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Wednesday 19 Jun 2013
Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

Temples, Shipwrecks and even a T Rex!

My second day with Spice divers was not quite as successful. Although I wasn't feeling congested, I had trouble equalising my ears past about 20m. We were descending using an anchor line so I had something to monitor my descent against. If equalising is difficult, you can't force it, just need to ascend a short distance until the pressure eases a little and try and again. It took me nearly 10 minutes to be able to get past the same point, so by that time the instructors had decided to split the group. Mat waited patiently with me, while Judith took Tanya and Craig off around the Vietnamese wreck we'd come down to see. The visibility was quite poor so I didn't even see the wreck until we were within a few meters of it. It was a big metal hull lying upside down, so there was a tunnel underneath the middle of it which Mat led me through. I get a little claustrophobic in small caves at the best of times and everything in my PADI training had warned against swimming into caves and enclosed spaces without proper training, so I was very uncomfortable following Mat through until I could see the light of the exit on the other side.
There was a big pufferfish floating contentedly under a coral shelf on the side of the boat so I moved in to take a photograph. Suddenly Judith pulled my hand away and shook her finger at me. I didn't understand what was wrong until she pointed out the big ugly face on the mossy stone underneath the pufferfish - it was actually a stonefish, a very poisonous stonefish! oops...
The afternoon dive at D'Lagoon had better visibility but I still struggled to equalise properly and took longer to get down than the others. We saw loads of Nemo fish again, including some quite aggressive panda clownfish, which are black and white and more than twice as big as the usual clownfish. We also saw blue=spotted stingrays and then a huge Jenkins Whip-tailed Ray chilling out under a coral cave. He must have been easily 5' in length but I wasn't lucky enough to see him swim out so we left him alone and moved on. My GoPro camera housing got a little bit steamed up so my pictures looked like I had put a blurred filter effect around the outside of each one.
I almost fell asleep while I was meant to be getting ready to go out, so forced myself up and went up to meet Yolanda and the others again. The restaurant we chose had a pull-down screen above the bar and was just beginning a movie, (The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock) so we settled in and enjoyed a very relaxed evening. It's a great film and we all came out grinning happily.

The next day, I had persuaded Spice divers to go to the two sites I most wanted to dive, based on Ian Valade's recommendations (DM I met in NZ back in February). Everything else he'd recommended had come up trumps, so I was happy to continue following his list.
Number one was Temple of the Sea, also known as Pinnacle. This was an amazing natural rock formation shaped like a pyramid of boulders that juts up from the seabed at around 22m and reaches almost all the way to the surface. We started descending to the base and then spiraling our way back up. Thankfully a good night's sleep and 3 litres of water last night seemed to have sorted my ears out and I had no issues descending today. Temple is definitely one of the most amazing places I have dived for the sheer number of fish. We saw a school of snappers so thick that you almost couldn't see divers on the other side. They were met by a school of barracuda that cut the yellow with a swathe of silver. It was nearly impossible to take a photograph without another diver in the shot somewhere as this was such a popular dive site. By the time we reached the top of the pinnacle I had to pay close attention to Mat's brightly coloured dive shorts to avoid getting lost in the crowds, especially with the stronger currents near the surface. When we surfaced I counted 9 dive boats, which meant there had to have been between 60-90 divers there!
The afternoon dive was to Sugar Wreck, a ship which sunk in 2000. The 65m vessel lies on its side with the cargo holds wide open. All the ropes and pulleys are still intact and only partially covered in seaweed and barnacles, so the shape of the boat was clearly visible. The current on the descent was quite strong so we had to hold tight to the descent line. Once we reached the ship itself we swam along the deck and ducked carefully under the mast and ropes to explore. Inside the cargo holds - vast open caves that we could enter easily so nothing like the claustrophobic tunnel of the Vietnamese Wreck yesterday - we saw lionfish, scorpionfish and even a bamboo shark lurking under a beam. It was a fascinating dive and I took lots of video clips on my GoPro, but again had an issue with the housing steaming up. We did our safety stop holding onto the descent line above the deck of the boat. The current was so strong that we were almost horizontal and felt like we were flying. Great fun!

In the evening Yolanda and I headed over to the far side of the island to Coral beach and met everyone for a beach barbecue. It was a great evening and a lovely way to relax at the end of three great days in the Perhentian islands. I didn't love the island as much as I loved Gili T, but meeting Yolanda and her friends made a huge difference and I thank them for making me so welcome each evening while letting me do my own thing in the day.

Yolanda and I headed back to the mainland the next morning and went our separate ways in Kuala Besut. I met Dina and Jen, from Vancouver and San Francisco, who were looking for someone to share a taxi to the airport so that worked out perfectly. The great thing about travelling is the people you meet, even for a short time, who influence your day, week or even your entire future travel plans. Jen was also thinking of diving in Borneo so we swapped details and have kept in touch since. On the way to the airport, we noticed a huge white buddha statue towering over the trees so the taxi driver took us on a quick detour to see the most fantastical monastery I've seen yet. The gates were topped with a brightly painted dragon with a snake-like body which ran the whole way around the enormous compound walls. Inside was a huge banyan tree covered in prayer ribbons and flags which looked beautiful. The buddha we had seen over the trees must have been at least 100' tall and bright white. The most surprising thing of all was a 12' model of a t-rex in one corner. We didn't get an explanation for that one. A surreal but fun detour on our journey.

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