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Published: October 23rd 2008
Luckily, no terrorists made the trip out.
What?!?! I had to call in advance? I actually needed to plan something?
I arrive in typical fashion. No set itinerary, but an idea in mind. I land in the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur (known to everybody as KL), and fly the next morning to the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (known to everybody as KK), which is on the island of Borneo. I am going to climb Mount Kinabalu! All 4,095 meters or 13,435 feet. The third highest island mountain in the world. My knees and back won't appreciate this adventure, but the views will be incredible and it is something I really want to do.
Not so fast. I knew I had a flight a couple of days later taking me back to KL so I couldn't waste time, but I didn't know that people booked for this climb months in advance. That seemed so foreign to me. Foreign? I ended up finagling a way to do the climb two days later (book it straight through the National Park and not through some Travel Agency package and you will save well over 50% and not waste time), but since the hike takes a couple days that would
mean I would miss both my flight departing KK and my flight departing KL. I obviously couldn't do that, but this climb was the entire reason behind the extra flight to KK! Things happen for a reason though, right? They sure did. Despite the fact I had wasted one of my precious few days running around town to set up this climb, it was nothing an overnight bus down to Semporna couldn't resolve. What is down in Semporna you ask? World class diving.
The next day I arrive with about fifteen minutes of sleep under my belt at eight in the morning and go straight to the dive shops asking the same question over and over and over and over. "Do you have any openings to dive Sipadan today or tomorrow?" "No, no, no, and no." Those were the answers I received from each of the four dive shops in the city and even though they were all very nice, I got the sense that my question seemed almost comical to them.
What?!?! People plan in advance for this as well? It made perfect sense afterwards, but what the…
I assume most people have not heard of
Dive site for Day One.
Sipadan and if they have, it was probably because of the kidnappings in April 2000. Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine extremist group, raided the island and abducted ten European and African tourists and eleven resort employees at gun point and forced the hostages to board their ship. Fortunately, all victims survived and were released. As of 2004, all dive centers and resorts on the island were forced to relocate and gave way to its new residents, the Malaysian military. Aside from the attack, Sipadan is one of the BEST dive spots in the world. Formed by living corals that grow almost perfectly vertical on top of an extinct volcano, Sipadan rises over 2,000 feet from the seabed to form Malaysia's only oceanic island, which is located in the Celebes Sea in the Indo-Pacific basin.
It didn't matter though. No Sipadan for me. It was time to take a deep breath and think. I figure I am down in Semporna already, I still have no time to waste, and I don't want to look back at my time in Malaysia and think solely of long bus rides and airport food. Now it was time to smile and laugh. Never time to
feel frustrated. Never time to feel defeated. Sid and McMurphy know that. Let's sign up to dive somewhere else in the area. The sea life will be extremely tough to beat there as well.
The shop I liked most had a spot for me and we were heading straight out for Mantabuan…perfect conditions…sunny, eighty degree water, no wind, clear azure skies…STOKED!
We had three dives lined up for the day: Black Coral Gardens, Sham, and Corner Site. Let me touch on each of these for a second. Black Coral Gardens had white coral, I have no clue what Sham means, and Corner Site is possibly the least original name for anything, especially when dealing with an underwater world teeming with life. Regardless, these dives were my best yet (not that I have much to compare them with), excluding my final dive in Thailand with the whale shark. Aside from the macro sea life that is abundant and unique to this area, there was so much passing me by. Up down all around spotted rays moray eels clown fish banner fish needle fish trigger fish stone fish scorpion fish crocodile fish pinnate batfish blue sea star horned sea star
Rough Day at Work
His job is almost as tough as mine.
and the lonely green turtle. Not bad and I was glad to see a turtle. The boat took us back and I was pretty satisfied, but not quite finished with my quest to step foot on Sipadan.
I made one final round through the dive shops and the last one I went to was just about to close when I walked on in. Rather confidently I asked the man shutting things down behind the counter, "Do have any open spots to dive Sipadan?" He looked up and casually responded in what I learned to be an Austrian accent, "When would you like to go?" I then somewhat sheepishly replied, "Ummm, tomorrow?"
They had one open spot and it was now mine! I got to upgrade my bus seat to a bed for the night and happily went to sleep.
Before I knew it, the sun was up and it was time for Sipadan. An hour boat ride past houses on stilts that could barely see land and small islands completely covered with tropical flora and we were there. The hour flew by and when we pulled close to the island you could see the most beautiful array
Children! Close Your Eyes!
These turtles were mating on the surface.
of blues in the water. PALAU SIPADAN!
We had three dives lined up for this day as well: Turtle Patch, Hanging Gardens, and Barracuda Point. Each of these dives blew all of my past dives out of the water and somehow each dive got remarkably better. For the first two dives, we drifted along the sheer vertical face that seemed to drop two thousand leagues into the dark depths of the sea and were one hundred feet below the comfortably luminous world above. The final and finest dive seemed to take us into a completely different world altogether. I didn't know whether I had shrunk and was swimming in the most exotic fish tank ever assembled or whether I was floating on some far off planet where gravity ceased to exist. Maybe I was in both.
Along with a majority of the fish from the day before, I saw a fish that I couldn't classify wearing the shiniest fatigues I have ever witnessed. I instantly became exceedingly creative and named it an "Army Fish." I came across a Unicorn Fish that looked just like Pinocchio. I passed through the heart of the vortex of ten thousand Jacks or
He Took My Seat
My Dive Master post-dive.
Mackerel or Barracuda swooping straight down into the black. Fish everywhere::::magenta chartreuse blood red school bus yellow. I unintentionally came face-to-face with a sizeable moray eel who yawned because I bored him or just wanted to display the bite he could take. I contentedly spotted one turtle the day prior, but this day there were over thirty over forty over fifty. One was sleeping on a small perch protruding from the dramatic drop only to wake up to a group of odd shaped wide eyed four limbed bubble blowing creatures disturbing his slumber and lethargically came towards me so close I could see the dust fall off his back as he advanced and then rolled to one side exposing the barnacles that had attached themselves to his shell years ago just to prove to me how old he really was and continued into the blue blue blue leaving his safe haven in the past and journeying into the unknown world of the future. And the sharks! Nothing dangerous, but over two dozen white-tipped reef sharks between one and two meters in length. I was excited as they swiftly swam far below me, but as the day progressed they were at
eye level then in front then to the side then above then what seemed to be an arm's length away, but I knew better than that. The water was just playing tricks on my eyes, right?
The day had to end and what a better way to finish it off than by boarding an overnight bus. It was only twelve hours long with maybe a half hour of sleep. There were some plusses though. I would make my flight the next day and even though I was the only foreigner onboard, they played a somewhat recently released movie in English. Granted, it was one of The Incredible Hulk movies and was horrible, but I had never seen it and it did pass some time.
Of course, my flight from KK to KL was delayed for several hours because of weather conditions so I couldn't meet up with my Malaysian friend that I met in Laos, but whatever. It will be a much needed restful night in KL before I fly again. Surprisingly, both on my flight to and from KK, I was the only white foreigner on the plane. It didn't matter though. The friendly locals were more
Farewell Asia...For Now
"The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say..."
than happy to talk with me and give me pointers about their country. It seemed as if everybody in Malaysia spoke nearly perfect English. In addition, the cities seemed rather clean and KL features a gorgeous downtown with a backdrop including some of the highest buildings in the world. Petronas Tower I and II tie for the ninth highest freestanding structure in the world at 1,483 feet with the Kuala Lumpur Tower not far behind in thirteen place and only one-hundred feet shorter.
Just as I would like more time in each country I have stepped foot in, I really needed more in Malaysia. I spent zero time on Sarawak (the other Malaysian state on Borneo), no real time on the mainland, and less than a week on Sabah. Aside from Mount Kinabalu in the Kinabalu National Park (which I didn't climb, much less even see) and Sipadan, there is so much to see in this gorgeous country…Georgetown, Gunung Mulu National Park, Perhentian Islands, Sepilok Orang Otang Rehabilitation Center, Teman Negara National Park. The list continues. On top of all this, the Malaysian government is about as nice as it gets (maybe the nicest, I am not sure since I haven't been everywhere) in regards to customs and immigration. Upon arrival, you get a free three month visa no questions asked. FREE! THREE MONTHS! WHAT? I am definitely coming back. Anyways, it is rush hour, raining, and my flight leaves in a couple hours. Where is my bus?
I sadly say goodbye to not only Malaysia, but Asia...for now. It has been fun and I shall return. Goodbye language barrier. Goodbye negotiable everything. Goodbye chopsticks, eating on the floor, sticking out, mosquito nets, cheap beer, and so on and so on. Thanks for everything. My gratitude is real, but enough of the sappy babble. It is time to go down. Down below the equator. Down to that huge island known as Australia…
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