My Junkie Fix – Scuba Style – Part 2

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

Hello to those at home,

Mabul is an interesting and beautifully simple island. It is the location of my dive resort, Scuba Junkie, as well as the primary destination when diving Sipidan. “Sipadan used to have resorts but to protect the environment these were closed around the year 2002. Because Sipadan is now a protected site, only 120 dives are allowed daily.” There are many accommodation options to choose from on Mabul and a much pricier option is available on Kapalai not too far away but it is more remote.

“There are 2 main villages on the island of Mabul, “Kampung Mabul” and “Kampung Musu”. From 1999 census, it was recorded that there are approximately 2000 villagers living in Mabul, half of them children below 14 years old. Majority are immigrants from relatively nearby clusters of islands of the southern Philippines. They are mainly Bajau Laut and Suluk Muslims who live a nomadic lifestyle.”

It’s sad because it’s one of those situations like you often see in the Caribbean where the resort is literally next to a shanty town, the difference here is that there are no barbed wire fences and the dive ops are very good at interacting with the locals, creating environmental awareness programs, helping in schools, even creating a turtle hatchery as Scuba Junkie did earlier this year. At the same time there is a long way to go. An environmental fair of sorts is only held once per year but thanks to Scuba Junkie they have now set up a monthly ocean/beach cleanup. To give you an idea how much this is needed, the clean up had been done the week before I arrived and yet there was a diaper in the water as well as other trash near one of the dive sites. The infrastructure just isn’t in place, the ocean is their washroom, their dump, their food source, and their place to have fun. It’s frustrating to watch. During low tide you wouldn’t dare walk into the water from the beach but it’s a different place at high tide, you actually want to go in – well, until we saw the giant turd floating in a sea of turquoise. 

Rohan, the manager of Scuba Junkie Mabul is from Wales and is passionate about shark conservation, running S.E.A.S (Shark Awareness Education & Survival). He has a fantastic presentation he gives to all the resort guests as well as communities that are still hunting sharks for their fins to sell them to nations selling them for shark fin soup. Did you know that England, France and the United States are in the top 10 countries perpetuating the problem? The presentation was incredible, informative, insightful, intelligent and moving. It 100% made a difference to me and I will make sure I do not eat in a restaurant that serves shark fin soup. The pictures were horrific and brought tears to my eyes and I had to look away. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see these magnificent creatures being hauled into fishing boats, getting their fin(s) cut off and then being released back into the water – to their death. All proceeds from the sales of S.E.A.S t-shirt/tank top go towards conservation and Rohan says he was recently filmed and will send me a copy, which I will share with my readers. It’s worth watching regardless of whether you’re a diver or not.

Part of the presentation referred to the massive nets that are used for trapping fish as well as the use of dynamite. The nets in particular trap and kill so much more than just the fish that the fishermen are actually interested in. It’s got to be a frustrating cause to take on because these villagers are doing it for survival, it being their main or only source of income and the sea feeds their families. It really struck me the day after the presentation when my dive group was heading to Siamil and the boat was slightly detoured as we came across fishermen with a 500m wide net. They waved hello, smiling, enjoying the day and no one in our boat waved with the thoughts of the previous night’s presentation on our minds. Many of us felt sad but my immediate second thought after was I felt sad for them that none of us waved. Then, for the first time since I began diving I heard dynamite blasting in the water at least three or four times. We were truly in a remote part of the world that just hasn’t caught up to where many are in education and environmental protection.

One of the neatest things I have seen in a long time was being a witness of evolution occurring before our eyes. There are cats all over Mabul, Siamil and other islands in the area and all of them have stumpy short tails. I thought it was due to fighting and although cute, I was a little grossed out – until I saw a brand new litter of kittens who had all been born with stumpy, short tails emerging from inbreeding over the past few decades. Interesting. Personally as cute as Garfield was, I mean really cute and reminded me of my late cat Tiggy, the short tail just didn’t do it for me. What would swat me in the face while I lay down?  


Un Coup de Foudre

 The last day was the day I had waited for and had paid extra for, Sipidan. The day began as normal getting to the dive boat for 6:30am as it was a four dive day and my final day of diving before heading back to Semporna that night. I got onto the boat and asked someone to take a picture of me. That someone ended up being Jean-Pol Francois a French Belgian living in Macau. Apart from having the sexiest accent on the planet and someone I could speak French with he was actually one of most interesting people I’ve ever met. He was my dive buddy (when diving you always have one) and I could not have asked for a better one because JP is a technical diver. Oh, and he’s also a five time world record holder for free diving. Yeah, just a little impressive.

Technical divers need advanced training, extensive experience, specialized equipment and often breathe breathing gases other than air or standard nitrox.” And free diving is any of various aquatic activities that share the practice of breath-hold underwater diving. Examples include breathhold spear fishing, freedive photography, apnea competitions and, to a degree, snorkeling. The activity that garners the most public attention is competitive apnea, an extreme sport, where competitors attempt to attain great depths, times or distances on a single breath without the assistance of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba).” JP can hold is breath upwards of 8 minutes, he has dove to depth of 310’ and one of his records had him holding his breath for a total of 59m 25sec in a period of 60 minutes. I don’t mean to gush here but for someone who doesn’t often get impressed this made my week.

Everyone knows I speak French and lived in France and Montreal, actually, I wish I was French-ish. And ironically my favourite movie as a teenager, played again and again in the common room of my dorm at boarding school was Big Blue, starring Jean Marc Barr, about a French freediver. WTF? Ok, just when I can’t get enough…Remember I mentioned I haven’t been impressed since seeing Cirque du Soleil’s “O”? Well guess what Jean-Pol does? He’s a technical/security diver at Franco Dragone’s (Cirque producer) $260M production of House of Dancing Dragon at Macau’s City of Dreams. Macau, by the way, is the new Las Vegas in Asia with a Wynn Hotel, MGM Grand, Venetian to name a few.

All to say both Sipidan and JP made my day. To make a long story short, we went back to Semporna that night, hung out the next two days, got caught in torrential rains trying to cover ourselves with an umbrella – running through the streets/ponds while locals laughed at us, discovered the Semporna market and Dad, the German mother of one of the dive masters at Scuba Junkie is a MUNSCH!! Family in Semporna, small world! I’m happy to say I have a new friend in JP who loves to travel and dive. Finally, what I’ve been looking for. 

Next up, Mabul’s School of Hope and the amazing food at Scuba Junkie’s restaurant in Semporna.

Home in 2 weeks! Xoxo

What Was Spent In My Junkie Fix #1&2: Bag of chips RM2.50, shared van taxi from Circle Junction to Lahad Datu RM20, shared van taxi from Lahad Datu to Sandakan RM30, lunch RM7.50, hostel accommodations at Scuba Junkie Semporna RM20, dinner in Semporna RM28.50, tank top and pjs RM 14, Scuba Junkie (2 nights at Mabul Beach Resort accommodations, meals – 2b/2l/2d, 3 dives Mabul, 3 dives Siamil, 4 dives Sipidan, Sipidan permit, full rentals, marine park permit) RM1310, Scuba Junkie Mabul bar tab RM 88, Scuba Junkie t-shirt RM25, hostel accommodations at Scuba Junkie Semporna RM20, hotel accommodations at Sipidan Inn RM 50, various beverages (water, red bull, vodka) RM40, dinner at Scuba Junkie RM66, Tune Talk SIM card top up RM20, umbrella RM15 Total: RM 1756.50 / CAD $575.00


3 Responses to My Junkie Fix – Scuba Style – Part 2

  1. No underwater shots?

    columbusbloomer November 7, 2011 at 10:31 AM Reply
    • Of course! Two posts from now will be all about the diving, with photos. I’m behind! Tonight.

      juliemunsch November 7, 2011 at 11:07 PM Reply

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