Friday, May 2, 2008

Diving Borneo

Just for the record, Sipidan Island, THE premier diving destination in Malaysian Borneo is approximately 1000 miles, as the bird flies, away from Yogyakarta (my last place of any significant interest in Indonesia), which isn't really all that far. However, through a magical combination of poor planning (I purchased my plane tickets to Borneo ... the other side of Borneo as I soon learned ... before finally finding a Malaysia Lonely Planet guide book) and just difficulty in getting around quickly in this part of the world, it took me a full four days, a train ride (overnight), two planes, two buses (both overnight) and a lot of miscellaneous wondering around places like Jakarta, Pontianac, Kuching, and Kuta Kinabalu to get there. So, the question, obviously, was it worth it?

Today, I got back from Semporna - that's the coastal town, which is the launch place for most of the diving in Eastern Borneo, including Sipidan, to the vaguely more central Kuta Kinabalu (by another overnight bus, of course), and the answer is a resounding yes! I haven't quite decided if I liked diving in Borneo better than Fiji, but it's certainly on par. Fiji might have better corals, but Borneo, while also not lacking on corals, has an amazing variety of fish life under water. And the instructors get a little jaded and start looking for the 'macro' stuff - the small rare things... Me and all 15 of my dives so far? I'm perfectly happy to see the big things. I had't seen any eels so far diving in Fiji and New Zealand - that was taken care of in the very first dive off of the island of Mabul, where we ran into a couple of little eels (about a foot long each) just opening and closing their big mouths, extracting food out of the water. And then, we did the second dive, at Kapalai island, on an 'artifical reef,' a.k.a. they sunk a bunch of structures and boats to create environments that fish and other organisms live around, and in the first boat we came up to was an absolutely gigantic mooray eel - you could never see the whole thing (and it quickly retreated once it saw us), but it had to be 6-7 feet long, and easily a foot around - absolutely amazing!

The next day, it was off to Palau Sipidan... and it lives up to the hype. I'd seen sharks and turtles in Fiji, but not in these numbers, and never turtles this big - these were downright humongous! I'm starting to think the sea turtles may just be my favorite underwater creatures - so famous for being slow and clumsy on land, yet the picture of smooth grace swimming through the clear waters. By the second dive we did off Sipidan (Barracuda Reef), I'd lost count of the sharks and turtles we had seen... Add in a number of barracudas just hanging in place, big groupers, and a variety of other brilliantly colorful fish, often in big schools, and it was one hell of a diving day.

Was tempted to cross over to the Philippines, which is also known for some amazing dive sites, and happens to be just on the other side of a narrow straight from where we were, or to just dive more in Borneo, but that would've required changing all kinds of tickets, so hopped on a bus, and once I get 24 hours since my last dive, getting on an airplane tonight and flying off to Singapore... Which, of course, gets me closer to Thailand once more, where I'll probably go diving yet again.

Oh, and more thing - to nobody's particularly big surprise, there were plenty more Russian tourists in Borneo. APparently, if you've got a beach, they will find a way to leave the cold of Mother Russia's winters and get there: Turkey, Goa, Phuket, Borneo, Egypt (I hear) - they know how to travel in style. In retrospect, I'm surprised I didn't run into any in Fiji, probably just because I was staying at backpacker places - the ones I saw in Borneo were staying in expesnive resorts...

And now for some pictures (I really need to pick up an under water casing for my camera - maybe Singapore? Bangkok? Hong Kong?), but for now, just the above water stuff:

Dragon Inn in Semporna: a hotel on stilts, overlooking the bay. Dorm room: Rm 15, or a little under $5, I love the prices in SE Asia! And Malaysia is relatively expensive...

Moving on to the island of Mabul, home of beautiful sandy beaches and green palm trees

This resort is a bit out of my price range, but I'm sure it would've been nice

A beautiful view out over the islands, with clouds floating above them as the sun is setting

Sunset: stage 1

Sunset: stage 2. The bright red stage 2, flanked by low hanging clouds over the horizon, was spectacular

The next morning, we are diving at Sipidan Island, with Uncle Chang's dive shop

You don't even have to dive to see turtles - they just come up for air right next to the boat! In fact, that's not all they come up for... as this pair was 'getting intimate,' in our estimation, right before. But those pictures didn't come out as well...

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