Friday, May 11, 2007

Live your dream - dive on Sipadan

I've booked us in for the SMART Water Bungalow Resort on Mabul Island. It's adviced that you reserve your diving for Sipadan early in advance, as it is probably the most beautiful diving spot in the world. And as the Malaysian government decided in 2005 to prohibit accomodation on the Sipadan Island itself, all the resorts have been closed and rebuilt on the islands right next to it. As the ecological damage to the reefs and it's aqua-life had been increasing every year, they set a Wildlife department right next to the military facilities on Sipadan, controlling that not more then 120 divers per day are allowed to dive there. The park rangers are pretty strict, and each day when the boats arrive to Sipadan from Mabul or Semporna, your guides need to collect your names on the boat (or fictive ones) in a list and announce your dive before you can get down into the water.

The only issue we had for the next 8 days happened in the beginning. I've done the booking through the reselling agency of Save-Money Diving and got a bit nervous before. It's a pile of money, but the contact has been very trustworthy and nice - we confirmed via email, that we won't arrive in Tawau Airport / South Sabah as the usual guests to be picked up by their transport, but already waiting in Semporna. This basically saved us the way from Tawau to Semporna, as the jetty there is anway the place where you got on the boat and brought to Palau Mabul from there. So instead of Tawau, we planned to be picked up in Semporna already and just get on the first boat. The agency confirmed our pickup in the Seafest Hotel Lobby at 9am in the morning.

At 9:10 Ksenia and I observed the jetty and asked around for the speedboat of the SMART Resort - fortunatly, a friendly woman from Uncle Chan pointed me to the right boat, which was about to be loaded with a japanese couple. They haven't had us on their pickup-list for the morning, but by handing over my confirmation voucher, this issue easily got resolved by pointing them to our backpacks and take us on board. After an hour of looking forward that I hopefully haven't messed up our relaxing paradise, the welcome on Mabul was heartfully and way better organised. We arrived at the medium class Sipadan Mabul Resort, and they handed us a key for a half-day stay there, as we've been expected to arrive in the middle of the day, and the water bungalows haven't been free yet. These facilities were only 8 minutes by feet away, so our relocation set for the afternoon wasn't concerning us at all. This area was already pretty wonderful, embedded into palmtrees, white beach, a very clean and comfortable dining hall, Dive-center and helpful and so friendly staff.

These guys took care of our luggage, and we had been introduced to Maya, our PADI Diving Instructor for the first day. It's been adviced to first make 2 orientation dives if your last one was a while ago, and as the Mabul reef is right in front of the island, we rented some gear and made us ready for our first dives. Mabul is pretty famous for it's muck-diving, the macro world, you see lots of nudibranches, frog-fish, crocodile-, stone-fish, jacks and trigger-fish there. The house-reef is right in front of the water-bungalows, and besides the other diving spots around the islands, Maya took us to the artificial house-reef for the first one. It was pretty wonderful already, the water on 20m still had minimum 28°C, and besides the different fish mentioned above, we've also spotted a 1.5m giant gruper.

At our second dive, I planned to take my newly purchased underwater house for the IXUS 450 with me - to test it doesn't leak. Unfortunatly forgot this in our bungalow, so we just enjoyed and had fun on paradise II, also very famous on mabul - you may additionally see the blue-spotted flunder and many many big frog-fishes. The corals are very beautiful here, but visibility stays often below 10-15m.

It became already later afternoon, as a funny golf-club car arrived in front of our bungalow to pick up our luggage and ourself to get over to the Mabul Water Bungalows, the upper class variant, just under the same management and on the other side of the island. Mabul itself is not very big - you can walk around the island in not more then an hour. There is a village with lots of children and local people hanging out, 2 more resorts: the Borneo Divers, pioneers for diving on Sipadan, had been the first on the island in the early 90s, and Water Village Bungalows - not to be mixed up, and with some distance right next to our upcoming accomodation.

The friendly chauffeur drove us the 4 minutes over the long jetty to the Water Bungalows - a pure paradise already by first look. Not to struggle with myself to describe to much of the view and architecture here, just have a look on a couple of the pictures above.

We had been just thrilled - it is so beautiful, you just think you got straight into paradise. The facility has it's own restaurant, diving-center, staff, basically it's almost independent from the other facility. If you rent gear, you get it from the insular resort - the market over there has also a higher variety of stuff, and you have a professional film- and photo-equipment store, where the staff there is very helpful, friendly and gave me good advices on the usage of my camera housing.

So we moved in, the bungalow just had it ALL - and it already got time for the dinner - but this, we are going to tell about tomorrow.

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