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Published: September 7th 2007
To be honest, I didn't even know what Sipadan was until this past May. My friend Jonathan went there during Golden Week and came back raving about the incredible diving. At the same time I was with Mr. Germany in Bali getting my PADI open-water, realizing that I wanted to do some more diving in southeast Asia before returning to America. While in Bali I was thinking of going to peninsular Malaysia to the Perentian Islands, but after talking to Jonathan, I was sold and bound for Borneo post-JET. Sipadan was my main purpose to go to Borneo, Uncle Tan's and the mountain wonderful stops along the way. When I first started to plan borneo, I wasn't even going to hike Mt. Kinabalu! What a waste that would have been. So, for my last entry from Borneo sit back and read about my time in Sipadan mainly spent below the surface.
Jacques Cousteau has said that Sipadan is the best diving in the world. I had to go see for myself. I didn't know if anything along my travels would be able to top summiting Mt. Kinabalu, but I was definitely wrong. Diving at Sipadan was one of the most
spiritual things I have ever done (as cheesy as that sounds there is no other way to describe it).
When I first arrived in Semporna my first thought was "I have entered the armpit of Malaysia." It was dirty, hot, and just flat out poor. I was corrected by my dive instructor who claimed it was the "asshole of the world." The town and the diving is so separate. There is literally 4 blocks of diving shops and hostels, and then you get to the real Semporna. I had never witnessed such a divide in tourism and the culture. Its sad to think that most of the people living there probably can't swim, and may not even know what Sipadan is or ever get to go there.
I was whisked away by a scuba-junkie employee to the Scuba Junkie hostel, my home for the next 4 nights. The beautiful Malaysian receptionist named Ann showed me to my dorm bed. I was hot, sweaty, and a bit overwhelmed by everything. She asked if I was okay and I replied "I think so...." I showered and started to unpack my bag on my bunk to claim it as my space.
There were 10 other beds in the room but no one to be found. After my shower I headed over to the dive shop and found out I could start my advanced open water course (AOWC) a day early. Sweet Deal! That night I met up with 5 Dutch guys who were also staying in my room. We went for some beers and a relaxed meal. I gave them the name as my "Dutch Backstreet Boys." Day 1: Mabul
I hadn't been in the water since May, so was a bit timid. Dan was my instructor and acted like I knew exactly what I was doing...I decided to play along. It was my first time to enter the water by falling back off the boat. It turned out to be quite fun! Mabul is famous for its "muck diving" and finding little critters buried in the sand. Within the first 5 minutes I was standing at the base of a tornado of thousands of jackfish. It was unbelievable. I had never see so many fish in my entire life and that close to me as well. There were so many fish that standing under them it got dark.
After that we saw some frog fish, lion fish, and soooo many more I can't even remember the names of all of them. It was unreal and I quickly remembered how much I love being under water. After that we headed to the oil rig hotel just off the coast of Mabul and jumped in directly underneath it. I began My AOWC here. my first of the 5 dives was naturalist, which basically meant I was playing charades underwater. Again, the amount of wildlife underwater was amazing. At other dive sites around the world that I have been to you boast about seeing one lion fish, or one sea turtle, and here, you see soooo many you lose count! For my last dive I did my second of the 5 called Navigation, which involved me using a compass underwater. On that dive again saw large schools of fish, sting rays, and my favorite was a sand eel! Day 2: Sibuan
You know how everyone always talks about getting stranded on a deserted island? Well Sibuan is definitely that deserted island that you imagine in your head. You can walk around the entire island in 20 minutes, the
sand is pure white, and the only inhabitants are a handful of filippinos. For the first dive of the day I was going down 30 M for my deep dive to see if I got nitrogen narcosis. About 20 M down I hear a huge BOOM as if someone's tank had exploded. It was so powerful I felt it in my chest. I started to panic- the WORST thing to do! The dive instructor who was my buddy and used to the noises, kept swimming on. Fortunately some of other divers were behind me giving me confidence to go down further. At this point I had no idea what it was. Then, it happened again! Thank God for the Swedish couple with me, otherwise I would have been toast. After the dive we found out that it was dynamite fishing going on 10 km away. It was horrifying! On the upside, a great dive and I saw my first turtle, and passed the deep dive test. The second 2 dives were also wonderful. At the third site they often saw whale sharks, but we came up empty handed. I also did the 4th of my AOWC, photography. Those photos are
definitely awful and the wonderful underwater shots on my blog are from an instructor, NOT me!
Three dives was just not enough, so I went out for my first ever night dive. It was...okay...and I experienced vertigo for my first time. It's definitely not my favorite thing to do! Day 3: SIPADAN!!!!
Just like the morning I started to hike Mt. Kinabalu, the morning of my dive at Sipadan felt like Christmas. I felt like the boat would never get there! Once our boat settled just off the coast of Sipadan, sea turtles started to pop their heads up everywhere. I will say that I will NEVER EVER get tired of sea turtles and are on the top of my favorite animal list. They are absolutely amazing and graceful creatures! Sipadan....all three dives....I still get shivers and butterflies in my stomach thinking about them. Unreal, amazing, stupendous, and as I said, spiritual. It's the first thing I talk about to other travelers, and I think I have convince so many people to go there. We jumped in the water and within a minute saw sharks. Usually you see one at a time. There were so
many swimming below me I couldn't keep count! There were turtles everywhere. Near the end of the first dive the instructor pointed just above my left shoulder. As I look to see what he is pointing at, a turtle is swimming just above me, scaring the daylights out of me! They were sooooo close you could touch them but of course we didn't. The best dive of my life was our second one at Barracuda Point. Sooooo many fish, turtles, amazing coral, and the main attraction is a school of thousands of barracuda. We all stopped to see this amazing site. Somehow I ended up closest to the school. At one point I had 1M long barracudas swimming 5 feet in front of me and above me, and a sea turtle the same size as me to my left...I was surrounded by sooo much incredible marine life! Words and even the photos can't describe what it was like to dive there.
None of the dive instructors are paid. They just get free diving, room and board. A rather tough life and not getting paid. But, after diving at Barracuda Point, I can see why being a dive instructor is
worthwhile. It's waiting for dives like Barracuda Point that make the long hours, annoying customers, and shitty food at Scuba Junkie worthwhile.
That night I hung out with friends and indulged in one too many beers since I wasn't diving the next day. I also had to pay which definitely melted my credit card just a bit. I wish I could have stayed longer to dive, but I couldn't afford it any more. The next morning, still on my high from Sipadan (which a month later I still have...) I left for KL.
In conclusion, Cousteau was right, Sipadan is pretty damn amazing. I have only begun to dive and can't claim its the best in the world just yet. Diving is a drug, and I can see myself doing a lot of it sooner than later.
Sipadan....completely amazing and wonderful.
**I must give credit to Damian Curtin who took all the amazing underwater shots and said i could use for my blog. ****
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