Lucia did it! She got certified as a PADI open water diver which means she can dive to 18 meters depth. This is a big deal as it meant overcoming a few fears again. She could get used to being deep under water, breathing under water and the equipment weighing down on her, but one specific exercise of the certification has kept her very nervous every since she first tried in Bahrain: you need to be able to remove your mask under water, hold it in your hand for a few seconds and then put it back. Sounds easy right? But doing this while you keep breathing, keep your buoyancy (stay in one spot – don’t sink or go up) and the general idea of not being able to see while under the water is obviously scary. Anyway, she did it!
After our Kinabatangan river adventure we had taken a bus to the coastal town in the southern tip of Sabah called of Semporna. If you come to this part of Sabah you’re most likely interested in scuba-diving (or snorkelling) and will probably choose to stay either in Semporna (further from dive sites, but cheaper accommodation) or one of the islands close to the dive sites (with Mabul island having most schools). We did the latter. We spent one night in Semporna, walked around the market and mosque a bit and the next morning got an early morning 30 minute boat-ride to Mabul with our dive operator. Although you can walk around Mabul island in about 30 minutes it houses more than 10 diving schools which causes the population of this island to consist of two main groups: the local villagers/fishermen and scuba divers. The island itself doesn’t have great things to offer, Lucia walked around it and found small shops, a cemetery and some beaches. Unfortunately the beaches are not kept very well and because the villagers still throw most of their rubbish in the sea, most of the beaches are full with stuff washed ashore.
Most of the diving schools and their guesthouses were built on stilts in the water which ensured that everyone had sea view! Same for the place we were staying. We had chosen to dive with Big John’s scuba school mainly based on a recommendation we got from two ladies we had met in Sandakan. This turned out to be a very good choice asthe place had such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, nice staff and other guests, served good food and had fun, but professional dive masters and instructors. So good actually that it gave Lucia that final push to do her PADI as she originally only planned to enjoy the sun, sea and some occasional snorkelling while Mark was diving.
Anyway, enough about logistics, lets talk about why we were here in the first place: Sipadan. This oceanic island was formed by living coral growing on extinct volcanic cone. It’s located in one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem (source: WIkipedia). Sipadan is recognised by many as being one of the best divespots in the world. Together with the rainforests and its wildlife it’s one of the main reasons for many people to come to Sabah. To protect the area the government has put in a limit of 120 divers each day that are allowed to dive around Sipadan so in order to dive there you need to apply for a permit in advance. This has proven a lucrative business for the schools and with a price of MYR 780 (about EUR 170) for three dives you really need to want to go. Mark did and had booked a diving package that consisted of 9 dives in 3 days (yes, that’s quite ambitious). The first two days had dives around Mabul and another island called Kapalai and the third day he would have 3 dives at Sipadan. The dives around Mabul and Kapalia were good with turtles, triggerfish, murray eels and lots of other small stuff, but very pale in comparison to what Mark saw at Sipadan. Below a few of the highlights in order of increasing ‘wow-ness’:
>> Turtles and white-tip reef sharks everywhere! Every third minute you would see one. The sharks were fairly small (1 – 1 ,5 meter), but some of the turtles were really big. It’s quite amazing that towards the end of the day you wouldn’t even look at these amazing creatures much anymore, the dive master would even stop pointing them out
>> A school of hundreds of barracudas (predators, but in principle not dangerous for people) coming straight at us at great speed and only moving out of the way at the last moment.
>> Sitting in the eye of a tornado of jackfish. These harmless fish stick together and thousands of these fish circle around and look like a tornado. We managed to get in the middle and they kept circling us on a one meter distance. You only saw fish. Everywhere!
>> A 6 meter long whale-shark. The absolute highlight of the 9 dives and also the only we have pictures of (thanks to Lihaian, a Chinese diving buddy with a GoPro). This large (plankton eating) shark suddenly and slowly came out of the depths of the ocean, swam away from us, then slowly turned around, came straight at us and passed about 1-2 meters under us. Such an amazing (and slightly scary) feeling as it was so big. After it went back into the depths we spontaneously starting high-fiving and hugging eachother under water. This could be one of those once-in-a-lifetime-experiences as it’s not common to see these animals.
At the end of day 3 we were dropped off in Semporna again, stayed one more night and took an early-morning bus to Tawau airport (for those interested: 7.30am buses leave from the bus station between Mabul Inn and City Inn (where we stayed) and in just over an hour go straight to the airport for MYR 25). Exactly 18 hours after re-surfacing in Sipadan for the last time we got on this plane and flew back to Kota Kinabalu from where we started a week of city-tours. More about that in our next post.
Lucia to dokazala! Konecne ziskala certifikaciu PADI ‘open water diver’, co znamena, ze teraz s amoze potapat do hlbky az 18 metrov. Je to celkom uspech ked vezmeme do uvahy, ze musela prekonat niekolko svojich strachov. Zvyknut si dychat pod vodov, byt v hlbke a mat na sebe desiatky kil vybavenia nebolo tazke. Len jedna sucast vycviku bola najvacsim postrachom uz z cias, ked sa o certifikaciu zacala uchadzat v Bahrajne: dat si dole potapacske okuliare pod vodou, chvilu ich drzat, nasadit naspat a zbavit ich vody zvnutra. Mozno to znie
jednoducho. Pocas tohoto svicenia ale je potreba stale dychat (ustami, jasnacka) a udrzat sa na jednom mieste vo vode (v podstate levitovat, neist dole ani hore). Navyse pridajte zatvorene coi a ten pocit, ze
neviete co sa deje okolo vas. A predsa – zvladla to!
Po nasom dobrodruzstve na rieke Kinabatangan sme sa vydali autobusom na uply juh malajskeho statu Sabah do mesta Semporna. Vacsina turistov, ktorych tu stretnete, su potapaci (pripadne snorchlovaci). Tito bud byvaju v Semporne (kde je to lacnejsie ale trva dlhsie dostat sa lodou na potapacske spoty) alebo sa chystaju na ostrov Mabul alebo jeden z dalsich ostrovov, na ktorych ma vacsina potapacskych skol svoje rezorty. My sme sa rozhodli pre to druhe. Stravili sme noc v Semporne, pozreli sa na miestny mesitu a presli trhom a rano vstavali skoro aby sme stihli lod, ktora nas za polhodinu dopravila na Mabul. I ked okolo celeho ostrova sa da prejst za ani nie 30 minut, na ostrove ma svoje rezorty vyse 10 potapacskych skol, co v zasade znamena, ze populacia ostrova sa deli na 2 casti: miestni dedincania / rybari a potapaci a instruktori. Ostrov samotny nie je nic moc. Je tu par obchodikov, cintorin a nejaka ta plaz. Bohuzial, nie vsak plaze, na ake by ste sa tesil, kedze su pokryte odpadkami naplavenymi z mora.
Vacsina domov na ostrove a takisto vacsina potapacskych skol a ich ubytovni stoji na vode tzv. na nozickach, co tiez znamena, ze takmer vsetci maju vyhlad na more. My sme byvali u Big John aka Velkeho Johna, pre ktoreho sme sa rozhodli na zaklade doporucenia dvoch dievcat, ktore sme stretli v Sandakane. S rozhodnutim sme boli spokojni, pretoze sme tu zazivali pohodovu atmosferu, stretli fajn ludi, jedli dobre jedlo a instruktori boli velmi kvalitni. Vsetko bolo tak fajn, ze to pomohlo dokopat Luciu, aby zase ten kurz skusila. Povodne totizto planovala len opalovanie a snorchlovanie zatialco Mark bude potapat.
Ale dost logistiky, podme rozpravat o tom, preco sme sem hlavne prisli: Sipadan. Tento ostrov je mnohymi povazovany za jednu z najkrajsich podmorskych oblasti sveta a tak je samozrejme velmi popularny medzi potapacmi. Spolu s dazdovymi pralesmi a ich divocinou je Sipadan jeden z dovodov navstevy malajskeho Bornea, resp. statu Sabah. Aby oblast ostala co najviac zachovana, vlada stanovila maximalny pocet navstevnikov a vydava len 120 licencii na potapanie ci snorchlovanie za den. To samozrejme predstavuje lukrativnu prilezitost pre skoly, ktore maju cast z tychto licencii alokovanu pre svojich zakaznikov a tak mozu pytat kolko chcu. Dnes den potapania okolo Sipadanu (3 potapania za den) stoji 780 MYR (cca 170 EUR). Mark si nenechal tuto prilezitost ujst a z trojdnoveho potapackeho balicka si objednal jeden den potapania na Sipadane. Je nutne povedat, ze mal stastie, kedze mnohi musia cakat tyzdne, kym na nich pride rad. Prve 2 dni potapania stravil v okoli ostrovov Mabul a Kapalai, ktore tiez neboli na zahodenie. Pod vodou je tu vidiet obrovske korytnacky, moreny, triggerfish (ktore internet preklada ako ostencovite ryby) a vela vela roznych malych zivocichov a rastlin, ktore vsak blednu v porovnani s tym, co Mark videl na Sipadane. Tu su niektore z tych ‘wow’:
>> Korytnacky a bielocipi zraloci vsade okolo! Kazdu tretiu minutku aspon jeden. Zraloci boli celkom mali (1 az 1 a pol metra), ale korytnacky zato boli obrovske. Bolo ich tolko, ze po nejakom case ich instruktor uz ani neukazoval a potapaci si ich aj prestali vsimat.
>> Skoly stoviek barakud (ktore su predatori, ale nie nebezpecni pre cloveka). Plavali rychlostou rovno na potapacov a uhybali len v poslednej chvili.
>> Posedavanie uprostred tornada stuk. Tieto priatelske ryby sa drzia v skupinkach a plavaju dokola az vyzeraju ako velke tornado. Mark a jeho skupinka sa dostala do stredu a stuky ich oboplavali na vzdialenost jedneho metra. Vsade same ryby!
>> 6 metrov dlhy velrybi zralok. Ceresnicka na torte deviatich potapani a tiez jedine stretnutie, z ktoreho ma Mark fotografie (vdaka cinskemu potapacovi s GoPro fotakom). Tento ohromny zralok ziviaci sa planktonom sa zrazu vynoril z hlbin mora, odplaval prec aby sa znova otocil a namieril ai to rovno na potapacov, ktorych napokon podplaval ani nie 2 metre vzdialeny. Toto stretnutie bolo jedno z tych ‘len raz za zivot’ a skupinka potapacov sa pod vodou zacala objimat a ‘high-five’-ovat si!
Na zaver dna cislo 3 nas odviezla lod naspat do Semporny, kde sme prenocovali a rano sadli na autobus smerom na letisko v Tawau. Presne 18 hodin (co je minimum pre let po potapani) po vynoreni sa z vod Sipadanu sme sedeli v lietadle spat do Kota Kinabalu, odkial nas cakal tyzden v mestach, o com sa dozviete v dalsom blogu.