Diving Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Here I am sitting at the airport departure gate, waiting for my flight back home. And sometimes, I wonder, where is ‘home’? … …

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
My fav hotel in KK, Sarangnova

I arrived in Kota Kinabalu 7 days ago, on the very last day of February. There was a familiarity that I took comfort in as I made my way around the city night. I checked in at my usual hotel, Sarangnova. No fancy hotel, but it was nice and clean with a distinctive flavor. I was kind of glad the guy behind the counter recognized me. What really took me by surprise was the bar, BB cafe. The waitress spotted me and it felt good to know that I wasn’t forgotten. Well, for a moment I was really wondering why… What had I done that was so unforgettable?

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
and recalling what I had done previously …

Spoke to a young chap from China who was also traveling alone. He was excited about his first dive the next day and was full of questions when he learnt that I was here for a full diving trip. Yeap, call me ridiculous but this was a 5 days dive trip and I planned to complete my rescue diver course. Hope I survive this. Thanks to my new found friend, I stayed up longer than I initially planned to. But it was a good start to my trip.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was awaiting me the next morning. All I knew was that I had to be up and about pretty early. I was going to the dive shop for my theory classes. An early start and I was so sleepy. Better make sure I wouldn’t end up sleeping through the course.

The dive shop, notably one of my favourite in this part of the world is Borneo Dream. They were about 5km away from where I stayed and I was all prepared to take a stroll to my destination. I happened to be chatting with this young chap at the counter and he told me it wasn’t walkable and I had to grab a cab. I didn’t want to be too smart for my own good so I heeded his advice. It was a short ride and upon reaching the office I knew it was definitely within walking distance. So I gathered, walking was probably not a sabah-ian past time.

My lanky instructor, James and the ever friendly and efficient lady boss, Joanne greeted me at the office. James still as skinny and as tall as before, no change. Joanne looks great too and I was looking forward to diving with her. She took excellent underwater photos and it would be fun to tag along and see how she managed that. Yes, stealing some tips would definitely benefit the amateur underwater photographer.

Scott was my rescue diver course mate. He looked friendly enough but perhaps not as crazy as I was reputed for. But seriously I had absolutely no idea what I had done to deserve the title. 🙂 Oh… I soon learnt too my course mate wasn’t exactly as harmless as he seemingly looked.

Padi rescue course with borneo dreams
Introducing Malcolm

I got my text, all wrapped up and yes, that was a lot of reading to do. We sat through an hour long video and I was trying hard to keep my eyes open nearing the end. Scott made some comments now and then and I was glad because that kept me awake but there were times when I truthfully dozed off and had no idea what he was talking about. Hehe, now you know.

The rest of the course was so much more fun as we went through the practical and hands-on exercises. James made us act out some scenarios too. And my favorite guy to rescue… sorry Scott, that’s not you. It’s Malcolm! We practiced CPR on Malcolm and he had absolutely no complaints. Needless to say, I had tons because it wasn’t easy for me to move my dear course mate around. It was all in good fun.

Then the serious stuff. Our written exams. No perfect score here but I guessed I did okay to pass the exam.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
after a long walk
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
sand sea beach

We ended pretty early so I decided to head out to the beach and yes, I walked . A bit sunny but it wasn’t all bad. The beach was pretty stunning, maybe because it was all quiet. It was a hot afternoon and the seawaters glistered under the bright sunlight. A moment of peace and quiet. I took a little stroll by the beach before popping over to the park next to it. A quiet little neighbourhood park.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
The museum and the heritage trail map
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
a very different trail walk

I also managed to squeeze in some time to pop by the museum. Unfortunately it was closed due to an unforeseen power failure. But fortunately this was a cluster of museums and galleries so I headed out to the heritage village. Do not imagine this as some air conditioned gallery with photos of the living conditions and cultural activities of the the different ethnic tribes found in Sabah. They actually built different types of houses along a well marked trail. This was so cool and you could enter the different houses that were fit out to look as original as they could possibly be.

I was determined to rest early tonight. I had some serious rescuing to do in the waters tomorrow and I was kind of looking forward to apply the skills we had picked up in the classroom earlier.

It was another early morning. A quick breakfast and I headed out to the Jesselton Point Jetty that I was all but too familiar with. You would never miss James even from afar. The tall lanky guy holding out a Borneo Dream sign.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
the dream boys

Some familiar faces on board. The Borneo dream boys as they were affectionately called. Richard and Gene still looking good. Then there was Dan whom I’m meeting for the very first time. I had finished up my ‘homework’ as James instructed so I had some basic ideas of what we were doing next. Scott and I were ready to hit the waters.

We had a whole range of skills to complete for the course. It wasn’t exactly real diving and I guessed my camera would only be in the way. We started off with some underwater skills, nothing we had not done before so it was more of a refresher. James pulled off scott’s mask and turned off my air. We did some practice on out of air and air sharing exercises. And we did some surface rescue exercises too. Different methods of approach and towing for tired and or panicking divers. We did some exercises on giving rescue breaths and assist breathing techniques. I was taking off and putting on my bcd so many times I totally lost count. And poor Scott, I ‘drowned’ him a few times too.

In the course of all these, we attracted a bit of attention too from curious tourists wondering if there was a real drowning case going on. Maybe we will become YouTube stars. And when we had to call for help, James told us to shout call for pizza instead. Guess there were cases when people on shore really jumped in to offer help. But it was still kind of strange to be calling for pizza. Hope I would never get into a habit of that and really shout call for pizza in a real emergency case.

We had some land, or rather, boat exercises too. We tried reaching out with things available on board. Then we tried throwing out floating devices too. Needless to say, my throw was relatively weak and it took me a few tries to get it to a slightly decent distance.

We finished off the day’s underwater skill set with search patterns in case of missing divers. I had some difficulties with getting the direction right with my compass but with some tries, I finally got it. The last bit to drag the victim up shore was the real trying one for me. We tried a few methods. Both James and Scott had no problem bringing me in. But trust me, I could barely lift Scott. By now, whoever reading this must be thinking he’s some real fat guy. Be assured he’s not. It was a combination of both the height and built I guess.

By the end of the day, I was really tired. More homework from James so it meant working through the night again. Scott was having a frisbee night and I was tempted to join him for some fun. But I had my homework and I needed to finish this course proper so I decided to be the hardworking girl. 🙁

My fourth day in KK now and I’m looking forward to some real diving real soon. James had mentioned that if we cleared out skills in the morning we could go for a little mini dive in the afternoon.

We did some surface rescue again as James wanted to be sure we really know what we were doing. We did some underwater rescue too. And we were pretty much done, or so we thought. Just as Scott predicted, James started struggling and we rushed out to his rescue.

We did our exam during lunch and it was stressful and difficult to concentrate with the noises around. But hey, my hard work paid off with a brilliant score of 49/ 50. Scott did well too considering he had so much more fun the night before. James, you should be proud of us :p

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
trying hard to stay awake after lunch… we need the sea!!

After lunch, we finally had our dive. I brought by camera along this time but James did warn us that the course was still not over. We guessed he was going to act up strange underwater again. And he most definitely did.

I ‘saved’ him twice and I hoped I did only the right things. It happened so suddenly that I could only rely on instinct to try and do what I could.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
rescue buddies

Well, nothing could beat my greatest stupidity of the day. I finally waited till I could get my camera underwater and in a most classic case, the battery was totally flat. Scott and I managed to take a photo of each of us and it went completely out.

Scott and I decided to have our little celebration. We are now certified rescue divers!! And guess what we had? Pizza and beers. It was kind of a chill out night. We had a good chat over beers.

Finally, my fifth day and my first day of proper diving. James had told me he might not be diving with me today so I was kind of surprise to see him. Guess he couldn’t bear to ‘dump’ me after all. It was a three dives day and even though it was drizzling, I was still excited.

Our first dive site was Agill and we saw loads of stuff. As it was only James and me, I was kind of looking forward to trying out the camera and getting some practice shots. But clever me, this time I was out of memory just seconds after I dived in. I was so angry with myself. But it was a good dive. We saw trumpet fish and loads of nudis. Not good with marine life identification but there were quite a number of stuff going on.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
only shot i manage

I was half freezing when I got out of the waters. I made myself a hot drink and helped with getting ready for the second dive. There was quite a bit of a current underwater but it wasn’t all bad as we simply drifted along. James wanted to try out Clemens Reef even though he was a little concerned about the current.

It was definitely a good choice. The highlight for me was the entire school of fish. It was quite a spectacular sight. I took loads of photos and a short video clip. James was telling me to go after them and I literally swam in their midst. It was simply amazing.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
Swimming into a school of yellow snappers
PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
fishes

I took some photos of the evergreen subject, nemos and managed to get some shots of some nudis and lion fishes too. I was slowly getting the hang of using the camera. I was also tryig to control my buoyancy with the current constantly pushing me away. It was pretty strong and and we drifted quite a distance from where the ‘sausage’ was released. It was a good dive.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
big and small creatures …

After 2 dives I was famished and lunch never sounded better. I was almost falling asleep after lunch and for once, I had no book with me so it was really just rest and relax.

During our last dive for the day, we met up with Dan and Bob. I took a while to try get a shot of a shrimp behind an old tyre. I had to stick the camera in a tiny space and just shoot randomly. It was so tough to get a decent shot and I finally have up. Dan gave me a little fright when he gave my calf a little squeeze while I was trying to get a decent shot of some lion fishes. They swam along pretty fast while James and I took our time. I recalled that not too long ago, James was always telling me to slow down and swim past the entire world. I guessed I had really learnt quite a bit about getting comfortable in the water and really enjoying the views around me.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
fishes… angry ones?

Dan spotted a real huge stonefish. Poor James was trying to point it out to me with all sorts of hand gestures. It must have been pretty frustrating but I finally got it. That was really one grouchy looking fish.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
THE stonefish and some tiny little things…

Not sure if it was because my time in Kota Kinabalu was coming to an end soon but I was feeling a bit down. I took a long walk in the city after we came back to shore. A nice long walk in the evening. I went to bed with a heavy heart.

I didn’t sleep well as it was noisy in the streets. I knew what the din was about because this was not my first time here. I drew the curtains and yes, the street was entirely closed off… Sunday market!! I got changed quickly and took off for some window shopping. They had everything, from foodstuff to daily necessities, from paintings to musical instruments, from fashion to toiletries, even pets.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
Shopping?

Today was the day, my last two dives. I couldn’t imagine there was a time when I didn’t enjoy diving and was going to give it up completely. Now I knew I would miss it.

I was surprised at the number of people today. It was a huge group. For safety and regulatory purpose, a number of us had to take the dinghy. I was diving with James today as he was our skipper. I had a surprise too. Billy was on board. Well, I hadn’t seen him in a while. Good old crazy Billy.

PADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
time to go diving!

The dinghy ride was one fun ride. James crashed through some waves and we were almost bouncing off our seats. But it was a heart pumping and exciting ride.

I was diving with Dan and Bob. Poor Dan, he was straddled between us. I was slow as I was trying to take photos and Bob was always ahead. I guessed I got a little carried away and Dan had to come behind me and steer me back to the reef. It was fun as we fooled around a little underwater. There was a whole school of fish again. It was a spectacular site.

ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
underwater camera time
ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
swimming around
ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
Colourful underwater world

As we had only 2 dives today, we were in no hurry and took our time resting on the boat. This was followed by a long lunch while waiting for the other group. As usual, I got really sleepy after lunch. I couldn’t wait to get into the water. The weather was so much better today and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds.

And my last dive of the trip. There were so many nudis, in different shapes and colours. I was beginning to spot these too. Dan found some little crabs and I patiently waited for them to come out so I could get a more decent shot. And there was a smaller stonefish too. Dan was pointing out such tiny stuff I was really straining my eyes. Seriously wondering how he could see them.

ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
peeking through …
ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
tiny creatures 1
ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
tiny creatures 2
ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
tiny creatures 3

It was a good dive with a bit of a current. But again, drifting along wasn’t all that bad.

I hate goodbyes and I was kind of sad to leave the boat. Definitely going to miss you guys, the dream team. 🙂

ADI rescue course with Borneo Dreams
Last dive of the trip

I went back to the hotel, washed up and change and headed back to the jetty. Really wanted some night shots of the place. I took my time, taking in the view before me.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
Night stoll at Jesselton Jetty
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia
Jesselton Jetty night scene

Goodbye KK, I’ll be back again.

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