By Martha Alabastro
My dad recently gave me a book on a compilation of Irish women travellers' chronicles. It was different from other books that I have read because the stories were simple yet refreshing. Some had a big impact like having to face death three times in a week or something as frivolous as looking for the perfect amber necklace.Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend..
Inspired by the lines in Desiderata, "Speak clearly and listen to others, for even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story", I present mine.
Liana Lim, a colleague, recently organised a diving trip to Mabul island in Sabah, Malaysia. Our group of eight was composed of Dianne Chang, Kelly Chew, Joan Lee, Dzulkarnain Limau, Ten Soon Choi, Jason Tang, Chin Si Yu and I.
We drove from KB to the airport in Bandar. It took us about half an hour to fly to KK from where we were supposed to take a connecting flight to Semporna using a budget plane, only to find out sadly that not everybody could fly. Miscommunication due to a "wrong" advertisement made us and some passengers queue on a different lane. This made us miss our original flight. We had no choice, no other flight was available. So with extra money in hand, we purchased new tickets on the same airline.
One good thing that happened was that Dzul had a picture taken with a well-known composer in the airport. Lucky him!
We arrived in Semporna, ate a late dinner and hit the sack. The next day, we took pictures while waiting for a boat to take us to our final destination, Mabul.
With the sun kissing our faces, wind giving out a gently sigh and water lightly spraying us, we were all smiles, anticipating what was about to come.
Refreshments were served when we arrived. Too excited to eat, we half-listened as a Borneo Divers staff gave the itinerary.
After a sumptuous lunch, the seven who originally wanted to snorkel opted to dive with Liana and I. Since none of us had dived before, the staff were a little reluctant at first to let us into the deep waters. But somehow in the end, we were given a course called DSD, Discovering Scuba Diving, which allowed us to dive up to 10 feet, or equivalent to a two-storey house.
At 1pm, we were given our wetsuits, fins, goggles and oxygen tanks. We proceeded to the welcome hall for a short lecture. Caution was thrown to the winds and we were on our way to the pool to practise what we had learned. Whatever cockiness we felt during the lecture dissolved like some soluble material in the water.
We were divided into two groups. Liana, Kelly, Ten, Dzul and I were on one team while Dianne, Joan, Jason and Chin were in the other.
Carrying a 10kg tank full of oxygen, we dived into the blue chlorine-filled pool. Mouthpiece inside our mouth, we started to breathe with it instead of through our nose. Slow, calculated inhale and exhale of air was exchanged. Apparently this was not enough because Ten and I always went up for air. Somehow our brains were hijacked into thinking that the oxygen tank was not enough. It was a good thing that our dive masters, Amanda Lee and Jackie, were very patient. Once more, we sank into the water and this time got it right.
Chin was wary at first to come with us, but with all the fun underwater, he finally decided to join in.
After testing what we had learned, like breathing without oxygen for a few seconds, taking out air from the mouthpiece to share oxygen with others, Amanda said that our group could go ahead to the sea.
On the port, we took the left side and saw some crocodile fish that were camouflaged in the sand, a school of fish, perhaps going home, (ha!ha!), sea urchins and sea snakes of different sizes and colours.
Going deeper, we had to "equalise" by swallowing our saliva because the pressure underwater was high. There was always a possibility that our ears could rupture and we were not ready for that. Large corals, whose scientific names escaped me, were majestically laid down for our eyes to see. We were not allowed to touch anything underwater in order to preserve its beauty.
It was indeed a different view through a pair of scuba goggles.
The other group went in another direction and was blessed to see a humongous turtle. According to Dianne, it was so big that its diameter was like the body of a car.
Ears hurting, I decided to ascend. Jason followed a little while later. We talked about how things were different down under. That it was a whole new world. How glad we were that we were able to experience all of these and relieved at the same time that no sea cucumber was in sight, not that I have anything against it, really.
Dinner was served, stories were exchanged and DSD certificates were handed over. A group photo was taken and everybody had fun that night.
We were required to stay on land for 24 hours before boarding a plane because the nitrogen inside our blood had yet to subside to a normal level. Going up in the air, where the pressure is low, would have a grave consequence.
Taking a boat from the island back to town, we were sad to leave the magical place. The farther we went, the sooner we found our bodies aching. A massage was the first stop and then a nice seafood dinner.
On our last day, Kelly and I went to try a Korean restaurant, Liana, Dianne and Joan went shopping whereas Joan bought killer platform shoes that Bratz wore. Dzul went on his merry way to meet another set of friends and the boys, Ten, Jason and Chin, were found hanging out in a famous coffeeshop that starts with the letter S.
I heard somewhere that Empire Hotel is offering diving courses. Hmm, Jerudong, here we come!