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Tuesday 6 Aug 2013
Mabul, Malaysia

Lost and found

It was still raining in the morning, so Dani and I decided to leave our dives until the afternoon and were still sitting on the deck when Na came back from her second morning on the Open Water course.  She’s not a strong swimmer and the set up at Uncle Chang’s meant there was no pool to learn the basic skills in.  Instead, they were dropped straight in the water and had to deal with being several metres underwater and buffeted about by current right from the start.  I’m not sure I’d have been comfortable with that, even as a strong swimmer, and Na certainly wasn’t.  She came back declaring she’d had enough and wasn’t going back in the water.  We did our best to try and convince her otherwise, but she was determined.  Her biggest concern was what to do with her Sipadan permit if she couldn’t dive.  I hate to jump on someone else’ misfortune, but this was a golden opportunity!  I did the decent thing and told her I’d have her permit in a heartbeat, but she should think about it overnight because she could always snorkel at Sipadan instead. 

We followed the boardwalk onto the island and went exploring.  Na found a brilliant t-shirt from Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary, where we were headed in a few days, with a cartoon orang-utan on the back.  At the bottom, it said ‘Keep the orang-utan dancing’, which wiggled from side to side as Na walked.  I loved it too, but the shop only had one and she got there first. 

On the far side of the island, we stopped to look at the turtle sanctuary and got accosted by small children.  Their village was just the other side of the long jetty and we could see the stark contrast between the resort villas and the ramshackle stilt houses of the village.  It is always difficult to witness such extreme poverty and although I’ve become more accustomed to seeing children beg tourists for money, I'm still not sure of the best way to handle it.  These children, however, had a very alarming tactic of staring straight at us and demanding money over and over in a deep zombie-like growly voice.  It was unnerving, as if they were possessed. Were they trying to menace us into handing over our cash?  We couldn’t help wondering who’d taught them that this was the best way to approach tourists.  We beat a hasty retreat and headed back to Uncle Chang’s for dinner, where we had a much more sedate evening playing Yanneth and trying in vain to connect to Facebook – the resort only has electricity and very poor wifi from 6pm to 6am.

Another beautiful day dawned, so Dani and I went diving with a DM named Kersten.  I had an unexpected new dive experience: getting left behind.  We had 6 divers for the first dive.  I asked about buddy pairs were, but Kersten said to just dive as a group rather than worry about individual pairs.  This was a little different, but I didn’t insist.  I should have done.  Dani was doing her Fish Identification Dive, which meant she was making notes on a slate through the dive.  The visibility meant it wasn’t always easy to see the main group if they got too far ahead, so I kept an eye on her to make sure she didn’t get left behind – spot the irony.  We drifted along the reef wall in one direction for about 40 minutes.  I looked up from taking a photograph and realised the group had moved out of sight.  I looked around for Dani, but saw nobody and thought she must have overtaken me too, so I kicked off and gave chase.  After a moment, I realised I should have caught up with them and stopped.  I looked around in all directions for a minute, trying to spot a bubble trail to indicate where the group had gone, but there was nothing.  I still had about 80 bar in my tank, so I followed protocol - I did my 3-minute safety stop and ascended, expecting to see them on the surface too.  They should have done the same the moment they realised I was missing.  There was nobody there, so I signalled the boat and they came over to fetch me.  The others weren’t in the boat either and it was at least another five minutes before they appeared, some way down the reef. 

Kersten had indicated to the group they would turn around and swim back along the top of the reef – something she hadn’t mentioned in the dive briefing.  As there were no formal buddy pairs, she should have made eye contact with each diver in the group to be sure everyone knew we were changing course.  Instead, it seemed everyone acted alone and nobody checked the group was still together.  As Dani had been in the back of the group, she turned around when the group reached her and hadn’t realised I wasn’t there either.  Initially, I blamed myself for spending too long for taking photos and not concentrating on the group, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that as DM, Kersten was responsible for keeping proper track of the group.  I was actually quite pleased with myself for not panicking and remembering my training to bring myself safely to the surface and back to the boat.

We were just four on the second dive.  Dani and I agreed to buddy up regardless of what Kersten said.  Interestingly, on this dive, Kersten managed to swim off and leave all four of us behind within the first 10 minutes.  We’d all stopped to watch an awesome bright yellow frogfish waddling along the sand.  We looked at each other and shrugged, giving her a few moments to come back again before we ascended, and luckily she did.  It didn’t inspire great faith in her dive leadership, but thankfully there were no further mishaps.

Dani and I skipped the third dive in favour of a night dive with Boy Jay.  Best decision ever!  The reef really comes alive at night, especially with baby creatures. We saw a tiny cuttlefish, no bigger than the end of my thumb, along with lobster, crabs and a tiny pipefish that looked suspiciously like a seahorse – though that may have been wishful thinking on my part. 

The best thing about the night dive turned out to be the end of it.  We spent our safety stop with torches covered so we could play with the bioluminescent plankton.  I thought the water in Halong Bay had been exciting, but it was nothing compared with this.  It looked like we were waving sparklers under water.  When we surfaced, we found even more whizzing about on the water like drops of magnesium (or was it phosphorus?) in a school chemistry experiment.  I climbed out, took off my gear and jumped back in to play longer.  Dani and I giggled like hyperactive children, kicking our fins around in a circle to watch the fireworks.  When we finally had to get back on the boat, we ran to the back to watch the luminescence explode when they started the engines.  Even Boy Jay was enjoying himself and he gets to see it every day.  We spent the whole ride back hanging over the side in awe of the sparks whizzing about in the water.  Na and Emma had saved us a big plateful of food each and sat there shaking their heads as we gabbled on excitedly about what we’d seen.  Hyper?  Who us?  It took us a couple of hours and several beers to calm down.  My best dive yet.  Easily.



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