Paradise

14/04/2017 – 17/04/2017: Tioman Good Friday Dive Trip

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13/04/2017 – Thursday

Just a city girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight coach going Malaysia. I’ve always looked forward to the buses, the trains, the planes that take me on a long journey towards my destination. How incredibly cleansing to watching through your relaxed mind and eyes half shut, the trees and the night rolling into each other in a blur, the baggage of work, anxiety and worries caught in the mixture and tossed to the back of my mind where they can’t touch me anymore.

I fell into a deep slumber stretched out at the back of the empty coach before being awaken at approximately 3AM upon reaching our hotel for the night and proceeding to crash into bed again.

14/04/2017 – Friday

One of the best feeling in the world is waking up in the morning and knowing that you’ll be spending the entire day being in nature or doing something that you know will leave your soul and spirit feeling utterly satisfied. Its a kind of enthusiasm, a kind of hope that feels like tiny bolts of lightning, jolts of energy that can overwrite any less-than-quality sleep the night before. The sounds of the world ring louder in your ears and the colours brighter on your eyes.

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The weather was absolutely splendid, the unbelievably azure skies so tantalizing, stoking my impatience to get out there to wrap my body in the warm rays of the sun and fresh open air. But Malaysia boleh, our ferry was delayed and we spent a good amount of time cooped up in the overcrowded ferry terminal, dispersing our frustration through the pores of our necks.

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We reached Noryah Dive Resort slightly after lunch, scorched by a sun reigning over the Earth, shining down on us with all its might, ravenous from the long voyage across the seas. I wolfed down a lunch of fried rice, fries and nuggets before putting on my swimsuit, one which hadn’t seen the light of the day since the start of the month when school and work where in cahoots with each other and got crazy together.

The first dive was a state of panic, the hasty re-introduction to the unpleasant logistics of diving which I had the luxury of skipping during both my open water and advanced certification classes. In retrospect, that luxury happened to be a curse in disguise. That realization hit me as I stood in the midst of a chaos of gears strewn all over the grass outside the concrete equipment shed, feeling as utterly lost as I was when I graduated from school on my last class. I clasped my gear bag between my palms and searched the surroundings for someone to imitate but everyone had advanced way beyond that.

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Drowning in all that jargons, halp

But all’s good. “Angkar”, our dive guide swooped in to save this blurcock damsel in distress with his huge twinkling eyes and megawatt grin with teeth pearly white against his sun bronzed skin. And within moments, my frazzled nerves were tamed as I got reacquainted with the numerous gears that I strapped upon myself.

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Dive #1: The first dive was a shore dive, which meant we had to walk out into the sea with our gears already on and float on backwards until we’ve reached water deep enough. Not a particularly enjoyable experience because I’m not the most graceful when putting on my fins while floating on my back. However, it did bring back wonderful memories of my Bali dives with Rebecca and the beefcake of our instructor.

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I had always struggled with descent, the journey from the surface down to the seabed. How utterly lonely I have felt floating on the surface as I watched with envy the air bubbles of the other divers on the surface as they descended with nary a hitch.

But not this time, for I lowered myself without having to put up a struggle and the sea enveloped me in its cool embrace. Welcome back. The area had lousy visibility due to the currents and the stirring of fine ass sand. Our group of 6 dwindled to 4 after a while and then almost 3 when I mistook another dive group for ours and Angkar intercepted to save the damsel in distress once again. He was indeed my knight in skin-tight wet suit.

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Dive #2: The night gradually descended upon us and we floated about the shallow waters, awaiting sunset before a night dive with Cristyano and Angkar. The sun went out with a fiery passion, setting the skies ablaze before disappearing into the clouds. Angkar strapped a compass to my BCD and taught me how to set the bearings for the land and navigate our way back when we’re turning back. He wanted me to lead us back to the starting point once we’ve circled certain landmarks underwater.

I’ve always loved the idea of night dives. It’s ironic because I’ve been absolutely terrified of the murky depths of the ocean, after having large pieces of seaweed brush past my bare legs, scarring my young mind, while swimming in the Sentosa waters as a child. Being submerged in my fear, in the darkness of a world that is not mine, activates a primal sense of urgency that feels like a burn in the pit of my stomach (might that be adrenaline though I  recall adrenal glands being located in the brain), which sharpens the senses, which have been largely dormant in our world of light and safety.

The dive went really well until we made a stop to practice my buoyancy control with a fin pivot. Then it went downhill from there.

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The ideal fin pivot

I spent what felt like forever fumbling in the darkness, attempting to float and sink according to my will through my breath, while hitting rock bottom 90% of the time. Cris and Angkar were really trying their best to help me, scribbling instructions and filling up the dive slate but unfortunately it was a spectacular fail trying to wield control over my body that no longer felt like my own.

The journey back to shore was quite the experience too, as my one track mind struggled to juggle the demands of looking down at the compass while watching where I was going. Granted, navigating a night dive with my rusty compass skills was probably a level 3 difficulty in the game. I bumped into several huge pieces of corals on the way, feeling both guilty and foolish, hoping fervently we’re headed back to shore.

What a huge relief being raising my head, see the ripples of black waters and the dancing moonlight across its surface. Despite my disappointment about not mastering buoyancy like I had intended to, I felt so incredibly exhilarated coming up for air, like a new life emerging from the cavernous wombs of its mother, welcomed by the chill of the salty sea breeze and silence of the big, great world. Gone was the initial panic. I had fallen back in love with diving once again.

15/04/2017 – Saturday

After one of the soundest sleep I’ve had in the month (April had been fucking crazy mentally),  I woke up, crawled out of my bed on the upper bunk of the dorm and stepped outside. The sunrise had tinted everything in a warm orange glow. All was quiet as most were still sleeping. It was such a wonderful feeling just standing there, taking in the smell of the sea, the sensation of grass and sand beneath my bare feet, the lightness of my spirit. I was SO in love.

The village began to awake one after another, gathered at the dining table for breakfast. I didn’t need coffee that day for I was bursting with so much natural energy, eager to head back into the waters again. We were diving from the Frogman today, which meant no more involuntary weights training and broken seashells jabbing into my feet!

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The boat felt a lot smaller that it did when I was there the last year in October when I did my advanced class. Maybe it was because now that I wasn’t living on board, the sleeping bunks were off access and I had one less area to hang out at. However, we soon discovered the roof and headed on up to soak in the sun.

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There were hours waiting and nothing’s happening as we headed to our first dive site. The Frogman I’m not complaining a single bit because the roof was the perfect spot to chill, where you get an unobstructed view of the surroundings, the vast blue oceans, the unobstructed breeze, the golden rays of the sun warming your back. If perfection existed in a moment, there I was living in it.

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*Boatmen Appreciation*

Dive #3: The dive was not particularly remarkable, more of a desperate escape from the relentlessly rocky boat to quell any intensification of the motion sickness I felt welling up at the back of my throat. Being in the water was so meditative, so healing, so tranquil, especially after getting my buoyancy under control.

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In between dives, we took a boat and went swimming in a beach right in front of some dive resorts, in an area cordoned off for snorkeling. The place was filled with little kids and teenagers, boisterous and lively.  The water was emerald and clear, teeming with snorkelers and colorful fishes. What I was really excited about was the floating platform were you could dive off of. Cris showed me how to do the front flip and I managed to achieve half of it, hitting the water with my back mid turn. Hurts but it felt good being able to accomplish something which I’ve only been able to watched the boys in my swimming classes do in public pools 13 years ago.  It was a very pure kind of happiness.

Dive #4: We hit the waters again in full gear as the sun hit the time of the day where it commences its descend. Visibility was bad but the murkiness of the water was somehow appropriate for the landmarks we were visiting, 2 huge shipwrecks and the massive columns of the beams supporting the jetty.

It was like living in a cinematic segment of an adventure film without the dramatic music, the shadowy hull of the boats slowly coming into view as I ambled forward and it took a while before I could wrap my brain around the sheer size of the wrecks.  I caught myself hearing loud beeping sounds, like the warning alarms of the control devices of sinking ships I’ve seen in movies and the occasional panicked shouts of men, incoherent and frightened. My imagination – a built-in storytelling device. 10/10 experience.

16/04/2017 – Sunday

I woke up at 6 by newly formed mosquitoes bites on my legs demanding to be scratched. Apparently, I had kicked off my protective blankets in the middle of the night and unwittingly started an all-you-can eat blood feast for the little guys. I had half-an-hour before our meeting time so I headed down to the beach to walk again.

It is so therapeutic listening to the waves gently crash against the shore, the crackling sea foam as it retreated back into the ocean, mixed with the excited voice of Sherry face timing her boyfriend, showing him the beauty of the beach at sunrise.

Today was the last day of the trip and I was determined to make the most of the remaining dives I’ve had. We were diving from the Frogman again and I was beyond stoked to see that the weather was working in our favor again. Long live summer days!!

Dive #5: And this seems to be my first encounter with currents. It’s a love-hate relationship. So much hate when you’re going against it, kicking desperately, burning up your oxygen supply and finding yourself stuck at the same spot like a hamster in a wheel. But LOVE when you’re drifting with the current, like leaning back on the softest, silkiest blanket and sliding off it. Almost like flying. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I’ll definitely want to learn more about drift diving or dealing with strong currents because the word on the streets is that that’s where you get to encounter the most and best sea life forms.

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Dive #6: Oh boy did I see the Renggis site in a whole new light! LITERALLY.

Monsoon season vs Happy summer days

It was the most perfect way to end the entire diving trip. Renggis is beautiful BOTH above and beneath the waters. Its mass of vibrant coral reefs were abundant with life and colors, with large schools of fishes just hanging out, darting in and out, between corals, away from my outstretched arms of wistful hopes to have one of them swim in my palms. The parrot fishes never fail to crack me up between breathes into my regulator.

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Girl look at those lips

We also swam past a massive moray eel, more commonly known as bad joke eel, snapping its jaws at little fishes as it emerged from within the corals.

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Credit: Someone in the leisure dive group

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The highlight of this dive has got to be the colossal sea tortoise, which I had mistaken for a huge piece of reef, with a voracious appetite, chewing away at corals like an underwater demolition machine. I was beside myself with excitement, an almost out-of-body experience, seeing this giant creature in flesh, not on the TV screen of Nat Geo.

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THE END

PS: I CAN’T WAIT FOR MY NEXT DIVE!!

PPS: Much thanks and love to my dive buddy, Cristyano

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