorkeling tomorrow".
I slept the entire night from 7:30 to 7:30 with only waking up once to down more water. It seemed like my body was absorbing it before it even made it to my kidneys. I woke up feeling much better, and was thankful for that. I didn't want to spend my last full day lying in a hotel bed feeling like the sun had kicked me in the gut. We made sure to pick up SPF 50 sunscreen the next day and apply it almost religiously every hour. I was still burnt pretty bad along with Justin and Jenny, but we made sure to stay out of the sun as much as possible on
this trip. It was hard too, because this snorkeling adventure was off the island on an outer reef with large mounds of coral and big schools of fish swimming about.
The boat captain (if that is his title), fell asleep while the group was out snorkeling and the boat quickly drifted out into open water, that is dark blue water where you can't see the bottom. Justin had stayed on the boat this time, and I tried my best to stay near the reef. It got to a point though where I was tired and feeling the tingling sensation of the sun again and needed to get out of the water. The boat though had drifted about 50 yards out, and although that might not sound like a lot, the current was a battle. Plus swimming over dark blue open seas where sharks are known to patrol for easy prey, made it even more imperative that I make it back to the boat quickly. On the way though I noticed something rather large swimming below me. I couldn't make it out, all I saw was a dark shape underneath me, and it was big. I stayed calm and kept
a close eye on it. It began to get closer and come into view, and to my relief and surprise, it was a giant sea turtle. I dove down to where it was swimming only to scare it further away, but then it did an about face and headed back towards me. I got within 10 feet of it before I had to go back up for air. It was magnificent, I had not seen a sea turtle in the wild before and to be up close and personable with a 4 footer made my day. I forgot all about the sizzling on my back and tried to follow it on its journey. I am not a sea creature though and quickly found my limitations while frantically trying to stay with it while it casually swam further away. I figured that my day out snorkeling could not get any better, so with that I headed back to the boat. By this time Justin had woken up our sleepy captain and he had come closer for us to get back to the boat.
That night we took in our last bit of Borneo by seeing a Malaysian cover band and
singing along to a horrible rendition of bad moon rising, before the band broke into slow love ballad after slow slow love ballad. The next day we had to be at the bus stop at 6:00am for our bus ride back up to Sandakan. We hadn't asked how long it would take, and in the long run, I am glad we didn't. The bus turned out to be a run down 80's van stuffed with people and bags. We were still feeling the effects of the sun burn and long days, that all we wanted at this point was a comfortable seat and a good view. Instead we got a hard plastic seat and good view. I was hoping that the view would be a shorter one, oh let's say 3 hours, instead the bus ride took 6 grueling long hours that seemed to drain any patience we had left, and we retreated inwards for comfort. When we arrived at Sandakan, our first objective was food, which we lapped up with no regard for flavor. The next thing we needed to do was find a place for our bags, which we found at a very cool little hostel just down
the road. Now with time to spare we needed a plan. Our flight left that night and we had 6 hours to kill. I had seen a crocodile farm down the road and we went there to view a bit of carnage before heading back to the ROK. The one thing I took from this place was the fact that the crocodile tamers, or what ever the hell you call these people, looked so bored when handling these massive reptiles. I don't think even one of them broke a smile or made any emotion what so ever while putting there life milliseconds away from a 15 foot crocodiles mouth. Taxes must be hell for these guys.
The ride back was uneventful, thankfully, and we made it back to Seoul safe and sound. It is funny how coming back to Seoul really felt like coming home. I look back and think that if I was to fly home to Portland instead, it would have seemed that I would have been still on vacation. It was coming back to Korea that made the trip come to an end. I was glad to be back though. Don't get me wrong, if I
would've had more time and money, I would have liked to traveled around more, but being back in Korea was not a bad thing either. The vacation proved to be just the refresher I needed from the land of Kimchi and dong dong ju. That when I got back I found I had a bit more spring in my step about my being here.
Borneo was adventure filled and proved to be a lot different than what I had expected. I had envisioned a more primitive island, where jungle ruled supreme, and that we would be at the mercy of mother nature. Instead I got third world cities and pockets of untamed jungle. I'm glad I went to Borneo, not because it would be another place to mark of the list, but for the fact that I got see one of the last great unknowns of our time.
There are more photos below