Food, life, and fun in my "kampung,"(village), KL (Kuala Lumpur). Did I mention "food?"

Sipadan-a spiritual journey (Pics in the links)

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

We arrive on Mabul after losing a bag at the hands of Malaysian Airlines. Notwithstanding the fact that they have systems to retrieve it, it shouldn't have happened.

Our checkout dive on the housereef was uneventful. Or eventful, depending on how you look at it. A 5 foot garoupa swimming 3 feet away from you and catching you in it's backwash is eventful, isn't it?

Jun, Allan and I were listed as going to Sipadan the very next day.

The weather held.

Sun, blue sky, and a relatively calm sea. The salt tang of the Celebes in our faces and the warmth of father sun on our backs.

Same old rigmarole. The part I hate.

Zip up wetsuit. Bend over slightly and throw weight belt over your back and cinch it tight. Dislocate your shoulder to fit your arms through a Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) already fixed to a tank of air; your lifeline. Tubes and protrusions sticking out the end of everything. It's all you can do not to tie yourself in knots. Check first stage. Sound like Darth Vader. Good. Check second stage. Still sounding like Darth Vader. Air? 240Bar. Contort yourself into your fins and snap on your mask. Hope that said mask doesn't fog up and you've hawked up enough spit to prevent it. At this point, I'm grateful that my hair is usually shaved into the bathroom sink. Having a mask pull your hair out is the next worst thing to being waxed.

Clamber, crawl, lift yourself up with size 30 feet/flippers onto a small bench while the boat is rocking, sometimes gently, sometimes like a crazy 5 year old about to take off, and yell "CLEAR?" and wait for a response from someone looking the other direction. Then roll back, the cool, blue water envelops you and you bob up, tap your head for the "all clear" signal and wait.

Check for your buddy at this point, give the "descend" sign, pull the BCD's in/deflation tube up and release the air and you start to sink beneath the waves.

Peace. Beyond the hissing and burbling of your breathing, there is silence. As you near the bottom, you double click your BCD with a hishhish and your arrest your freefall.

You're weightless and suspended. A single quick kick is sufficient to move you along. And most of the time, that's how I move. Single slow kicks to get to the next clump of reef or coral to view the next wonder of God.

The sights you see are really the icing on the cake. That feeling of weightlessness and the spirit of exploration of a world in which we are the aliens takes you out of yourself. Puts you into a place that you're just a visitor. And it's humbling. In all of God's Universe, there is a place so near to home where you can see His wonders and know that He is There.

From the smallest crustacean to the largest Turtle we've seen, the hand of God, the unknowable and ineffable, is present. The breathtaking views of Barracuda schooling, Jacks racing past you to an unknown destination, Flamboyant cuttlefish pulsating to the lambada, the experience of diving is spiritual. You spend time listening to your own breathing and marvelling at the wonders He hath wrought.

Then you have the opportunity to surface and on the next day, do it all over again.

Redang and Redang Kalong Part 3

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

Speeding over the water to our first dive with the sun breaking through the clouds
Got so lucky with this shot. Could not have wished or staged a better position. The two divers descending with the sunburst in between them and the bubbles from other divers at the lower right corner of the pic. I just whipped around on my back as I was descending , saw the shot and snapped it.An anemonefish guarding it's eggs. The little red dots at the bottom by the side of the anemone are it's eggs. They fan it periodically to run fresh water and oxygen over them
A curious batfish. And trust me, they're REALLY KPC. They follow you everywhere but when you look at them with some interest they FEIGN disinterest and pretend to swim away. But the minute you turn away back they come following you.
Bunch of divers
Yellow boxfish
Another type of anemonefish - yup, you guessed right, they're related to Nemo
Blue spotted Ray related to Unkaleong's Manta - these are quite common and the largest one I saw was around 32cm
Gorgeous little flatworm - these f'lers are only about 3 to 4 cm long
A Blue Marble Ray (I think) - he was around 1 to 1.3 m accross

A comet fish - notice the big fake eye which is at one end of the fish while his real eye is at the other end - fakes predators out
Starry Puffer - big bugger - about 0.8m in length
Nudibranch with it's eggs
Here's the pics. :-)

We're all thinking of going up again end June. Any takers?

Redang and Redang Kalong Part 2

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

As we determinedly - "determinedly" because my body was still struggling to roll out of bed while I was at the dive centre - pulled on our wetsuits and prepared for the pre-dive briefing, I was fumbling to regain the rhythm of the dive again.
Wetsuit on-booties on-mask, check- weight belt with weights, check-fins, check-pointer, check-underwater casing, check and checked in a tub of water for superficial leaks-BCD, check-regulator attached in the correct orientation, check, buddy, check. Definitely quite a checklist to go through before even stepping on the boat.

At Redang Kalong they're very helpful. I would even venture to say that they spoil us. The tanks are lugged to the boat for you. All you have to do is carry your own BCD, Regulator, Weight belt, Mask, Fins, and Snorkel onto the dive boat. As an extra precaution, the empty underwater casing for our camera came with me. Rather than risk the camera wholesale, I was advised to take the empty case down to test it first.

Obviously, that first dive without a camera meant that we'd see all the big pelagics. After all, that's Murphy's Law. First a Black tip reef about 5 to 6ft long, then a white tip reef shark, a little smaller.

In a way, it all worked out well. After 8 to 9 months of not diving my buoyancy was not up to par yet and with 4 weights I was sinking like the proverbial rock. Making a mental note to remove a weight from the weight belt - and being very pleased about it - we surfaced with ample air and an anticipation for what tomorrows' dives would bring!

Gasping for compressed air

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

Daniel Yap took this pic - he named it Nigel and Allan - B****rd! ;-)

Allan and I had dithered all year about diving in the Lembeh Straits last October.Sigh!

Daniel Yap took this pic - he's a damn good photog

Were we ever sorely tempted! But with Hari Raya coming and the rest of the busy season peeking round the corner, we decided that discretion had to be the better part of valour and we needed to earn some money instead of haring off on what was a glorious adventure with Allan's brother Daniel, his girlfriend Chui, and our madcap divebanana bunch!

Daniel Yap took this pic - crab feeding in anemone

If it were not for Allan's sensible arguments about well, being sensible, I would have dropped everything packed one pair of shorts, one pair of underwear and headed off on Air Asia. Sometimes, in your musings do you still wish you were 15? If you’re 15, don’t bother answering. If you’re in your late 20s and on up you know exactly what I mean. Actually, if you asked Allan he probably would say that I haven’t grown up…yet. Hey, we all live in hope.

In any case, at that point in time, our godson Jeremy was about to sit for his A levels. After hearing about our diving escapades he expressed an interest in learning how to dive…someday.

Serendipity strikes at times like these and since we were hankering for some bottled air as well as casting about for a “graduation” present for him, we thought what better than to get him certified and we would have one more thing to do together.

Fast forward to early February and we began searching for dive spots which basically had to conform to certain requirements. We wanted a 5 star Padi centre, a good instructor for the newbies (eventually there was more than one), decent lodgings, and beautiful dive sites.

Enter Redang Kalong and Alex.

Redangkalong promo pic

Along the way we also accumulated some new groupies. As things stand 9 of us will be heading up to Redang.

I’m chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of our CRV and drive off into the night only to arrive at dawn at the Merang jetty to take the early boat over to the island. It’s for times like these that the phrase “sense of adventure” was coined.

It’s been almost 8 months since our lungs felt the rasp of metallic air through a regulator and it couldn’t be more timely. Diving is truly one of the miracles of our modern world. When you take the step off the boat and your head submerges you are instantly transported to another realm. A realm where weightlessness takes on true meaning, a realm which has inhabitants of its own in a social circle you will only ever be able to peer at but never to join. It is an alien planet peopled by the strange and the beautiful. The poisonous and the mundane. It is all blue/brown/grey at the depths we visit and that’s just up to 45m. But when you shine a light on them all manner of colours leap out at you. It's voyeuristic.

While we live on the fringes of the truly hard core divers (who hop from dive site to dive site and then return home for 3 months to accumulate enough money to barely survive for the rest of the year diving) it is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating sports that I’ve ever experienced. Skiing would be a close second.

Now if you’ve seen me, you’ll know that I’m not an athlete. As a matter of fact, the word “athlete” seems to have been coined with me in mind as the antonym. I was built for comfort, not speed!

Since December I've also been resigned to the fact that I would not be able to take any more underwater pictures this time around. I'd given up looking for our little digital camera. 2 days ago, my Uncle asked me what camera I'm using now and when I mentioned that I'd lost my camera my Dad pipes up chirpily "oh, you leave it all over the place so I thought I'd keep it for you." For 3 months! Without telling us.

Roll on 28 Mar and rubs my hands together in glee!