Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soggy Moggy

Hello out there! After 2 weeks of scuba diving, this soggy moggy has returned & dried out somewhat. My liver has too (dried out that is). We departed Melbourne the last Saturday in October & flew to Sydney, changed planes & flew then direct to Manila. Took a taxi to our accommodation in central Manila, ordered home delivery pizza (which arrived in less than 10 minutes!) ate & promptly went to sleep.

Our next flight was at 4pm Sunday from where we thought was the new international airport in Manila (as opposed to the old international airport into which we'd arrived the night before). We amused ourselves with a bit of shopping & lunch before checking out. As were were departing our hotel at 1pm, the cab driver exclaimed to us that we couldn't go to that airport in a taxi & that is was yet ANOTHER international airport in provincial Manila that was 30 minutes by cab PLUS 2 x EFFING HOURS BY BUS away.

At this point we realised we were going to miss our flight & I was so upset I almost threw up in the foyer. Class act. To Plumbing Boy's credit he was very kind to me; although slightly frustrated, realised that our mate K who was joining us & returning to that same airport had also missed this & that we'd both made a genuine error.

Thus began the amazing race. K had flown directly to Kota Kinabalu the night before & was spending the day lazing by the pool awaiting us to join her before out next flight Monday morning to get to the dive resort (from KK, there is another 45 minute flight to Tawau, 60 minute mini bus ride to Semporna, 30 minute speed boat ride to the resort). As the dive resort was all pre paid, we needed to get THERE ASAP. The next flight from the provincial airport wasn't until 3.15pm the following day which still would have left us with an over night in KK & not arriving at the resort until lunch time Tuesday. BAH.

What we did was this. Taxi back to the old International Airport. Bought tickets to Kuala Lumpur. Flew there Sunday night. Checked into the airport motel (& got about 4 hours sleep - but the buffet breakfast was almost worth the price of the room). Took the earliest flight to KK (back towards Manila - KK is 2.5 hrs from KL & 2hrs from Manila); had 45 minute transit to go through customs at KK as we were now in Borneo apparently.

Mr customs was very friendly & wanted to know where we were from & where we were going & was teaching me how to pronounce the names of the places. Me. I'm a complete bundle of stress going just hurry the fuck up dude I don't want to miss another flight & we still need to get our boarding passes! Mr customs tells me Mr boarding pass is in the next booth & there was no rush. I scoot over to Mr boarding pass who definitely needs glasses as he almost had is face pressed into his monitor AND he was typing with not 2, but 1 finger! Lordy I almost had a nervous break down.

We made our next flight with time to spare for an iced coffee & a muffin & to update K by txt that we hadn't missed any more flights. The 45 min flight to Tawau was uneventful. The resort guys spotted us straight away & drove us by mini bus to the port of Semporna very quickly. I don't think they were obeying the speed limit signs & spent as much time on the opposite side of the road overtaking traffic as they did on the side of the road they were supposed to be driving on (coincidentally, the same as in Australia). Even PB was getting a little worried.

Next stop was the speed boat. Of course it was having fuel problems & we had to stop 3 times in the port for the boat man to bleed the fuel lines. PB was just about to take over when we finally got going. 30 minutes later our "resort" appeared in the middle of the ocean. Kapalai used to be an island which has eroded over time leaving the sand bar the resort is built on.

Our resort.

We arrived too late in the afternoon for our intro dive where the instructors check you to make sure you are competent & your gear (or their hire gear) is all working before you are allowed on any boat dives. K had arrived at lunch time & manged to fit her orientation dive in before the 2.30pm afternoon boat dive which she also went on, so despite the additional cost & the taking the long way round, we had not forfeited too much diving.

Of course PB & I woke at the crack of dawn, Malaysia is 3 hours behind Melbourne time so it was really 8.30am according to our body clocks.

The sunrise wasn't so colourful, but check out these clouds!

We sat & watched the sun come up & the group of divers from our resort who had been chosen to go to Sipadan (the mecca of diving) that day. In the package you are entitled to 3 x boat dives each day & unlimited shore dives out the front of the resort.

Dive boat.

More of our resort

They have a huge garden area on the resort to recycle some of the waste water so I took some pic's of the flowers for PB's Mum.

See the blue dot on the top of the flower? It's a bee. He flew off before I found the macro setting on the camera......

The diving around the resort & to the other sites by boat other than Sipadan, is a combination of Muck Diving &/or Macro diving. see
here for more detailed info. Muck diving usually involves no coral, no pretty fish & looking in sandy or murky flats for very small critters or critters that blend very well into their environment. Unless you are diving with someone skilled at spotting such critters, you could spend the entire dive looking at sand or "muck". Not really my thing.

Macro diving can be done in any environment & is where you find very small critters. Imagine finding a pinky/purple Pygmy sea horse about half the size of your little fingernail hiding on a metre high pinky/purple fan coral. That is macro at its ultimate & again for skilled divers. Us novices tend to like the big stuff as it is easy to see!!!!!

Tuesday we did our intro dive at 8.30am then joined K for the 10.30am & 2.30pm boat dives. At 5.30pm we checked the dive schedule for Wednesday. GAME ON. We were scheduled to go to Sipadan! We had limited drinks & went to bed early (I think our jet lag had caught up as I was asleep by 8pm) ready for our 5am start.

We were triple sharing a room with K & all woke up at 3am with a monsoonal type storm belting down on our bungalow. We jumped up & shut all the windows & doors & moved one of the beds over which the roof was leaking & disappointed went back to sleep fearing our trip would be cancelled in the morning. We slept fitfully til 5am & as it was still bucketing down we sent PB ahead to the dive shop to see what was happening. The wind had abated somewhat but the weather was still pretty shitty.

PB rushes back & said hurry up we are going!!!! K & I jump up, chucked on our bathers & hastily pack bags (which we never opened the whole day mind you!) & scooted to the dive shop in the rain. Scoffed down a quick breakfast & were on our way. Sipadan is only 15 minutes by speed boat away, so before we knew it, we were there. It was still raining when we arrived, but was easing. The water temperature was 31 degrees C & the air temp was probably similar, so although we were soggy, we were warm.

First dive of the day was barracuda point. What can I say. We were greeted by a column of around 1000 barracuda. Magic. We could have just hung there for ages watching, but group were moving onwards. We saw white & black tip reef sharks; too many tropical fish to name, beautiful soft & hard corals & turtles galore. We did 4 dives that day from the boat - you actually stay at Sipadan island all day for this trip & eat in between dives on the island instead of returning to the resort. I could say so much more, but this post is already getting a bit long winded & I really need to get back to work! More images of diving Sipadan here.

We did 3 boat dives Thursday (K skipped the last dive) & PB & I attempted a night dive at the resort. We hired torches as neither of us own them (we have the rest of our own gear though); torch 1 failed on decent, so we popped back up to get another one, but they had run out. Half way down again the other torch failed. It was twilight so we continued on intending to just spiral a structure under the water until we could no longer see then return to the resort on top of the water so we could see where we were going. The torch then came back on & continued to work intermittently, after about 20 minutes we gave up as it was getting too dark when it wasn't working to really see where we were going.

Plumbing boy had a go at underwater photography while snorkeling around the resort.

A turtle in the water hanging about the resort.

Sunset Kapali

Friday was our last day & PB & I did the first boat dive, K had a break again. We attempted to dry out our gear, which was a bit hard as it was pissing down again. We eventually gave up & packed all the wet gear in one back & the dry gear in the other & checked out before lunch.

Back onto the speed boat. 2/3rds of the way back to Semporna, the boatman got lost. It was raining so hard & the sea mist was so thick that you could only see about 2 metres in any direction. Fabulous when you are travelling at high speed. The boat man usually navigated by sight & didn't know how to use his compass. PB was sitting up the front & of course took charge & told him to stop before we crashed. Another passenger Dirk who we'd been diving with had his GPS with him & had the co-ordinates. Very lucky. As the mist cleared, we were facing an island & were about 1/2km from driving straight up onto it's beach! Dirk & PB directed the boat man back to port until he could make out some familiar landmarks with PB hanging his head out the side window to try & spot for other potential collision hazards.

Back on to the mini bus & into the heart of Tawau where we stayed overnight in a grotty hotel that had very questionable meat in their hamburgers & cold fries. Ugh. We were pleased to leave. The scuba gear had 2/3rds dried out overnight so was a little easier to manage.

Back to the Tawau airport for our flight to KK, 3 hour wait here for our flight back to Manila to the PROVINCIAL international airport. 2 hour bus ride to the depot in central Manila, then 15 minute taxi back to our motel. Our friend M1 was out the front waiting for us onto his 4th(?) beer.

Happy reunions. Hang out the dive gear again for more drying, beer, dinner, more beer then bed. Up early to the domestic airport this time for our flight to Caticlan (45 minutes). This flight turned in to 1.5 hours as there was bad weather on the ground at the airport & we actually flew around & around & around & around in circles. If the control tower hadn't decided it was OK after the last turn it did, we were going to be diverted to another airport 2 hours bus ride away!

Landed safely, courtesy bus 1km to the port, ferry ride 1km to Boracay island, tricyle ride 15 - 20 minutes to the D'mall (yes, that is what it called. Get your Rastafarian on & you will have the correct pronunciation!). 5 minute walk to our accommodation. Our friend T had already been there for a couple of days of relaxation prior. W don our "togs" & hit the beach!!!!!! Bliss.

PB kicking back after lunch white beach Boracay Island

Cheers. Enjoying the local brew on the beach - San Miguel

We spent that night (Monday) catching up. Tuesday PB & I did a couple of dives (K joined us for 1); another friend M2 arrived that afternoon so as you do we took him to the bar & drank with him until he was ready to sleep! PB & I were up early the next morning for a dive & again we spent the day lazing about.

Wednesday we'd arranged a day out on the big boat (sleeps around 12; the most they've had on board for a day trip is around 40 people although that was a little crowded so I hear!). Unfortunately the weather was not so flash - raining on & off & not much sunshine, but again the water & air temp is warm. The divers did 3 dives, the non divers (& some of the divers) had a bit of a snorkel. Our friend who owns the dive shop is Spanish so he cooked us up an amazing Paella for lunch. We had a bit of a sunset cruise with duty free vodka & beer on the way back to celebrate the day out & T's last night.

Thursday was our last day, but we decided not to dive & let our gear dry our properly. We lazed about the beach again & later in the afternoon went on a sailboat ride.

Sunset (taken from in the water)

And again

The water is so clear, even at sunset when you look down from water waist deep you can see the ripples in the sand below the water.

Dodgy shot of our candle lit table. We found out on our 2nd last night that you could arrange a candlelit dinner on a private beach! We'd been to this beach during the daytime & had had lunch, but did not know you could book the little cove for your own private dinner party. The table was decked out with candles & flowers. The staff had dug holes in the sand around the table & placed candles in them.

They aslo placed candles in lots of nooks & crannies of the rock

As well as making this "sculpture" of wine bottles, shells, & candles. To complete the ambiance, they also made a small bonfire for us on the beach. Unfortunately one of our friends had already gone home that day, so she missed out, but it was an amazing dinner. There were even firefly's!!! I'd never seen them before. And I spotted a black & white striped seasnake slithering along the beach when I snuck off in the dark to pee! It was a long long hike up a big big hill to get to the public toilet block, so most of us ducked behind one of the big boulders on the beach. I'm glad I saw the snake before I bloody squated on it!!!!! Sorry, too much information I know!

Me & PB just before the sun went down. A bit blurry, but hey - I never professed to be a photographer!!!

We'd organised one of the smaller boats from the dive shop to pick us up from dinner & take us back to the main beach. This was the latest night we had out & we had a lot of fun & met a lot of interesting people at our usual favorite bar in front of our accomodation. We ended up yarning (& drinking) with a couple of blokes from Finland til around 4am!

Breaky, swim, pack, swim, collect dive gear, swim, pack dive gear, swim, shower lunch depart. Walk, tricycle, ferry, tricyle. Flight was cancelled & we were put on another flight which left an hour later, arrived at the new international airport & a very nervous taxi ride in the psychotic peak hour traffic that is Manila 24/7 seeing us arrive at the check in counter 31 minutes before our flight departed. I was so convinced we'd missed the baggage check in that I was about hurl (I'm sure that was from the stress NOT the hangover!!!). We raced to our gate where boarding had just started! I think I was asleep before the plane left the tarmac.

Unfortunately we came home via Hong Kong where we change planes. PB had started to feel like he was getting a cold & was coughing so I went & changed all our left over Peso's for HK $$ & then found him some cold & flu's & strepsils. Delivered those & went & spent my last HK$$ on some Adidas sports ear buds with fin thingies to help with them falling out of my sweaty ears. Time to board the next plane which bought us home via Adelaide. Sigh. Off the plane & on again 1.5 hours later & finally landed in cold rainy old Melbourne around 2pm Saturday afternoon.

At least immigration was easy & our bags were already on the carousell waiting for us. Last piece of transport was the cab home.

I think we were a bit ambitions trying to go to 2 remote destinations in 2 weeks - PB was extremely over the travelling & my f#ck up with the flight didn't help. We would definately go back to Sipadan, but as a stand alone destination & fly to KL then direct from KL to Tawau.

Boracay Island was no more commercial really than 2008 when we were there last (despite the StarBucks 2 doors down from the dive shop - which was far less obtrusive than I'd imagined it could be).

All in all we had a really good holiday. I did have to check emails for work every second day, but I didn't give work much thought. Usually it takes me a week to unwind, but I am getting better at letting go of work thoughts & relaxing. I guess it's hard not to in such beautiful locations. We are lucky lucky people.

The dive gear is all dry & stowed away & our thoughts are already turning to our next diving adventure. Possibly Palau/Yap (Micronesia) October 2011; someone at Kapalai recomended "the Black Pearl" liveaboard in the Maldives where they saw a hammer head, manta ray & a whale shark all on the same day!!!! (I've still to see a hammer; & a manta properly in the blue). We also met an instructor on Boracay who'd spent the past 4 years in Egypt diving the red sea - his pictures were amazing.

Does anyone else out their scuba dive? Where is your favourite dive destination?????


Ute said...

OMG Cat!!!!

Your acommodation at Kapali looks fckn amazing! Like something out of a movie!!!

Holy crap, I don't know how you kept it together at the airport mate, I know I'd be cracking a shit with stress. :oS

What a wonderful holiday mate... you lucky duck.

Great pics... especially like cloudy sunrise.


Memphis Steve said...

Holy crap, you must need a vacation to recover from that vacation! Even so, it sounds like it was a blast.

AlleyCat said...

Thanks Ute! Yes - Kapalai was like being in a movie!!! amazingly beautiful. we were pinching ourselves that we were actually there to he honest. LOL I was cracking a shit with stress let me tell you. There was a lot of deep breathing going on!!!

I have about 30 shots of that cloud sunrise...........


AlleyCat said...

Hey Memphis! Yes, there was a bit of recovery required. I wouldn't do 2 x remote destinations again in the one trip thats for sure, but you are right, it was truely an amazing trip. As Ute said, we really are lucky ducks!

Kate said...

WOW! Wow... wow! That just looks amaaaaazing!

Beautiful shots, looks like you had a wonderful time (despite the dramas!).

Great pics!


Chris H said...

Lucky tart is all I can say!
The closest we will ever get to a holiday on some tropical island is in our dreams!
Loved your telling of your adventures.

AlleyCat said...

Thanks Kate! Yes, I cope a bit better at waiting around than PB - I'm happy to sit & read. We did have a wonderful time!!!

Awww Chris - one day!!!! I was gonna be smart & say you live on an island!!! But so do I LOL! Glad my adventures weren't too long winded for you :0)!!!

Cinders said...

Thanks for sharing your trip with us - it all looks amazing. I'll leave the diving to you :)

kathrynoh said...

It really does look amazing.

I've had some major screwups in my time with flights as well. Not good but what can you do!

DOG3OY said...

what a fucking huge adventure, you will still be banging the salt water out your ears and getting the sand out of your yahyah before the memory of it fades.

I bet getting back to winter was the less than perfect end to that holiday...