Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mabul Isaland - Sipidan


Wednesday 16/07 - Monday 21/07

After our 7 hr bus ride from Sandakan we arrived in the sea-side town of Semporna. We had heard that Semporna was a necessary evil that one had to put up with in order to experience the amazing diving in the area, but we were not expecting what hit us as we stepped off the bus...the smell. It was a thick stench that lay heavy in the air and seemed to cut through any makeshift protective nose covers that we immediately attempted to fashion. If the smell wasn't enough to deter you, the rubbish lying everywhere definitely would. Our first goal (besides desiring to disinfect our entire bodies) was to find accommodation. We walked through the local market and knew instantly that we were not going to risk eating any market food in this town. We found a less crusty place to stay for the night. Although Philipino Pirates had killed a policeman and kidnapped another on Mabul Island just a week earlier, we were assured by locals that the island was safe for tourists.  After spending one painful night in Semporna, we were ready to take our chances against the pirates and move out to Mabul Island. Before fleeing from the blackhole, we secured permits to dive at Sipidan - the prime diving spot in the area and one of the best in the world.   

Upon arriving on Mabul Island, we were delighted to smell fresh area again! We were also ecstatic about our new accommodation - Mabul Backpackers. The staff were super friendly, especially Mo who was so excited to meet South Africans for the first time.  Every time he saw us from then on he would sing out 'Waka Waka!' Not only were the people great, the view was pretty spectacular as well.  


The view of the sunset from the deck at our backpackers! Yip...I think this will do!

We decided that we would take the next few days slow and enjoy the magic of this small island.

Exploring the beach on the other side of the island

We were quite hot and sweaty after tanning on the white sand and were desperate to cool down but had been given so much warning about the deathly creatures, like stone fish, that inhabited the ocean floor that we were not going to set foot into the lapping waves. We had however spied a pool on our way to the beach - there was a sign that explicitly said that the pool was for guests only but Roxy had left her glasses back at the backpackers and Joy was distracted by a butterfly so we innocently entered the resort area and jumped into the refreshing water. We were trying to act as though we belonged with an Asian family that was also enjoying the pool and quite stealthily ducked and dived underwater as staff members walked passed. We were pushing our luck a bit and just as we were towelling off and thought we had gotten away with it, the security guard strode towards us and sternly gestured that we were not allowed to be there. We pleaded complete ignorance and apologised profusely before gathering our items and walking quickly back to the beach and on our way home.

Joy trying to hide away from the security 'Swasn't meant to be!

After we had been reprimanded, we decided to keep a low profile for the next few days...just to let the authorities cool down a little. We thus made the the lounging chairs on the deck our new residence. We enjoyed the view and the cooling sea-breeze. This position was also the perfect distance from the tea and coffee station as well as the 4pm treats! Could life get better?

Nap Time...after a stressful morning's rest!



As if we didn't have enough happiness surrounding us, we were also joined by this adorable kitten. A dead-ringer for Roxy's cat back home, Pink. We affectionately named our new bestie, Little Pink.

Cat in the Hat

She was quite a feisty little kitten and provided us with hours of entertainment and of course a few scratches which we immediately disinfected with our Thailand style Betadine.

We did eventually decide to venture out and explore a bit more of the island and a better view of the sunset.

The light from the island lamp post illuminating Roxy's crowning jewel.

We snuck onto the boardwalk of a rather upper class resort - we felt fancy but in our sarongs we were perhaps slightly under dressed to enter the main area.

Before we got engulfed in the every changing colours of the sky, we had to scamper back to the safety of our backpackers. We did not want to be out after dark as the threat of pirates was still a reality.

We thus got to enjoy the last moments of the magnificent sunset from the comfort of our loungers.

Redheads (Darren and Roxy) unite to bask in the red rays.

Mabul Island is one of the best places to dive in Malaysia and for days we had watched many people going off for their dives, listening to their tales of exploration and feeling the judgement from them once they realised that we had yet to go on a dive or even a snorkel. Due to the growing pressure from those around us to get off our couches and do some activities, we decided to go for two dives around Mabul Island. Darren, who had also been enjoying the pleasures of island life, signed up with us.

That morning we were kitted out and were given a quick brief from our Dive Master, Hannah, before boating off to Paradise II for our first dive since Koh Tao.

All smiles and gangsta poses pre-dive

Hannah was an amazing dive leader as she was very knowledgeable and was constantly pointing out little creatures as we went along on the dive.
Darren had an underwater camera and captured some spectacular pics of our underwater experience.

Some of the creatures beneath the surface we were able to identify but others were strange and unfamiliar to us.

Paradise II:

                                       Invisible shrimp
Can you find Nemo?                       

Crocodile fish

A rather colourful Nudibranch landing on the crocodile fish

Sneaky Pipe Fish hiding amongst the coral

Joy, Darren and Roxy looking cheerful after the 50min underwater adventure

Hannah, our dive leader, proudly holding her sausage

We headed back to the backpackers where we encounters faces of disbelief. People could not believe that we had actually done some diving...we like to shock people like that! After a delicious, although unsurprising, chicken and rice lunch, we had a quick, well needed nap on the loungers and then went out for our second dive at Paradise I. Hannah was once again our Dive Leader. During our brief she promised that we would definitely encounter turtles on this dive. We were extremely excited as we had not yet seen them on any of our previous dives.

Paradise I:

Roxy exploring the underbelly of the wreck in search of sea life

The fist wreck that we came across on the dive was teeming with fish and other creatures. We all split off on our own path in pursuit of discoveries.

Anemone fish sticking close to their protective home

Another sleepy looking Crocodile Fish

Spectacular Lion Fish're on camera!

A school of Bat Fish

And then we saw it! This majestic creature just hanging out on the deck of the wreck! So cool!!!

A Remora fish was attached to its shell. The Remora sucks onto other sea creatures such as turtles and sharks and provide a cleaning service for their host.

Peekaboo...We found you!

Hannah getting a free manicure from tiny Cleaner Shrimp...they eat all the dead skin from your fingers, leaving you with immaculate cuticles! 

Can you spot the sea creature in the pic above? Hint: It's an invisible shrimp

Roxy certainly perfected her buoyancy by pulling off a rather impressive Buddha style pose! 

Spotted Box Fish

As our dives were so successful we decided to celebrate with a little locally sourced rum! We got a bunch of people from the backpackers together and we enjoyed an evening of challenging drinking games and enlightening stories on the deck of our hostel.
 Warning: Philippine rum + Head ware = Gangsta posing! 
This effect displayed effortlessly by Joy and Janine (a Dive Master at the backpackers)

With sufficient liquid inspiration we went in pursuit of a bit of music. Uncle Chang's, another backpackers just a little way down the beach was our destination of choice. Alas, it did not deliver the vibrant atmosphere that we desired...instead it consisted of 20 shirtless Chinese men sharing a single drink between all of them...and warm beers for the rest of us! We did however get control over the sound system and immediately played a little Kesha and Pitbull which saved the night!  

Roxy, Rory and Joy at Uncle Chang's...check the shirtless entertainment in the background!


Finally our Sipidan Dive day had arrived! We were extremely excited and a little nervous for the depths that we were about to encounter. Early that morning we made our way across the Billabong Backpackers where we were kitted out in all our diving gear and directed towards our little speed boat. The wind was blowing and the ocean was extremely rough. As we made the 30min trip to Sipidan Island we were bashed up and down by huge swells. One thing that did distract us was the sight of flying fish that would jump out of the water and glide just above the surface for about 10 meters at a time. After this gut churning experience, we were delighted to arrive at Sipidan. As it is an extremely popular spot and one that is protected, you have to purchase a permit if you wish to dive there. These permits are made out for your name specifically. One of our teammates, who had decided to join us on this dive last minute, had to assume the identity of someone else who had cancelled their dive. The authorities are so strict that if you misspell your name or sign incorrectly they will not allow you to dive. This meant that our dear friend had to ensure that he memorised his new name and nationality. 

Once we had successfully registered, we were given some tea and snacks. We were going to do three dives around Sipidan Island with a break for lunch in between the second and third dives.

This tea-break gave our stomachs time to settle and gave us an opportunity to get to know our fellow divers...

Al (from Switzerland) and Luis (from Portugal)
Sara (from Morocco) and Darren

Sipidan Selfie

We were all signed in and ready to go so we jumped onto our double engine speed boat and headed out to our first dive sight.

Hanging out with our Diving Instructors and Guides. For local empowerment, all the Sipidan dives are lead by Malaysian divers.

                  Roxy getting cosy with our boat captain!

Everyone was enjoying a little tanning time on the boat as we went along to each dive sight.
 The boys striking a rather relaxed and open pose...              

Our first dive was a little nerve racking. The water was still rather choppy and we were quite rushed to get suited up and into the water. We were still very set on doing thorough Buddy Checks which the rest of the crew, especially the laid back guides, did not think was totally necessary. Eventually we rolled back into the water and started our descend. Rox and Joy were buddies and of course we had planned to stick close to one another. About 5 metres down, Rox indicated that she was having trouble equalising. The rest of the group had already descended to our swimming depth but Rox, Joy and the one guide were still going down slowly. Rox tried to equalise again but it just didn't seem to clear. She indicated to Joy and the guide that she was going up. Once we all had reached the surface, she complained about an intense pressure between her eyes and that it felt as though her head was going to explode. She had caught a little bit of flu the day before and thus her sinuses were giving her trouble. Joy urged her to try again but the pain was too intense and it would be too dangerous to push through it. Our guide called our boat over and the captain came to pick her up while Joy and the guide descended once again to join the rest of the group.

Beneath the surface the water was much calmer although the visibility on the first dive was not great as the strong currents were churning up sand and sediment from the ocean floor. It was then that we realised why Sipidan is one of the most sort after dive spots. There is just a huge 40 meter cliff of coral that is just teeming with fish, shrimp, turtles, sharks and so much more. Swimming along this huge cliff made one feel so small and in awe of the absolute beauty was all around.

Some strange worm-like creature clinging to the coral

The view as we looked up the coral wall reminded us of the Ariel's secret treasure cavern in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'

Our group swimming along side the intense cliff of coral

The outline of a turtle swimming above us

Everything is Okay!

Huge school of fish swimming around the coral

Time to go up...Make sure all your air is out your BCD and start to kick

We climbed back onto the boat to find Roxy cuddled up in a towel bed that the Captain had made for her. She wasn't feeling great but after Darren had given her some magic decongestant pills, she was keen to give the next dive a try!

Roxy was able to descend on the next two dives! Yay! The current was extremely strong on the one dive and basically washed us along the kicking needed. Although it was fun to drift along without expending any energy, it was rather difficult to admire the beauty of the reef at such a speed. Once we had crossed a small channel, we were out of the current and were able to take our time and explore around a bit more...

SHARK!!!!! Our first shark sighting was nerve racking but once we realised that we were not on the menu for these White Tip Reef sharks. we were able to appreciate their majestic movement through the water! 

Yay!!! All okay over here!

Luis inspecting some of the coral

                      Pipe Fish                                         

                                                                                          A huge school of Jack Fish

Barracuda surrounding us from every direction

Sara swimming along        
A fish having an afternoon snack on some coral

Keeping our distance from the shark

The one Diving guide had a rather unique way of blowing rings under the water while we were doing our 5 minute safety stop...

1. Bring your hands close and blow a bunch of air into them...

                                2. Push the air out and away from your body...

3. Abracadabra...Perfect bubble ring every time!                      

Back on the surface of the water we were all so happy to have experienced such a wonderful piece of nature!!
Oh yeah...we're divers!

After such an eventful day, we returned to Mabul Backpackers where we hurriedly caught a boat back to the main land of smelly Semporna. That evening we caught an overnight bus back to Kota Kinabalu where we were to spend a few days before catching a flight to the caves of Mulu!

Back in our favourite city of KK we came across this food outlet which encompassed exactly what our food intake on Mabul Island had entailed...

Chicken, Rice...and More!!!

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