Well look who finally came home!
The drive from the airport felt like I'd been away for years. Having a beer at the bar last night felt like I'd never left at all. I'm more or less part of the furniture now.
It's been more or less 6 weeks; I've visited another 5 countries, climbed the highest mountain in South East Asia, eaten WAY to much good food, spent a ridiculous amount of money, had my passport checked 21 times and dived the Celebes Sea; allegedly one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world.Unfortunately not Sipadan, because in my usual style, I showed up without having booked ahead. I got a couple of dives on Mabul and Kapulai islands which are pretty much next door. I found out too late that apparently all it takes is an offer to do it naked and you are automatically on the next boat to Sipadan.
The visibility left a lot to be desired.
The hoards of backpackers, diving hippies and blokes too old to still be sleeping in a hostel, were overwhelming.
Our dive master started frothing when he suggested we "just MIGHT see a ghost pipe fish!" and I thought "Pfft! See 'em everyday hanging off the L.C.U." Sure enough, he surfaces elated to see a specimen that's 'Top 5 in the world!'
Between to Borneo-based diving websites, Lonely Planet and every other tourist travel brochure printed in the country, the corals of the Celebes Sea are described with the same uniformly irritating slogan, 'technicolour!' To be honest, yes the technicolour corals were just that, and I still associate this with the ancient, dull-coloured Disney cartoons from the Saturday mornings of my childhood. Back in the days when we still had a concave screen and we still had to get up to change channels. Disappointingly, there were no digital, plasma, or LED corals in sight…. And not a wreck in sight.
So what's Subic Bay got to show for itself up against the best in the world?
Ornate ghost pipefish? Check!
Schools of glittering jacks? Check!
Resident green sea turtles? Check!
Shy but elegant blue-painted lobsters? Check!
Super awesome dive master? Check!
Warm ocean temps? Check!
'Hi-def' hard and soft corals? Check!
Blue-ribbon eels, pharaoh cuttlefish, barracudas, banded pipefish, giant groupers? Check!
Ocean full of plastic garbage courtesy of island-based local community? Hmmm, surprisingly lacking!
When I was asked "Why aren't you doing your dive master here, it's cheaper than anywhere else!?" I thought to myself, well, actually it's about the same price! But while money will always be a deciding factor to a long-term backpacker, the fact that you are undertaking a job that makes you responsible for other people's lives makes me think the quality of the training I receive seem a little more relevant.
So does Borneo deserve to be in the Top 10 diving in the world? Well sure, I'd rate it, purely for the reason that I saw a turtle to size of a VW Beetle.But if part of that includes a sweaty 2" foam mattress in a 12-bed dorm room, and a single toilet shared between fifty, I'd rather be holed up in my own little pirate ship, the SS Dog House, where the beer is cheap, the sun is shining (except for today because there's a typhoon) the people are beautiful and I can spend my days fluffing around naming reefs after myself. Arrrrrrrrrgh!