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Borneo – February 2013

August 16, 2013

February Exploring and Reunions

I spent the month of February traveling and scuba diving (which happened while traveling). There were a few more things I wanted to accomplish before leaving the Eastern Hemisphere to return to the US. Luckily I didn’t have to travel solo, my friend Dale flew out to do some globetrotting as well. Our first destination was Borneo for some scuba diving around Semporna.


Now Borneo is one of the largest islands in the world and actually has three countries on it. Part of it is Malaysia, part of it is Indonesia, and part of it is Brunei. We went to one of the Malaysia parts known as the state of Sabah. Before we left, my uncle described Sabah as being more like the older Malaysia than like the modern Kuala Lumpur. He was right. We flew into his port town that was nothing like Kuala Lumpur. It quickly became apparent that this was a town you went to in order to take the boats out scuba diving and nothing else. At one point I saw a huge lizard head in one of the sewers and thought it was a snake then figured it was probably a monitor lizard. Probably.

When we got there we went to the dive shop to check in and get our gear fitted for the next day’s dive. The workers there were actually mostly expats who just traveled around to different dive towns and work in the dive companies for a few months at a time then move on to the next dive town once they were done. Seems like a simpler life. Anyways, they got us outfitted with gear and told us to be back early the next morning. We asked them about good places to get food and they had a few recommendations. One was a guy in front of a bar who would grill up a huge seafood sampler for you, another was a Chinese place that had cheap beer, and the last was a store that served “chicken cold and blue” (chicken cordon bleu). I didn’t really trust a place that served chicken cold and blue so we opted for the Chinese place. Plus it had cheap beer.

Our first day of diving we went to a place colloquially known as “Sunburn Island”. With a name like that how could it not be a winner? Actually it was really picturesque. As in exactly what you would expect a tropical island to scuba dive on would look like.

Told you so

The diving was very nice. We were able to park the boat in about four feet of water, put all our gear on in the water, and then just swim out a little bit to the dive spots. The views were great. Lots of fish and great visibility. We had several dives throughout the day with breaks for lunch on the boat and snoozes on the beach. When you’re on an island like this there aren’t exactly any bathrooms so during breaks between dives you would periodically see someone jump in the water, swim or stand still for a minute, then jump back into the boat. I’ll let you connect the dots.

Eventually we had to leave, but that’s ok because we had another day of diving to look forward to. It was a great day of diving, however when I returned I had a slight sunburn…

For our second day of diving we went to some islands off the southern end of the port. It took about an hour to get there and these islands actually had resorts on them. Our first dive site was actually just off the side of a bunch of bungalows on the water. We were told on no uncertain terms that we weren’t allowed to step foot on the boardwalk of these bungalows. I guess we didn’t pay enough to be allowed on the boardwalk. I later looked up the prices for one night at these bungalows and wow, are they expensive. I guess us common folk would ruin them with our presence.

Anyways, after our first dive we went to one of the resorts owned by the dive company to get coffee and get our air tanks refilled. They have a dock about 300 feet out on the water with a walkway back to the beach and resort. As you go down the walkway you realize that it cuts the beach in two. On the right hand side were vacationers sunbathing and enjoying drinks on the beach. On the left hand side were impoverished shacks where local residents lived. It was a depressing dichotomy.

We spent the rest of the day diving off spots around the island. There were a bunch of turtles and even some cuttlefish which look a bit like squid. They also have other squid characteristics as one of the people in our group found out when he got too close to one and it sprayed ink everywhere. Yay! Free ink!

Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera for this portion of the trip so no awesome dive photos. But don’t fret, there will be some in the not too distant future.

That night we decided to try out the seafood combo plate for dinner. It was made by this very nice old Malaysian guy and was right in front of a bar so naturally we went to get beverages in the bar as well. After a few beverages, the guy came in with our dinners. It was a smorgasbord of different seafood. I’m normally not much of a seafood person but after a day of diving and several waters with hops in them the whole dish looked delicious.

I don’t really know what most of it was…

When you go scuba diving your body builds up nitrogen in it and it takes time to get it all out. Depending on the number of dives you do this usually takes from 12 to 24 hours. During this time you are not allowed to fly as the pressure difference at high altitude has a bad combination with the nitrogen in your body and causes you to get massive pain and die. With this in mind I decided not to have us fly out the next day and potentially die. Instead I planned our decompression day for the most holy day of the year, Super Bowl Monday!

Wait, Monday? Well in Malaysia the Super Bowl kicked off Monday morning. Fortunately we were able to find a travel hostel with a TV and Astro Sports (Astro is a cable provider in Asia) that was airing the Super Bowl.

Glorious Victory in finding a TV. Tragic Defeat on the game’s outcome.

Unfortunately the 49’ers decided not to show up to the first half of the game and eventually lost. Still, they almost managed to win which was good. Also, the Chinese place with cheap beer was open early so we went their afterwards for consolation beers. There seems to be a trend here regarding beer.

That about wraps up our time in Borneo. The next stop was to Singapore to meet some of my old college friends.


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