2. Kota Kinabalu - Notes on diving and snorkeling
The reason why I decided to stay in Kota Kinabalu for a few days was due to Mike's availability. He could only start the tour on the Thursday as that was what fit in with the other bookings he had. So, as it takes about 2 days to get to Lahad Datu from the UK, it made much more sense for me to fly out at the weekend and that meant I got into KK on the Sunday night. Hence the 4 nights at Hotel Eden 54. The hotel room was about as good as a standard Travel Lodge in the UK. There was a small communal kitchenette, where I could store milk for tea and then I just basically ate out during the day/night. It's conveniently close to the Ferry terminal at Jesselton Point.
I spent the first day recovering from jetlag with a late morning sojurn to Sapi Island in TARP to spend the day snorkeling. It's very easy to arrange tickets to the islands, you just go to one of the many kiosks at the ferry terminal and say which islands you want to visit and what time you want to come back. You can also hire snorkeling gear. Some of the islands have lockers, which I used to stash my gear when I was snorkeling. Getting to the water is not easy though as there's lots of smashed coral on the beach. I was wishing I'd brought my thick wetsuit boots with me.
There were quite a few reef fish, including clownfish, a large trigger fish, needlefish, scorpionfish and a small peppered moray eel. But the reef itself has sadly been trampled into oblivion in the area cordoned off for snorkeling. A large Malayan Water Monitor was cooling off in a small pool of water by the beach and I saw a Pacific Reef Egret in the harbour and a White-bellied Sea Eagle soared over the ocean. That afternoon, I went to arrange the diving with with Diverse Borneo at their office in town. To be honest I wasn't 100% happy with them, because when I went to the office I specifically asked if the diving would be a lot better than the snorkeling and I was assured that we'd see a lot of cool stuff away from the wrecked area.
So the next day, I met them and sorted the gear out at Jesselton point and we headed to the islands. First of all, things didn't get off to a great start as there was a mix up. I had booked for three dives and they had only loaded two tanks. So there was a bit of an argument over that and the guide had to call the office. He eventually agreed to three dives, but the first refresher dive was only 20 mins long on Sapi house reef,right next to the trampled snorkeling area. As a result, very little was seen of note, including a single lionfish and blue spotted ray. Visibility was also widely hampered by an algal bloom. The second of my three dives was longer, 46 mins, around the island away from the crowds. Visibility was sadly not improved, due to the algae therefore diving was still very poor, some butterfily fish, batfish, large clownfish etc. seen, but nothing like what I had been led to believe.
The third, and best dive of the day was at Pontoon reef, Gaya Island. This consisted of a wall dive and swim out, still in very poor vis to a pontoon, under which was a massive school of fish. Quite a disorienting and eerie experience! I also lost a contact, so I was doing the whole dive with only one good eye! Not great.
Given the poor vis, I decided against a further day of diving and spent the last day visiting the markets in Kota Kinabalu. They were not particularly interesting as every stall sold basically the same tat, I guess much of which has been imported from China.
20170213_154010 by Jo Dale, on Flickr
20170213_154429 by Jo Dale, on Flickr
There is a large roost of Asian Glossy Starlings that congregates in the tress in front of the malls in the centre of town.
I found some nice places to eat with some of the ladies who were also there diving. This included a nice Italian joint called "Little Italy". Most places open late (10:00) and stay open until late (23:00). There is also a large open air fish market where you can get any seafood you can think of cooked to order- personally I was a bit overwhelmed by the choice and didn't end up eating there.
If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
Alex: "Whoa! Hold up there a second, fuzzbucket. You mean like, uh, the live in a mud hut wipe yourself with a leaf type wild?"
King Julian: “Who wipes?”