We are Advanced Open Water Divers now!
10.05.2010 - 02.06.2010
View Asia on Fiorela's travel map.
Greetings from the Philippines!
We are staying with an American friend and his Filipino wife on the Cebu Island at the moment. The surroundings are stunning: Bamboo huts, palm trees, fishermen in narrow boats on deep blue and turquoise waters filled with jumping fish and dolphins. Our days pass by helping Moses run his internet cafe and little grocery store in Oslob. It is a lovely experience being in the middle of no-where interacting with the locals -specially children- at a different level. Luckily, in the following days we will do some snorkeling and diving in Moalboal, Malapascua and maybe Donsol to see Whale Sharks.... but we'll see, after all we only have until the 21st of June to pack our bags and jump on a plane to Hawaii.
It has been a while since our last entry was posted but oh well..! I was hoping to update before we left Malaysia, but our busy "agenda" didn't allow for it. After leaving Myanmar we stayed in Bangkok, Thailand for a couple of days where we decided to skip diving in Koh Tao and zoom directly on to the Perhentian Islands -Malaysia- instead. As we landed in sleepy British Colonial Georgetown we found women covering their heads but trapped in busy westernized lifestyles; little India with its tingling music, curry aromas and colorful dresses, and Chinese red balls adorning fast food restaurants as well as the low-key backpacker's scene which made for a nice but brief stay in this charming town.
For the last weeks of our journey through Asia the main objective is to scuba dive as much as possible. Unfortunately our a rapid pace -due to lack of time- in Malaysia only allowed us to dive in a couple of places. With the time given we hurried to the Perhentian Islands. Blinding white-sand beaches, turquoise shallow waters and dense tropical forest is what awaits the visitor. On a whim we ended up enrolling an Advanced Open Water Diving course extending our stay from two to five days... so typical!
The course is normally only 2 days, but we stretched it out to take it easy on Long Beach . The course consists of 5 specialized dives. We chose to do: Deep dive (up to 24 meters), Buoyancy control, Photography, Shipwreck and Navigation. While on the Island we met a very nice group of people -all divers-. Given the small size of the island it was easy to walk from one side to another in a few minutes to catch the sunset. When not diving the best thing to do was snorkeling. So wonderful to see a myriad of colorful fish of all shapes and sizes minding their own business could amuse you for hours. This along with the diving views made me stand in awe at the beauty of God's creation -yes, marvelous even underwater!!-
Johor Bahru (JB), the Southern most point of Peninsular Malaysia was the next stop. The main reason to take the 12-hour bus ride to JB was to visit Singapore and to catch a flight to Kuching, in the Bornean region of Malaysia.
We found there was not much to do in town, but it was still enjoyable. Near the bus terminal there were a couple of basic budget hotels, good food, as well as 24-hours internet service which was more than we needed for a couple of days.
Singapore is only half-hour and a bridge away from JB. The Immigration control is one of the most efficient thus easiest border crossing we have seen up until now. On the way to the downtown area, comfortably sitting on an AC bus we saw a very developed, clean, organized and green country. As we left the suburbs some contrasting views started to become more evident. The old two store buildings offering Shisha puffs and the massive sky scrapers lodging sophisticated stores at the water front. Gigantic concrete malls hosting exclusive design clothes with the colorful buildings where locals hang the laundry, and the ethnically diverse population speaking many languages as well as perfect English are characteristic of the "Pearl of Asia." We spent our day in Singapore strolling around streets and malls, eating in Hawkers markets and going to the movies... a very Western day, I must say.
Diving in paradise, wandering in laid-back colonial towns and strolling for a day in highly developed cities made up for an intense first week in this corner of Asia. The following two weeks would be spent in Sabah and Sarawak, namely Malaysian Borneo. Kuching - the Cat City- welcomed us with fresh cool air cleaned by the first rains of the Monsoon. Content to realize there was (cheap) public transportation to the main tourist attractions, we grabbed our day-packs and went sightseeing.
The Semmenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center exceeded our expectations as the primates get real close to the curious tourist crowd. About a dozen of them climbed down the trees, as though taking turns, to get their morning "banana fix" while posing in front of flash-less cameras. When leaving the Center, "Hot Momma" and her baby blocked our way out enticing us to extend our stay a little longer, and of course to take more pictures... BTW, you can see more pics of the Orang-Utans in our Photography section.
The second excursion in the area was Bako National Park. Even though it was pouring rain we still got to see many monkeys of three different species: Leaf Silver Macaques, Long-tailed Monkeys and the bizarre -obscene looking nose- Proboscis ("Penis-nose") Monkeys. The former are the weirdest primates I have ever seen. We were very lucky to have seen them not only upon arrival but on the walking trails, at the beach and even near the Visitor's Center. Sadly I had forgotten my camera battery at the hotel so I could not take any pictures
As we planned our next stop a friendly local at our hotel suggested we take a boat ride to visit the long houses instead of going straight to Miri. We were tempted enough to take the boat ride. We decided to skip the long house experience and carry on to see Niah Caves instead. In Yangon, Myanmar a Malaysian anthropologist who was studying inter-ethnic conflicts in the country recommended us to visit the site. "There you'll see the remains of the oldest homo sapience found in Southeast Asia along with ancient paintings and thousands of bats... and I don't remember seeing tourists when I went" she said.
In Niah Caves, as we entered the Great Cave thousands of Swifts flying around and a smell of chicken curry welcomed us. Don't ask me about the curry smell, I still cannot figure out whether it came from the hut nearby or it was a mix of bat/swift poop. Darkness in the cave necessitated a headlamp to follow the long wooden path, as it got darker and the animal noises louder our appreciation of the Caves peaked. If we hadn't had a light we wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between having the eyes opened or closed... spooky!
Unfortunately, the Painting Cave had fenced walls making it difficult to appreciate the ancient red drawings depicting animals and humans on a ship. We adventured our way out of the Cave by taking a different route which wasn't the best idea. Up to this day my itching finger reminds me of it after being stung by a black scorpion. For a moment I thought I could be in danger, but thank God it was nothing more than a numb mouth -from sucking the venom out- and a sore and swollen hand... from Miri we took a flight to Kota Kinabalu (KK).
At KK's airport, as we tried to catch a bus we walked by a Jeep with a peculiar Intel bumper sticker which said "Sikh Inside." Lukhwant -an Indian Malaysian man who wants to become a tour guide when he retires- gave us a lift not only to town but he took us to the bus station to get our tickets, to the Mt. Kinabalu reservations office, a city view point and even wanted to buy us lunch!! we were so lucky that he chose to help us. We could not have done all that in such a short time if it weren't for him. We enjoyed his company so much that we payed him a visit at his office when we returned from Mt. Kinabalu. People like him make traveling a much more gratifying experience... indeed!
To dive in Sipadan it is necessary to stay either in Semporna or Mabul Island, we chose the latter. As usual the days we spent in the beautiful setting ended up being more than originally planned. Our diving permits where valid for three dives in one day at Sipadan, but, due to cancellations we were very fortunate to get one more day. There is no question this is one of the best dive spots in the world. On a single dive one can swim with thousands of barracudas forming twisters around you, schools of Hump-head Wrasse fish with human-like teeth, dozens of huge green turtles passing fearlessly -and literally- right next/above you, many Black-Tip Sharks and Grey Reef sharks peacefully sleeping or swimming around, Day Octopus mastering camouflaging techniques and Giant Morays without mentioning thousands of colorful fish of innumerable sizes and shapes.
The following two days were spent diving in Mabul and Kapalai Islands. Even though the marine life was not as impressive as in Sipadan it was still magnificent as we saw Sting Rays, more turtles, etc. Our dive master was an specialist in spotting the tinniest creatures ever. He showed us camouflaged Pygmy Sea Horses, Orang-Utan crabs, Ribbon Morays, Lion and Frog Fish, and colorful shrimps in addition to cute Nudibranches, Box and Puffer Fish, Unicorn Fish, Nemo (Clown Fish), among others. We spent a big chunk of our budget in 4 days but it was all worth while. We left Mabul Island with a new friend -English Andy,- a new depth record for me -34 meters, by accident, of course!- and many wishes to return someday.
Hoping to have lessen the effect of deep diving we waited a couple of days before climbing Mt. Kinabalu (4095 meters). It was something we wanted to do before leaving Southeast Asia: to climb the tallest mountain in the region. We shared the mandatory guide with an English couple (two chartered accountants!!!) and were lucky to have amazing weather for the entire 8.5 km climb to the top. On the first day the ascent was about 1500 meters in 6 km; very steep but enjoyable climb amidst dense tropical rain and cloud forests.
On the second day climbers had to depart Laban Rata (3273m) around 2:30 am. Full moon had only been a couple of days ago so a flashlight was practically not needed. Keeping a slow but steady pace we reached the summit 15 min before the sunrise. From the top one can see the South China Sea, oceans of clouds, and the lighted towns we have left on our way up. The views were so glorious and the time so good that we spent about an hour at the top taking in the views, snapping pictures, and chatting with other climbers.
The climb down was a nightmare though. Jay and I are still feeling sore muscles for the last five days. It was a killer to descend more than 8 kms on a very steep trail full of uneven steps. Anyways, we made it and now we are almost fully recovered, and the memories are unbeatable. The plans for the last two weeks of the Asian journey are to spent time with friends and dive a little more. God willing we will be hitting U.S. territory (Hawaii) on the 21st of June. We'll keep you posted on our latest adventures. Thanks for following us, may God bless y'all.