Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Howl's Malay Moving Castle
(eat your heart out, Baron!)

This is the less than beautiful, yet awesome dive platform that we stayed at for 4 days off the coast of Borneo in Sipadan.

I wanted somewhere with lush reefs, and variety of sea life, but without costing a million dollars. Sipadan has been on my list for a while now, and tickets from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur weren't going to cost me an appendage, so things were looking up. Seaventures used to be an old ocean drill unit. Looks quite a bit like an oil rig. The humor of it is, it's a horrible eyesore on the skyline. If you are staying at the fancypants resort connected to the island, you have this giant rusty multi-colored mess marring the view. But, if you are on the platform, all you can see are beautiful islands, open ocean, and the sweet architecture of the nearby resort. ha ha! It really does remind me of Howl's Moving Castle. What do you think?

Bunny and I left Joshie to fend for himself in Aonang for the day, and headed to the airport on the morning of the 21st. We flew out to Kuala Lumpur and hopped a flight from there to Tawau. I will provide a map for clarification.

Tawau is an intriguing little town. I didn't quite know what to anticipate, because it is considered a "business centre" in Malaysia, but is also in the middle of nowhere Borneo. Many conferences go on there, for some reason. The city was about 20 minutes away from the airport, and kinda reminded me of the seedy outskirts of Miami. Not the kind of place you would want to take a late night stroll alone in. It is famous for it's cocoa, strangely enough, and on the way back through, Bunny and I hit up the factory for a personal tour! More on that momentarily.

The next morning, we headed back to the airport to catch our minivan to Sipadan (bonus: that rhymed). The drive was somewhere around 2 hours long, and we amused ourselves by trying to figure out what all the palm planations were about (palm oil!) and looking for monkeys. We arrived at the coast with a view of this...

(borrowed this picture from picasaweb)

Looks pretty, ne? I only wish you could see the massive amount of garbage floating in the water. It was revolting and quite sad. The trash disappated as we went out in the boat towards the platform, but it's impossible to forget. So, the boat. We were taken out the 30min boatride to the platform by our captain and his two sons. They were gorgeous kids. The youngest had grabbed my rucksack and slung it on his back to help us to the boat. I am never again allowed to bitch about it being heavy. He was about 9 years old and had no problem. We headed into open water with the horrid pollution disappearing behind us. I promised myself, that if I ever have the means, I will attempt to fund a pollution cleanup near Sipadan.

The platform came into site, and I was downright giddy. We hopped onto the lift and were greeted at the top with mango juice and our keys. Mango juice is always exciting, but I couldn't wait to get upstairs to see our digs. It was quaint, comfortable enough, air conditioning, and a mostly functioning toilet (that I managed to break the handle off of, since I am a beast). My only qualm was our "roommates". Seems the platform has fought a war, a nuclear holocaust, if you will... against a plague of roaches. The humans lost. I asked Evie (the happiest divemaster you will ever meet) about it, and she said they bombed multiple times, but the bastards refused to fully die. It took me a day of squeamishness and sleeping with the bathroom light on, to get used to the idea, but the next few days were fine. Like Evie said, "you dive all day and all you do on the platform is sleep and eat, so you don't even notice so much." Also, she hooked us up with a courtesy roachspray!

We stayed the 22nd-26th, and got about 8 dives in. Nothing the first day, because we didn't arrive in time to catch the afternoon boat, nor did we have our equipment sorted out. So, our first morning, we woke up early and headed out to Sipadan for 2 dives. The first one was as Barracuda Point. Hell of a way to start us off. The barracuda formed a massive school and were practically a wall of shining teeth. It was amazing to see. We also came across a fair number of white tip reef sharks, and hawksbill turtles lazing about. Visibility was magnificent, and it was easily one of the best dives of the trip.

(another borrowed image, sorry I didn't have a camera for these dives!)

The 2nd dive was Turtle Tomb. Disturbing name, I know. It's a cave system, that many a turtle has headed into to rest, and then when it was time to surface for air, they had managed to get too deep into the cave, attempted to go up, and hit the ceiling instead. The floor is littered with bones from many a pineapppular turtle. We didn't go any further than the entrance, because we didn't have the gear, some of us didn't have the experience, and a few diver's have gotten lost in there before. Nice. Evie was great at pointing out the microlife along the walls, for the rest of that dive. Many tiny shrimp, nudibranch, and crazy looking creatures that the untrained eye would have mistaken for coral or seaplants. We turned a corner and entered a small cove where jackfish had formed a spiral stemming from the ocean floor, nearly to the surface of the water. They just coned continuously, as we swam around them.

We headed back to the platform that afternoon, feeling pretty damn accomplished, and (at least I was, as you can see above, me looking smug) overwhelmed by the sheer number of turtles we saw. We were just about within site of our monstrous base, when one of our divemasters spotted a whale. He dove off the side of the boat and within minutes had surfaced again, was climbing back in, and gushing about the humpback he had just seen underwater. Our boat ambled around for 1/2 an hour or more trying to get close enough that we could swim near the whale, but it wasn't to be. Several of us were 1/2 geared up, perched on the prow of the boat, which you could see below on one of my previous posts. (all photos of me are stolen from Bunny)

Ok, that was rather long... so I will save the next day's dives for another post. Preferably when I have access at home to my own stash of photos. I am going to go back to studying kanji and staring out the window at the pretty snow.

No comments: