Saturday, July 16, 2011

I'm on a Rig, Mother%$#@ers

Maybe the title of this post is a bit much, but hear me out...After doing my PADI open water scuba diving course in Kota Kinabalu (Downbelow, Gaya Island) last month, I decided that there is no way I can leave this wondrous island without checking out the most fantastic dive site it has to offer- Sipadan, an island on the east coast of Borneo. It's  protected status is the main reason it's such a  hotspot for diving, since it means its corals and all it's cool wildlife are left undisturbed (well not totally, considering the number of divers going there). But in order to dive at Sipadan, one needs to get a permit, the number of which are limited by the government, I think rightfully so to keep this place relatively unperturbed and preserve the natural beauty. A friend of mine had gone to do diving at and around Sipadan, and stayed with Seaventures, on their dive rig resort near Mabul island. He said great things about it, so I decided to treat myself to a little stint there. This stint would include an advanced/adventure diving and enriched air Nitrox certification class.

   Wait what the hell is a dive rig resort, anyway? This used to be an oil rig, built in the Celebes sea in close to Mabul island and a 20 minute boat ride to Sipadan island. Conveniently, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, this oil rig shut down and later was converted into a dive resort. “rig” and “resort” seems pretty incongruous words to be used together, but this place is pretty fantastic, if you can get past the absolutely abominable appearance of the rig (it looks like a 4 year old went wild on this place).

The food here has been really good, far better than the taste I got on Semporna. Kind of pan-asian, with Chinese style with Western dishes mixed in. There’s free wifi, really nice rooms with air con and hot showers, all the dive equipment easily accessible, unlimited diving below the rig (house reef), a game room, karaoke, and even a live band. This sounds like a testimonial they might have asked me to write for them, but I’m just very impressed.

I’ve been here 3 days now, and tomorrow is my last. I just got my certification for the Advanced Open Water and the Enriched Air Nitrox course (you can use a different blend of air with less nitrogen and more oxygen, which increases your allowable dive time due to less nitrogen dissolving in your tissues and so you have more time before you get decompression sickness). Sitting at the bar, sipping my second San Miguel Pilsen, looking over some of the photos I took yesterday (for the advanced course you can choose one of three specialties, including underwater photography, so I did that one, the night dive, and peak performance buoyancy, an important skill for optimizing your buoyancy, maybe the single most important skill in scuba diving). Looking at these shots on the screen, I marvel at how lucky I am to add these experiences to a whole list of other rare, awe-inspiring experiences I’ve enjoyed this year.

I mean I was within tickling distance of a 2-3 m long green turtle, maybe a meter away from an innocuous white-tipped reef shark, and a few meters from an enormous school of barracudas. After several dives, you begin to forget how unnatural what you are doing really is (in terms of humans breathing underwater, etc) and you just focus on this life down under. Diving with my dive instructor, Ricardo, was such a thrill too, because he’s very much into underwater photography and macro life. The underwater creatures I got to see appear totally alien to planet earth as I’ve experienced it until now. Stone fish, Lion fish, frog fish, all sorts of eels (some sticking their head out of a whole, waiting for unsuspecting prey), Harlequin Nudibranches, sea urchins, scorpionfish, robust ghost pipefish, porcupinefish, and blue-spotted (Kuhl’s) stingray. I’ve noticed that many organisms seem to boast especially vibrant, psychedelic colors, and many are extremely poisonous (though luckily are not aggressive when left untouched). Even more to spice up the experience. Speaking of things that spice up diving, yesterday I went down to 30m as part of my Advanced course. The pressure down there is 4x atmospheric, and little light reaches down there. Maybe I'll go more into everything that is entailed in scubadiving, but for now know that I have a new hobby, to add to some others I've piled up this year. And now for some photos.

Ricardo got a few shots of me...of course one of my standard zen meditation poses, and then a shot near my turtle friend.

White-tip reef shark...not to worry, these are non-aggressive ones, though we saw some massive ones.

Green Turtle..these guys are everywhere around here.

sea urchin observed under the rig on a night dive.

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