Day 6- Semporna to Mabul Island

I woke up a few times in the night, worried we’d miss the boat…then at 4am I was up and had trouble falling asleep. The dog in our parking lot were barking and fighting a lot (we’d heard one good fight when we were checking in)- it seems they picked on a limping, mangy dog a lot Anyway they were all sorts of noisy all night- then at 430a the Muslim call to prayer recording went out and lasted for almost an hour it seemed…this part is really hard to get used to because it’s great everyone prays so often but the sound is really chaotic and loud and everyone has to hear it whether of not you want to.

By 6 we’d laid around enough and that was that. We got up and made some coffee (they had in the room) and were instantly sweating- the ac still not working. We opened the windows and noticed it was drizzling and heard some thunder. I thought we might get a tad wet on our walk- but right as we were walking out the door to walk to the scuba shop the torrential downpour began! THIS was what we were going to walk in instead!

We donned our rain jackets to head out into the deluge and we were instantly drenched. I was trying to avoid the puddles I could see that splashed way up when the cars went by, which would have soaked us in really dirty yuck. Bryan was carrying my little rolley bag and trying to keep the camera bag inside his coat- but his pants kept falling down! His belt is just a little too big and he was really struggling, but we stopped under one of the covered sidewalks they have here so he could pull the waist straps (his pants conveniently happen to have) tighter. We wondered at first how and why they would have such a thing, but now we understand!

As we passed people they looked at us and laughed, while we shrugged our shoulders as we knew we looked pathetic. I was trying to hold my hood closed and the water was just running down into the sleeves of my raincoat. The people here were setting up for some kind of street festival (I think called the “water” festival?!) so they had booths and were bringing in goods to sell- some standing in 4 inches of really gross water. It made the dirty streets a bit more ominous…but either way, the rain normal for them, but not us! By the time we arrived at the dive center, we were pretty soaked, as were our bags. Hopefully, nothing to ruined in the process.

We started to peel off the wetness and go finish checking in (we had done some the night before when we went exploring), when Bryan called me over to the desk. A guy had come over and was talking to the girl Bryan was working with and he said with my thyroid condition, I’d need a doctor’s note to dive. What the F since we sent in this paperwork a month ago! I said, “pretend you didn’t see that”, he said he couldn’t. I said well you missed it before, clearly, or I would have done this before we spent money and traveled half-way around the world to dive! Just miss it again…I told him I have been on the same meds, same dose, for years and the only thing that happens if I don’t take it is I get tired. Everything I said he just shook his head and I started to get angry…I was pretty much about to go nuclear. I said, “give us our money back then”- to which he said he would. I was livid and turned around to let Bryan finish- and determine if we could even go on this trip.

It turns out that thankfully, this “issue” was not for the entire dive trip as I was under the impression- but a nitrox course (a different kind of air, with different implications) that Bryan did not know he signed us up for! We were going to get about $700 RM back for this error and the dr’s note was a thing of the past. I was pretty miffed though that they ask you to send that stuff in so they can review it before you arrive- but then don’t bother?! How many people come from half-way around the world and hear “oops, sorry”. Sadly, the moral of the story is just lie about stuff like that. I am too honest and it often gets me in trouble- and I can’t even express how angry I’d have been if this was preventing us diving at all…anyway, I was just glad it wasn’t going to ruin the trip. I waited on the couch and just wanted the boat to be ready and for us to leave the office so we could put this behind us.

The sun had broken through and our walk to the boat was pleasant- minus the garbage and smells everywhere (Borneo is pretty fragrant in many places, and not in the way you’d like it to be). We got on the boat, which is covered on top, but open on the sides- and it was clearly going to rain again. It was going to be about an hour’s ride to Mabul Island where the dive company has a camp…and it turned out to be a very wet and wild ride indeed.

The rain was pouring down and at our speed, coming in sideways, so you had to sit with your back to the side of the boat to avoid it (painfully) pelting your face. We were already wet but got a lot wetter- and the ride was pretty choppy. Every so often we’d hit a big wave and the boat would bump or drop (and had very hard seats), so it was hard to hang on or brace yourself for the bumps. One was even bad enough to knock one of the local guys off his seat, across the boat- he almost smashed his face on the benches on the other side! I was thinking that to most people this would have been way more than they bargained for- but thankfully, to us, was just a little more excitement for the already full morning.

The island is small, I will have to look up how big, but besides dive resorts, people actually live here, which we didn’t know…so our camp is right next to a shanty town, which is a lot like the ones we saw in South Africa, only on stilts and over the water. It’s pretty crazy too as there are babies tottering on the “balconies” of their shacks, with the slats between the boards big enough for them to fall into- and no railings of course. We saw 5 naked barely 3-year-olds climbing down a rickety ladder with rungs so big they had to hang and drop to get to the next rung, into a little boat on the water where they’d play- alone. It really is amazing what is considered “safe” in the US compared to everywhere else in the world. I mean I suppose these people learn early not to run into the road (as you see 5-year-olds walking alone) and so on- but babies are babies, they tend to fall! I also watched one kid about 8-years old, climb onto the roof of his home, directed by his mother. She handed him a bucket and it looks like he was collecting leaves (although it really didn’t make sense given the situation), but he almost fell twice! He handed the bucket back down to her and then climbed down…it’s just different in much of the rest of the world.

Then sadly, there was the garbage- tons of it. The entire shore was littered and the first 30 feet of the water as you’d walk into it, was just total trash floating. It was awful. I remember thinking Puerto Rico was dirty, but this was even more so- and quite overwhelming. Bryan did not go with me to Puerto Rico, and in trying to describe it to him, I am sure he never really got it- but here he was dumbfounded and a little sad, as was I. Now we have both seen it be really bad. While I am sure the village is culprit to some of that trash, the amount that washes up daily with the tides is not just theirs- and we saw plenty of trash floating on the entire ride here. I learned later from a Canadian girl we met (who had a “welcome” binder in her room), that they teach the locals to keep things clean and even pay them to clean the shore- but from morning till evening, the beach fills up again…it’s a daunting task.

We walked down the jetty and toward the resort which was cute (and clean) with a few bungalows down an inner alley-way. They have hammocks hanging- and I am hoping this is one of the rooms we have! We get to the main building and Bryan just starts up the stairs, stepping over this big trough of water, very inconveniently placed if you are to avoid stepping in it- which is exactly the point!? I look over and see a rack of flip flops and realize we have to step in the water whether or not we have shoes on and then take our shoes off- which extends to anywhere in the building, as well- even in our own rooms.

I grab Bryan as he’s about to stomp sand and mud all over the entryway and point to the shoe rack and that we have to take them off. He looked totally surprised, then dismayed, as am I- we both find this to be so gross, but this is a part of dive culture- and apparently the Muslim/ Asian culture of the area. It’s a part of dive culture we will never get used to- though understandably, part of it is because on the decks of the boat, shoes would be slippery and dangerous…but on land- in public buildings and our rooms- we’ve not experienced before. I remember in Australia I was really put off by this on our dive trip- and even got a wart from it (big surprise), which as annoying and gross as it was, was worse because it hurt and made my foot hurt (along with my blown out eardrum). At this point, I left my socks on, because I wasn’t ready to give up and succumb to barefoot culture just yet…but I’d soon have to.

Perched on the desk was a black and white tuxedo cat who was very friendly. I asked if it was their cat or just a cat, and the guy said it was the resort’s, named Bagheera (the puma in The Jungle Book). He was very sweet and like being petted. Since then we’ve seen a few other cats too- a white with black and orange spotted one, but Bagheera is the friendliest. They also mostly seem to have really short, stumpy and disfigured tails- so much so we think it could be genetic. Many are just a puff-ball, like a bunny tail- and others are the size of a thumb. I think in all we only saw 2-3 with “normal” tails on the whole trip!

It was determined our room was not ready (as it was only 9am) and check in is usually 130. They said they’d “hurry” cleaning our room so we could get unpacked and hopefully out to snorkel (off the end of the dock, away from the trash). The luggage is arranged in a “check-in” and “check out” corral at the front desk, but otherwise, totally unmanaged…you have to trust people here! Anyway, we figured we could wait a bit to snorkel, rather than digging through our stuff and changing in the public bathrooms there…

We were hungry but lunch wasn’t until 130 either, although they said around 11am they have a tea cake snack (which is common for divers in between dives) and there was always water- and during the day, juice, tea, and coffee. We snacked on some nuts and things but were overall just wishing it lunchtime, as we’d not had a real dinner the night before- or breakfast (just a protein bar). We were hanging out on the upper level of the main building, where the bar and wifi are- and we stayed there for a while. Finally, the cake came out- which was really good. I am not sure what it is but it’s very dense and moist and we find it in a few different colors and types during our stay…will have to investigate if it’s a traditional thing…so at least we had some sustenance until they said our room was ready.

On the way to our room, we ran into the “only dog on the island”, and I thought our guide said the name “Hero” to which I said, “Hi Buddy!” She replied she’s a girl. Oops. Maybe Hiro? Or Hira? Not sure. Again we were faced with a mat (rather than a trough of water) where we were supposed to leave our shoes and wipe the sand off before we go into the room. Sadly, we were not in one of the cute, featured bungalows with a hammock- but a room in a complex of similar single rooms. Totally fine, by us and if cheaper= great!

The room is not bad, just basic- and smells freshly cleaned- as in the floor in the bathroom is still wet and slippery too, so now we’re leaving dirty footprints on the clean floor and sliding all over. I don’t think my feet will ever dry while I am here, which is gross as you just want to wipe them off (on what??) before you climb into the bed for example- so now I end up sticking my feet out of the sheets until they are dry and then put them under. There is no AC, no screens- but there is a ceiling fan and another standing one, which hopefully will be fine. Just a sheet, no blanket (not that we should need one)…the bathroom is modern and overall, we like it…but still wish it was a bungalow with a hammock!? I should travel with a hammock…

Bryan is rip-roaring to get into the water and trying to hurry me along- not that I was taking a long time, he just was being impatient. We got our gear and started to head to the jetty- but I see lunch being served and I will not be happy if we miss lunch too, so I ask Bryan if we can just go out after we eat. He knows better than to argue- both based on what will happen if I don’t get to eat lunch (I get hangry) and what happened the night before for dinner- so we went back to eat. This is what’s best for him too- but the water is calling to him…

The lunch is a buffet and we’re one of the first. There is one dish they label “vegetarians only” which is nice because as I described in other trips (and even at home), meat eaters always seem to suddenly choose vegetarian options when given chance, leaving nothing for us. It’s happened enough that we both make a comment about this, as we’re relieved there will always be enough for us. It’s cauliflower, broccoli and tofu in a sweet and sour type sauce- and very good, which is excellent as we figure this is pretty much what we will be eating for the entire 5 days for lunch and dinner. We got some (filtered) water and juice and now nourished, were ready for snorkeling!

On our way back to the jetty, we were shocked to see the tide was out and exposed all the shallower corals and urchins- and for a minute we thought we were not going to be able to snorkel, but we could see it was plenty deep where we were to get in. We were instructed not to go past the next jetty, which is the police jetty (there’s a base on the island) as there are strong rip tides that will sweep you away. We are very aware of the dangers of such currents so we won’t go anywhere near there! The water is relatively warm, but after too long you would get cold still…and there were already so many fish! There had to be about 50 just on the underwater platform we were standing on (so people can practice diving in shallow water). We skirted around to the side, around the boats- cognizant that there are boats coming in and going out all day, so we have to be careful.

I am trying to get used to the snorkel again and feel a tad out of breath but adjusted soon enough. I was trying to practice the mask clearing exercise that is a requirement for the basic refresher dive course we have to take since it’s been so long since we dove. The thing is we tend to go years between dives, and it ends up being a little stressful and scary (for me) to readjust each time. I snorted a bunch of water a few times and got a tad worried about this skill, which is critical, say if you got kicked and someone knocked your mask off- or if it leaks…or worse, if it’s fogging up every two seconds, which can be a nightmare when you are trying to enjoy a dive…especially when you are afraid of and not good at this skill! My fear is I will snort water at 25m and want to shoot up to the surface to get real air and not be able to cough it out or clear it at depth. This is clearly dangerous as you can get the bends and it is an absolute no-no for divers unless it’s a crazy emergency. I would be banned from diving if that happened, so the pressure was on.

We were out for about an hour perhaps and climbed back onto the jetty- where Bryan asked me if I had the key to the room…I did not. He’d put it in his pocket- of a new pair of shorts he’d never tried- and it fell out while we were snorkeling!? Bryan was so upset because we never do stuff like that- not even an hour here and we’re already causing chaos. We went to the front desk and told them what happened- they said they’ have to charge us, of course. My guess of 50 RM was indeed the cost- it’s about $12 as the rate is 1/4, which is not terrible…and we deserved it either way! He was pretty miffed about his “carelessness”, but I told him to let it go. It wasn’t the biggest of deals- but I get his frustration, as I’d have been too if it were me.

We went back to the room to put some soap in our masks to keep them from fogging, which, as stated is always cause for concern for me- and then went back out again. However, this time the jetty was a very busy place and we did not get much snorkeling done until we were asked to get out- of which (in natural form) Bryan was completely unaware. He asked me if I was done? I told him they were yelling to us to get out of the way…so he hurried up the steps too.

As we were starting to walk back to the room to change, we met a tiny German woman, who was asking us where we’d been- and telling us about her few days here. We chatted for a while and she showed us her hand, which was turning black- some kind of circulation issue from the (chill of the) water. They instruct you not to use gloves here because they know this gives people carte blanche to touch corals and things they shouldn’t, but I told her she should just show them her hand and that’d be that. A medical reason for wearing gloves- should be perfectly fine. She was also covered in unexplained bites and had a variety of other ailments, sadly- but here she was in her early 50’s traveling alone, half-way around the world for adventure.

She asked us about our travels and we ended up talking about Africa- which interested her, so I gave her both Mat Dry’s name and his books (This is Africa 1 &2) and Armand for Madagascar. We walked back together and it turned out her room was one of the dorms across from ours. We made a plan to meet up for dinner as well, but first Bryan and I wanted to head upstairs for a drink. Anything cold would be great, since again like Africa, nothing is cold, ever!? The choices were limited to beer wine and cider- or shots- so I got a hard cider and Bryan got a Jack and Coke, with ice even! Both of us were so excited about the cold drinks…it’s the little things you know!

She came up to visit and was telling us about her YouTube channel which is of a squirrel puppet, @Nelly Hoernchen and the adventures she has. I think she should bring her on her travels, not just do things around home- maybe she will…but she was describing one encounter where the puppet left nuts for one of the backyard squirrels and she narrated. I didn’t ask if it was in German or English (she spoke really good English), but I will see when I get back and have time to watch! And how perfect the puppet was a squirrel…

Dinner was called so we went down to eat- and it was the same cauliflower, broccoli and tofu in a different sauce. Bryan and I laughed as we joked they just rinse off what’s left from the meal before and serve it again with a different sauce…but really, no real complaints! It’s good and it’s a solid meal we can both appreciate- so while we may joke, it is in no way a dig to the resort or their efforts. They have food we can eat, it’s good, and they label it special for vegetarians, period. That’s plenty for us!

We were telling stories and she was telling about the orangutan sanctuary we’re going to soon- but Bryan and I were totally starting to fall asleep, so we had to excuse ourselves and get to bed- but not before checking the dive board for our call time. Every afternoon, the next day’s schedule is posted, so you know when you have to be up, which dive location you will go to and who your guides and boat are. We were scheduled for 9am, North Mabul- after the refresher course, which would be at the end of the jetty.

Now it was time for bed…and for me to worry about the refresher course and the dreaded mask clearing skill…

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