Trip Start Aug 27, 2010
103Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Mabul Island Beach Resort
However, getting there was easier said than done. We had decided to break the journey by staying one night in a place called Lahad Datu. We were warned by Morgan Freeman that it was a total cowboy town but seeing as we had already paid for our room there, we decided to stick with the plan.
And yep, it was a total cowboy town. Nothing but dusty roads and threatening looking locals leering at Natalie. It didn't occur to me at the time but I wish I had taken more photos it was just so hilariously bad. I don’t think any tourist in their right mind has ever stayed there but that actually made it more interesting as it felt like were experiencing a bit of edgy Borneo.
The next day we had to get a public van for the remaining two hour trip to the coast but unfortunately they wont leave until they are completely full so we spent a sweltering two and a half hours sat in the back of the van, still being leered at by locals, waiting for it fill up. When it got down to the final seat, we did contemplate buying the remaining ticket so that we could get on the road but we decided against it and it was very much the wrong call. Five minutes later a family of four turned up lugging several big boxes and, get this, a washing machine. We had to re-arrange the entire van to get everything in and we ended up with literally all of our luggage piled on top of us for what turned out to be a very uncomfortable journey.
Finally, to top it all off, we got a puncture halfway through the journey so we had to unpack the van, wait for the wheel to be changed and then pile back on. All part of the experience.
When we finally arrived, it was all worth it. We were staying on a tropical island called Mabul where we would be spending the next six days indulging in a mixture of chilling, sunbathing and learning to dive.
We were staying at the Mabul Beach Resort and we had a little beach bungalow no more than ten metres from the sea. But, the next day, there was no frolicking on the beach for us. We spend the day in the classroom doing our open-water theory exams.
Its all pretty straight forward and we should have finished it all by about 3:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately though, we also had a couple from Kazakhstan learning with us and although they spoke Borat English well enough to communicate, it took them a long long time to work through the dive manual and take six exams. We finally finished at about 6:30 and I swear everyone around the resort (all of whom were experienced divers) were looking at me and Nat like we were a couple of thickies as we had pretty much set a new world record for the longest theory day.
Anyway, over the next two days, it was time for the fun part. It was time to get in the water and do all our skill tests. Stuff like taking our mask off underwater and simulating running out of air etc. It was all good fun and much much better than sitting in a hot sticky classroom all day. Nat wasnt keen on the taking the mask exercises, but seemed much more relaxed when coaxed through them by our tanned, brooding, Danish dive instructor whom she likened to Heath Ledger.
The location was a fantastic place to do our open water. Even as we were doing our practical tests the reef that we were surrounded by was teeming with fish. On our first dive we saw loads of cool stuff including turtles, big barracudas and numerous other exotic looking fish. Don’t ask me what I saw though, I committed none of it to memory. These "diver types" are obsessed by what fish they saw, its all they seem to talk about (apart from their wide range of tattoos and charity wristbands) but I’m happy to enjoy my diving based on the following criteria – if I saw stuff that was really pretty, really ugly or really big, it was a good dive.
Oh, there was one I remembered. The Damsel fish. Notable because it bit Natalie seven times on one dive and we’re not talking about little nips, we are talking about proper bites that left visible teeth marks for days afterwards. I got caught by it a couple of times but it seemed to much prefer Nat.
So after our third day we were qualified open water divers and raring to get stuck in. Thankfully, a stone’s throw away from Mabul Island is a dive site called Sipadan, which is considered one of the top 5 dive sites in the world.
But before that, we had a free day to relax on the beach and explore Mabul Island.