Sunday, December 31, 2006

Vietnam, 18 December 2006 - 19 December 2006

Pulau Sipadan Resort, Kapalai - 6 December 2006 to 10 December 2006

We watched with awe as the boat we were on chugged its way nearing the jetty of Pulau Sipadan Resort (PSR), Kapalai. In the shallow blue/turquoise water we can’t help noticing the arrays of colorful starfish methodically arranged as if someone had all the time in the world to do that. We (with our jaw dropping) with our remarks and comments about how wonderful the resort looks and how beautiful the reef must have looked like Billy Crystal and his mates in ‘City Slickers’ to the boatman.

We went straight to lunch but I’ll dispense elaborating ‘bout lunch. The major attraction of the dining hall is the viewing platform in the dining hall. It’s actually a hole in the floor where you probably sight moray eels, blue spotted stingrays, small scale parrotfish, box fish, puffer fish etc. After lunch, we were greeted by Linda (but to deter any confusion with my wife, Inda), she asked us to call her Lindut. She checked our paperwork for diving purposes. Lindut commented on the number of dives Inda had made so far being recently certified and all. ‘Only 5?’ Inda vehemently corrected her….’7’.

We got a room closest to the dining hall right in front of the ‘Green House’ which is some sort of a banquet hall. The view from our room facing the Celebes Sea is simply indescribable.

For this trip, I brought a new camera i.e. the Fuji E900, a 9.0MP digital camera and my ever loyal-reliable Canon A95 as a backup. Also, the strobe Inon D2000. Our first dive (also the check-out dive) starts the same evening at the house reef a.k.a ‘Mandarin Valley’. Lindut was the guide and I think it was the best check-out dive ever. There was giant frog fish, lion fish, bat fish, adult sweetlips, scorpion fish almost everywhere.

It’s impossible for me to narrate about each dive because between myself and Inda, we did more than 30 dives. The trip was my first notable experience with muck diving. It’s definitely a different experience. I’ve read about muck diving not to be overlooked because of the vast and diversity critters calling the place home. Inda was reading an article where it mentioned that a number of people going to Sipadan didn’t actually get their fins into Sipadan, instead confined their dives in Kapalai and Mabul. I can’t agree more especially for me whom photography equipment and capabilities confined me to macro photography.

We dived at the Drop Off, South Point, Barracuda Point and Lobster Lair at Sipadan, Cleaning Station, Lobster Lair (and Cleaning Station) at Kapalai and Mabul Water Bungalow House Reef (artificial reef with underwater bungalows), Paradise (in front of Borneo Divers) at Mabul and numerous dives from the jetty at PSR (at Mandarin Valley).

We sighted white tip sharks, schools of bumphead parrotfish, batfish/spadefish, blackfin/chevron barracuda, star puffer, yellow boxfish, ornate ghost pipefish, trumpetfish (you don’t need to dive to see one in Kapalai), spotted garden eel, splendid garden eel, juvenile warty clown frogfish (near the tyres at Mandarin Valley), a fraction of a second of mandarin fish (where else?), leaf scorpionfish, tassled scoprionfish, beaufort’s crocodilefish, gobies, cleaner shrimps, anemone shrimps, pharaoh cuttlefish, the mesmerizing and hypnotic flamboyant cuttlefish, porcelain/anemone crab, the orang utan crab, lionfish and its juvenile, ‘grandpa’ grouper, trevallies, napoleon wrasse, spanish dancer, a number of nudibranches’ species, juvenile sweetlips, blue spotted stingray and one huge stingray under one of the wrecks at Mandarin Valley, turtles, juvenile sea snake, crab eyed goby, mantis shrimp, bannerfish…to name a few.

The highlights were the current we experience at Paradise. Everyone was grabbing for a spot to hold to avoid being swept away. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The hunt for the hammerheads which eventually became a stroll in Sipadan because we didn’t find any, huh. That’s why I’m not so keen to search for big subjects, you’d to go deep and there’s nothing there. The search for mandarin fish was also interesting.

We bid our goodbyes to Benggol, Wendy (Our DM), Alex and Ismail on the 5th day in Kapalai. It’s always kinda sad to leave new friends after the hospitality extended during our stay. We took a slight detour to Tawau town and had our hearty dinner at one of the local seafood stalls there.

We took the last flight out of Tawau to Kuala Lumpur, tired, everybody had their own uninterrupted nap probably dreaming of Kapalai, well….one’s thing’s sure….


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Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Night In Semporna

We checked in one of the rooms in Dragon Inn Hotel, Semporna. The room’s not bad for the price at RM66.00 per night. Anyway, I don’t think me and Inda will care that much about the room after the tiresome journey from K.L to Tawau. Moreover, only at Tawau airport, then I realized that I didn’t make any transport arrangement from the airport to Semporna. Thanks to Mat Tawau (driver of a minivan for one of the hotels in Tawau), he took us to Tawau from where we boarded a minivan to Semporna (one-way trip cost RM10.00 per person).

After a short nap and fully recharged body, we walked around
Semporna town and bought the necessities that we probably need before reaching Kapalai. Be mindful of the pearl sellers at the Dragon Inn jetty. Honestly, I didn’t see anybody buying any pearls from them, something wrong perhaps?

The night scene at Dragon Inn is nothing less than picturesque. Lots of photography opportunities for bidding photographers. After checking our emails at the front off
ice, we called it a day.

Since, there’s plenty of time before the rest of the gang
arrived, we wondered at Semporna again the morning after. We stumbled upon the local franchise of the famous Kentucky Fried Chicken but had ‘roti canai’ instead. Most of the morning, spent looking for Inda’s head cap. Finally, she settled with one.
Semporna wet market is always bustling and don’t bother to bring any bag to stuff your purchases because they’ll be plenty of entrepreneurial kids ushering you to buy plastic bags.

By the time the rest of the gang arrived, we were already in our room, packed and ready to go. So, when time came, we walked to the Sipadan-Kapalai Resort jetty whic
h is only a whiff away if you’re not carrying anything. But, with a bag full of clothes and scuba gears, it involved a lot of huff and puff, especially on my part.

We decided that this would be the best way to go for dive trips to the Sipadan area, one night in Semporna before the boat ride to any one of the islands. Fresh mind and e
nergized body is the way to go.

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