overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
Pic of the week: (previous - fav video clip)
Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Wake up time to DIVE!

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 5 September 2006.

Malaysia, Country 22, Diary entry 3rd-10th July 2006, Total distance in Peninsular Malaysia: 3442 KM

Staying at Jeff & Sheema’s was a real pleasure and we were made to feel like one of the family. Whilst we had been tackling the rainforest, Sheema stayed at home baking and had stock piled several jars of home made chocolate chip cookies – delicious :). (If only Maz could have picked up a few tips!) After a good nights rest, Monday morning meant it was time to go to work. Contrary to popular belief we’re not just living the life of Riley, keeping a trip like this on the rails takes every spare second available to plan the next leg, work the local media and drum up interest in the charity donations. So when Jeff asked if we’d like to come to the office with him to use his wifi internet, we damn near bit his arm off.. after a cookie of course!

The gang go out for dinner

His office is in downtown KL, but en-route we had to first swing by ‘4WD Equipment’ to pick up a spare set of OME shocks that ARB had arranged for us, as ours have been receiving a beating lately with a somewhat heavy car (4T!) and the less than ideal highway conditions of the world’s roads. Next stop was the official launch of the Wilderness Explorer 2006 Expedition to South America. I think we’ve mentioned somewhere before that these Malaysians are mad for anything motorised and 4x4 ranks highly on the interest stakes and overlanding pretty much tops it.

The official launch of the Wilderness Explorer 2006 Expedition

Now these guys do overlanding in a somewhat different manner to us Europeans who set off to see the world in our one or twos with an unknown journey of at least 6 months to a year before us. These guys organise what can only be explained as a military campaign, cramming in as many miles as possible in less than 2 months with a convoy of over 20 cars and bikes. The route has been thoroughly planned and recce’d already so that they know precisely when and where they’ll be at any given time. With such huge logistics I guess they need to be a well oiled machine with a 7am roll call and on the road by 8am! Needless to say we were somewhat of an anomaly to them, just the two of us in Tinfish ambling along not yet sure if we will be shipping to Sumatra or Borneo in a little under 3 weeks time!

The press gang

As this was the launch event all the press were there along with the Malaysian tourism minister and ambassadors from each of the represented embassies of the countries on their route. A somewhat different affair to our leaving party where unfortunately all the ambassadors I contacted sent their apologies as they had previous engagements and I remember catching Damien’s (Maz’s bro) pint of beer as he did a falling tree impression in the nightclub and landed smack on his face, we did feature in the Surrey Advertiser though! Stealing the moment we did a bit of mingling and met Assir (aka 1 dollar) who dealt in shipping and also hijacked Yasin who wrote for ‘Cars, Bikes, Trucks’ and put together a great article which was published later during our stay. We also met Luis Wee the founder of the prestigious Rainforest Challenge and Jeff put the seed of thought into his head about our current raffle – nice going Jeff.

We weren't just there for the free lunch - honest

After treating ourselves to the lunch buffet we then headed off to Jeff’s office. The next few days were pretty much spent doing 9 to 5, both of us with heads stuck into our laptops, with the HP back we were now a two laptop family! (the HP piece of **** had been repaired by one of the local IT shops as HP insisted it needed to go back to the US to swap out each component piece by piece and rack up an astronomical repair bill) As Martin was having difficult finalising the shipping from Singapore, we all agreed that we should put a plan B into motion. With time pressing we needed some concrete plans about shipping from Singapore otherwise we couldn’t plan the rest of our time in Malaysia.

Maz poses on 1 dollars bike

Inspired by the Petronas Adventure Team and helped by 1 dollar, a plan started to formulate to try the alternative route to Sumatra and actually get a Ro-Ro car transporter from Port Klang (KL) to Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, then drive south through Brunei (a BONUS country) into Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo and cross by land into Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo! Simple… only the few maps we had of Kalimantan showed absolutely no roads linking the border crossing at Entikong to Balikpapan, where we were assured we could arrange onwards shipping to Sulawesi. A lot of advice we receive is normally immediately contradicted by the next person we talk to, so it was with some trepidation that we decided to go for it. Getting onto Borneo would be easy, getting off, now that was an entirely different matter all together…!

Big brave soldier

For our second stay in KL again Jeff and Sheema very kindly let us stay with them so evenings were spent with Maz playing with the kids and chatting about our adventures so far. We managed to slot in our Hep B booster at a local clinic which I braved admirably. One afternoon we also stopped by Luis Wee’s office to talk about how he could help in our quest. After listening to our expedition as a fellow adventurer he admired what we were trying to achieve and came up with the suggestion to raffle off a pair of Touring Adventurer seats for this years Rainforest Challenge, which nicely complemented our live-aboard dive holiday in Thailand, which I know you are ALL keen to have a go at winning.

Meeting up with Luis Wee founder of the Rainforest Challenge

We stayed until Jeff’s 4x4 Adventure Club Kuala Lumpur BIG BANG club night where we were asked to stand up to explain why we were there to a room full of shocked faces! We met up with Thomas Foo, the organiser for the Wilderness Explorer expedition, who had no qualms calling 1 dollar at 1am on our behalf to tell him to organise our ship to KK – apologies again Assir for that! The next morning it was time to leave KL and all the friends we’d made there behind and finally set out to see a little more of peninsular Malaysia. Just a quick detour first though back to Thailand to pick up some new tyres! Having been told BF Goodrich 265x75 R16 tyres were readily available in Malaysia, we were not the only ones to be shocked to find out they actually aren’t. Fortunately a few emails and SMS to Richard and Co. back at Jungle Trekkers in Bangkok and they’d arranged for a pair of tyres to be sent down to the border for us to collect at a friend of theirs – so a BIG thanks for sorting all that out on our behalf.

Yes we've driven here

Four more chops in the passport and a pair of new shoes on the rear of Tinfish and we were ready to head to the east coast. We spent the night in the midst of another oil palm plantation and although we weren’t disturbed we’re sure someone had found us but was just watching from afar in the shadows. The drive across the top is quite scenic with some huge lakes to cross by bridge and twisty windy roads through the hills. We were making a beeline towards Kuala Besut, the port for the fast boat to Perhentian Islands and some long awaited diving. On arrival touts ushered us into their secure parking and after negotiating a good price for our stay we arranged tickets for the fast boat. The next two hours were spent yet again extracting all our dive gear from various parts of the car and jamming them into 2 bags, 2 pelicases a rucksack and a laptop bag. Satisfied that we couldn’t physically carry anymore we were driven to the fast boat and clambered onboard.

Fast boat to Perhentian

The ferry is basically a big open speedboat with twin 200hp engines strapped to the back giving it a fair rate of knots. They do have a sunshade and in calm conditions the trip only takes about 45mins. It was great fun to be on a fast boat skimming along the sea watching the islands draw gradually closer. Our drop off was to be the imaginatively named Long Beach to meet up with Erika from Coral Sky Divers who were hosting a charity ‘Dive with CARE’ day to help us raise funds for CARE International. Offshore from Long Beach you transfer to a smaller boat, which barely remained above water loaded with all our kit, to shuttle us the mere 100 yards to the beach and get their cut of tourist $$$.

Long Beach in peak season

We staggered up the beach, fresh new arrivals amongst a beach sporadically littered with reddening western bodies sweltering under the sun. Coral Sky Divers were easy to find with a huge sign on the beach pointing the way. We were warmly greeted by Erika and after catching our breath she explained that the island was very busy with accommodation limited and as our plans had been somewhat fluid she’d only been able to secure us literally the last shack on the island. She admitted it wasn’t much, but tomorrow we’d be able to change as the tide of backpackers changed, out with old in the morning and in with the new in the afternoon.

The ever favourite Nemos

With valuables left at the office, she led us to the shack which aptly described our new abode. The ‘Dive with Care’ day was planned for the following morning with an early 8am dive starting the day at Temple of the Sea, the favourite dive site of the area. Wanting a good nights rest we braved the wriggling mattresses and lay patiently waiting for sleep to take us away, staring up at our mossie nets. Instead of counting sheep to speed the process, I contended myself with counting the holes in the net big enough to put your fist through.. buzz, buzz, dinner is served! No sooner had I dropped into slumber when the entire shack leapt into the air and started reverberating to the sound of Bob Marley being played at 11 on the sound dial! Oh great… have they NOT heard of anything else but Bob bloody Marley… oh yes the hot new favourite followed… James Blunt.

Our dive chariot

Maz stumbled up for the toilet and although our beds were only separated by a foot or two we couldn’t for the life of us hear what the other was saying. Morning couldn’t have come soon enough and the daily ablutions were undertaken trying not to touch anything and just concentrating on getting the job done and the hell out of there. Not nice! Yawning and knackered we dragged ourselves round to Coral Sky Divers and started putting our dive kit together. Unlike other places we’ve dived along the route, the norm here is to use speed boats which can comfortably fit about 8 or so divers but are a little precarious if moving from one side to the other so good balance is required. As with all such craft in these parts the bigger the lump strapped to the back the better, so we were soon speeding along dancing from wave to wave at break neck speed… great fun.

A bamboo shark peeking out from under a rock

Temple of the Sea (Tokong Laut) is a pinnacle in the middle of the sea poking just above the surface, with a maximum depth of 24m and is one of Perhentians best known dive sites. There are lots of hard corals, soft corals and anemones and since it is surrounded by sea there is always the chance of spotting pelagic fish like trevallies, queenfish, snappers and fusiliers. The whole site is crowded with coral fish like parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish and lots of others. Looking between the rocks at the bottom of the slope you can often find small bamboo sharks and moray eels tucked away hiding. We spent a leisurely hour swimming around the pinnacle watching the profusion of diver and fish life.

Mr Moray Eel

Once back at Coral Sky Divers we chatted to the other divers over coffee and cake to explain why the ‘Dive with CARE’ and trying to promote our live-aboard raffle. We also had to decide what to do next, as the thought of a second night in smegsville filled us with dread and we’d yet to get any confirmation on how the shipping was shaping up. Internet although available on the island is sporadic and Erika’s had been down for a few days already. Facing an astronomical fee for the privilege we found some working internet and a quick replicate confirmed that shipping was progressing well so we could relax a little longer.

5* accomodation - compared with lastnights!

Our next challenge was to move up in the world! We started at one end of the beach and started asking if there were any rooms available… no room at the inn, time and again. Even though all the accommodation was full, the beach was far from overcrowded and still maintained an air of tranquillity about it with a scattered number of people relaxing on the beach or catching the shade in the few cafés. Finally bingo we found some new digs, just the other end of the beach but miles apart from the condemned hut we were in. Things were shaping up well and we decided that we should at least be able to spend our 2nd wedding anniversary on a tropical island rather than back in Tinfish driving to our next destination or worse locked in an internet café.

Coral of Perhentian

We caught up with a few guys back at the dive shop in the evening where they were discussing a trip to Redang which caught our attention. It wasn’t clear if there were spaces available as they share a big boat with some of the other dive outfits to do the 2 hour trip to Redang for a days mini-safari The best advice was to turn up in the morning (early as always!) and find out then. Early isn’t something we’re best at, but we decided if it were full we’d grab an early breakfast then jump on one of the local dives. Having been warned that we’d chosen the wrong end of the beach to move to as a Full Moon party was planned for tonight, as the heavens opened it was a relief for us to see the party had been literally washed away and we’d get the good nights sleep we were desperately in need of.

Destination Redang

The early bird catches the worm, so up bright and early to report back to the dive shop to find that Erika had worked her magic and got us onboard the Redang trip. Boarding the old tub which was to take us there, I don’t think I was the only one who thought I might just kit up ready in case we witnessed the making of a new dive site first hand! Talk of the long journey were the heads (seadog term for loo) which consisted of a wooden box nailed to the back of the boat, so that it overhung the sea below and had a slatted floor, so no need to flush! Onboard we met Laurie from Byron Bay, who was over diving with his son Nick whilst his wife explored Vietnam and was a great laugh as we swapped photo tips. We also met Barbara and Mattius from Holland, who nearing the end of their own world travels had just found diving and were now planning their remaining time via as many dive destinations as they could squeeze in.

So what bit goes where again..?

First dive was a pinnacle just offshore from the islands which slopped down to about 28m. Again we were met with the multitude of soft and hard corals with colourful fish busying themselves which always reminds me of the scenes in Finding Nemo. Oddly at this site there was a distinct thermocline at about 24m where the water below was a good few degrees cooler than that above. It is surprising how noticeable this is underwater as you feel like you plunge into cold water, but can easily stick your head back up into the warmer current. Around such thermoclines the visibility tends to be variable, so we spent most of our time in the warmer water.

Blue spotted ray.. Much smaller than the ray that attacked me!

We were allowed to do our own thing and as we swam around the rock I spotted a big sting ray resting on top of the coral. Framing a picture and approaching slowly, I saw the other divers coming in the opposite direction. They’d not yet seen the ray, so thinking I might be able to get a good shot without the gaggle of divers behind, one spotted the ray and raced over, scaring it off it’s perch and straight towards me… and I mean straight at me. I held position, staring down the viewfinder until it filled the view, snap, then evasive action to stop the ray hitting me! I then gently drifted alongside the ray and followed it as it gracefully flew by.

Dive injury.. As Maz drops her weight belt on her foot!

With all the unseasonable rain of late, the visibility wasn’t as good as it usually is, but that didn’t deter us from jumping in for a second dive further around the islands. A grey reef shark had been spotted by some guys snorkelling, so once we’d determined the current was flowing in the opposite direction to the normal, Maz & I jumped in first again. The visibility here was indeed variable, but as we followed the edge of the reef line, towards us glided a fair size grey reef without a concern in the world for us being there on looking. The current swept us around a headland where the reef dropped more steeply and once around the corner the viz improved somewhat and we just bobbed along enjoying the reef and keeping an eye out for what might be lurking in the blue.

Bat fish just hanging around

The third dive of the day was a pleasant bimble with many young hawksbill turtles either resting, going for a swim or tucking into a bit of lunch. You could get really close to them, within a foot or so and watch them getting on with things which was quite cool. Back onboard and with a long steam home ahead of us after a very enjoyable day at Redang, it wasn’t until late that we got back to Long Beach. We agreed to meet with Laurie and Nick for one of the mouth watering BBQ’s on offer at each of the beach cafés, although no sooner had we sat down and ordered than the heavens erupted once more, which was turning into a daily occurrence! We’d specifically waited on BBQ until the last evening so we were glad when they said it was still on… although the chap left stood under the umbrella turning the fish stakes didn’t look quite so convinced. They only needed a quick finishing off in the kitchen and were delicious. Rest assured Laurie once we’ve finally decided on a route around Aus, we’ll be sure to be passing Byron Bay for a splash.

Peep a boo

Happy 2nd Wedding Anniversary… we awoke on our tropical paradise island, but no time to relax, we were catching the 4pm fast ferry, but first had to billet the islands with posters which we made in a spare 5mins advertising the live-aboard raffle. We then met up with James who Maz had got talking to the night before in the rain. He used to work for BBC Scotland and was taking a year off travelling with his girlfriend Rachel and was interested in doing a quick interview for his blog journal. Finally we had to say our farewells and huge thanks to Erika and all at Coral Sky Divers. Through their exceptional efforts, during the ‘Dive with CARE’ day we raised an amazing GBR100 so a massive thank you for everything Erika.

The drowned rats survive the crossing

With the fast ferries pacing offshore, the taxi boats were touting for business, so we lugged our heaps of kit to the waters edge, boarded the boat which promptly grounded, then waved farewell to Long Beach and Perhentian. Transferring and stowing our kit for the fast run back to the mainland, whilst the engines revved the skipper was busy checking on the sea conditions via his mobile phone. As we rounded the headland we could see the reason for his concern… the sky looked black and menacing. Typically the rain had come early today, but he was happy that there was no wind so we were going, although he advised we don lifejackets – just to be safe of course!

After an hour of having buckets of water thrown at us from all directions we reached land and crawled ashore looking like drowned rats. One small problem, we didn’t recognise where here was! We asked around for the car park to blank faces until someone said the taxi will take you free of charge. Assuming it was just around the corner, we were somewhat surprised when we finally arrived at the car park some 30mins later. The ferry had just pointed for land and gone for it! With a lull in the rain we threw everything back in the car where ever it’d fit – it’d all be coming out again soon for more diving anyhow. One casualty seemed to be the newly repaired laptop, unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t rain but pours!

Many thanks to Erika for the underwater pictures

All content copyright © overland-underwater.com - please do not use without permission.

Comment from Scooter & H
ah just another day out on a jolly or 2. Happy wedding anniversary btw. ;0)
06 Sep 2006 @ 20:26:09