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Published: August 28th 2013
After an amazing 7 weeks of volcanoes, beaches, scooters and boats it came time to bid Indonesia goodbye. I absolutely loved my stay in spite of the fact that I have merely scratched the surface of the country. I will have to save Java, Sumatra and Sulawasi for another trip as I clearly had underestimated the enormity of the country and the tediously long bus trips and ferries that made many of the farther away islands an impossibility while holding a 60 day visa. Interestingly, leaving Indonesia felt like the conclusion of my journey; a familiar feeling after many years of 7-8 week summer trips. However, instead of arriving home, a new adventure lay just to the north and a new trip began.
How Malaysia turned up on my travel itinerary was by pure accident. A miscommunication with Minka, my German friend who I had met in Thailand 2 years ago, led to a serendipitous detour to a country that frankly I would not have otherwise included. After a fruitless "sleep" on a cold tile floor at Kuala Lumpur's airport, I met up with Minka and immediately boarded a plane to the humid jungles of Malaysian Borneo (as opposed to
Indonesian Borneo, hence the miscommunication).
I have a hunch that blogs (god, I still hate that word) are much like car races. Many people enjoy the event for what it is and want to find out how it all unfolds while others enjoy the potential car crashes. If you are part of the latter group, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.
My informal bucketlist has always included viewing one of my favorite animals; the orangutan.Their ginger fur, goofy grins and old man/Benjamin Button faces along with their curious personalities have always made them a favorite of mine. A rehabilitation centre seemed like a great place to start and sure enough they arrived en force with the arrival of the banana toting park ranger who distributed fruit while fending off the less welcomed short tail macaques. At the two feedings we observed, the orangutans barely gave notice to the hordes of camera flashes from dozens of fellow tourists eager for their National Geographic moment.
Seeing orangutans in the semi wild settings of the rehabilitation centre was pleasant, however we crossed our fingers and hoped for a more authentic experience along a boat cruise down the Sungai
Kinabatan River where we would stay in a boat access only, all inclusive "resort". Boarding the boat, I lowered my expectations but was treated to an extraordinary display by dozens of monkeys playing in the trees, napping 1.5m long monitor lizards and yes, one lonely orangutan swinging in a tree above us; a rare sighting and far more rewarding than the organized showing from the day before. Lastly, we spotted probiscus monkeys which have to be the most ridiculous looking animal I have ever seen. They probably thought the same thing looking down on me. Sporting a nose resembling a flaccidly blown balloon and a pot belly and skinny legs, it would have looked more in place at a circus. In spite of their comedic appearance, they moved gracefully in the trees.
Okay, car crash fans, buckle your seatbelts. We left the Borneo jungle and headed south to the town of Semporna which is a sleepy and boring town with appeal. What draws tourists by the bus full is not the hapless and bore of a town but the archipelago just off shore which touts one of the most prestigious dive sites anywhere in the world; Sipadan Island. Prior
to diving at Sipadan, we went diving at nearby Mabul Island.
I have only been diving for a year and a half with a mere 20 dives under my belt but I could say unequivicolly that I have always felt comfortable in the water. The deep breathing and visual stimuli has always been very meditative and calming. I have never felt jitters (aside from excitement), nor nervousness even when I was taking my dive course. In fact, I rarely feel afraid for my own safety in general. I don't say this with a sense of bravado or to insinuate that I am some sort of a tough guy, but rather almost with embarrassment that I have not yet seemed to grasp my own mortality and vulnerability even when the occasion calls for it. Apparently, the superman complex in me is stubborn. Well, all of this changed quite suddenly and unexpectedly all while floating 60" below the ocean's surface.
My first of three dives started quite routinely. I followed my dive master and calmly took in my surroundings. 40 minutes into the dive, the dive master gestured at us to report our oxygen levels. I glanced at my regulator;
100 bars (about half full). He gave me the okay and off we went. A short 15 minutes later into my dive I checked my regulator and was alarmed to see that my oxygen levels had plummetted to25 bars (~15%) which is hovering close to the danger zone at that depth. As I exhaled, the needle wildly shot up to 60 bars before falling to 40 bars then up to 50 bars then back to 25 bars. I swam over to the dive master and gestured to my regulator. His eyes widened and he grabbed me by the arm while feeding me his emergency regulator with the other and indicated that he was taking me up for an emergency guided ascent. Never seen one actually done, I was a bit concerned but mostly just embarrassed that I needed rescue. Slowly, I was brought to the surface where it was determined that my equipment was faulty. Still not very worried or bothered at all, I had a snack and prepped for our next dive an hour later.
With a new working regulator, I jumped into the water for the second of our three dives. I descended as per usual to
20 meters when I began thinking about the emergency ascent an hour before. Unexpectedly, I felt my heart beating hard against my wetsuit as my heart rate jumped. My deep breaths became a shallow panting which only increased my heart rate. Quickly, I felt my world closing in. As my breaths shallowed I had the sensation of only being able to breathe through a constricting straw and felt lightheaded making it seem impossible to slow my breath and relax. Twice I had people check my tank to ensure my tank was fully on but in spite of their assurances, I began a full on panic. I turned to gesture that I needed to ascend and I already had my hands wrapped around my mask thinking that it was suffocating me and that I needed to pull it off to breathe a full breath through my nose. However, instead of gesturing to ascend I flashed a hesitant "okay" sign. I felt that if I did ascend, I would foolishly and uncontrollably kick hard to the surface and endanger myself. Instead, I spent the next 30 minutes of the dive trying to convince myself that I was okay and to just breathe
and not do anything foolish. My dive master, ignorant of any of this was going on took us for a lovely tour of a wall but have never felt so relieved to be on the surface when it was all over. 2 hours later I had calmed down and completed my third dive with a fair degree of anxiety but without incident.
The following day was the day we were all looking forward to. Diving at Sipidan is restricted to 120 people per day and costs about 3x as much as other dives in the area. Still freaked out about my panic attack I was hoping to put it behind me. I spent the day at Sipidan diving the best 3 dives I have ever been on. I was more calm and oxygen efficient than I had ever been and saw more turtles than I can count, not including a cave containing the skeletons of thousands of turtles who swim to the cave to die. Gruesome but fascinating.
My dive experience more or less sums up many of the reasons why I love travelling. Yes, it was incredibly scary and potentially dangerous but on the road, even your
worst day can be followed by your best. You make mistakes, expose your weaknesses and have moments of regret but you also have every opportunity to leave it behind, learn and grow as an individual and develop your ability to overcome your shortcomings.
This trip will be a continuous journey of ups and downs. It has only begun and as much as I will rave about my triumphs, my failures will also be prominent in my memories for they always lead to new opportunities... and often make good stories too! Crash!
Tot: 2.74s; Tpl: 0.09s; cc: 12; qc: 50; dbt: 0.0508s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb