Margo's onderzoeksstage Korea travel blog

(Photo's of this part has to come from friends, they'll be up as soon as I get them!)

By now it's the 24th of december. Getting out of the buss at the end of the day was total agony, climbing the mountain has left it's traces! Walking was quite fine, but everything that involved a change of level... Well, picture it. :) A friendly woman showed me to way to Uncle Chang, helping me with my luggage. Uncle Chang is one of the affordable hotels at Mabul, from which you can go diving at Sipadan. Sipadan is called one of the best diving places of the world. I arrived at Uncle Chang, Mabul, in the middle of a Christmas party. Mabul is an island like Sipadan, though slightly bigger and Malay people are living on it. But before I carry on, let me give you a picture, the picture I remember from when I was child. When I visited Sipadan around 1993/4, it was total paradise; a perfect bounty island with white beaches, clear blue sea, some jungle, palm trees, chalets with cold showers (though I'm not sure if it was simply pouring water over yourself using a bucket) and less romantic musquetoes and sand flies. You can walk around it in about 20min. You just had to put on your mask and fins, get in the water to find yourself between a magnificent amount of fishes, in all sorts of sizes and colours, between beautiful coral, again in a great variety of size and colours. And if that wasn't enough, there were lots and lots of turtles, within hand reach! I have some quite clear memories of this place, which came back to me to first day I headed for Sipadan.

Uncle Chang turned out not to be the kind of place from where you can walk on the beach and enjoy the peace and quiet of bounty-island. In stead it's just a big house with several rooms on poles and a bigger space for dining and reception. Arriving there in the middle of a party, alcohol was already everywhere, being hugged by a not very nice-looking old man (uncle Chang himself, uhgh), people pushing beers in my hand. But I was exhausted from the climbing and being in the buss a whole day, it was just too much. I had some dinner, tried to make a conversation, but people were already too absorbed in their party and the staff was quite pushy about drinking, so I escaped to bed very early. I slept in my out-of-order room (they were overbooked) through all the party-noise and chatter in the hall. The next morning, most of the people had an hang-over and I was revived! :-)

Together with one of the dive-instructors I packed together my diving gear. I was going to make two dives that day, just staying around Mabul. The gear was a little old and after the welcome I had yesterday, I didn't feel comfortable at all, nor with the gear, nor with the people! Which was coming from both sides, 'cause with by singling myself out from the party I didn't really made friends. This dive-instructor, SanSan, was nice though and tried to comfort me. He give me pink fins, which were a little like my own fluorescent fins I left behind in Holland and for which he would call me 'pinky'. Later that day he learned I didn't feel comfortable with the place and people, with wich he constantly teased me, but he surely helped me to turn things for the better in the next couple of days! Convincing me I should sing along with the guiter, which I happily did when the ice got broken and I learned to get to know the place! I met Sabine, a girl who has been around Mabul for already over then a month, and Maiken and Sylja, two Norway girls. The last days we spend with the four of us and really, these girls are just simply beauties, by looks and by hearts! Accept for Sabine we were all covered with red spots, itching like hell! We enjoyed ourselves with trying everything we could think of, ranging from vinegar to lemon, from cremes to Reiki. One night, when girls and staff had finally found each other, we got terribly drunk (yep, including me), shame on me, I don't remember much, so to say nothing. Hehe... We learned alot about what living on such an island is like, why people live on Rum, that Malay guys aren't honest, but that the reason behind it, is mainly their own unhappiness. How hard is to get a job, and having one, well... People sacrafice really alot to keep it. That most people probably just hang around all day, do some fishing, trying to get some food and money. Maiken saved an ill kitten abandoned by her mother, on our last day (30th) which, I hope, by nowm lives a happy, healthy life at Uncle Chang.

The diving at Mabul was just so so. I saw a few small things, but there wasn't any coral, just some sand, old tires and cages. The perfect orientation dive I would say! :-) The diving wouldn't get better today, so I decided to save my energy and just go for snorkling. I had nice conversations with some girls that were snorkling too and things were getting a little better. That night I made it clear I'm not the partying kind of girl, I prefer the quiet places and I don't drink (well, I do a little sometimes, but for now letting them believe I don't drink at all was more easy) and , but that I'm perfectly happy if others feel different which cleared the air a little and gave some room for conversation. Still I went to bed early.

That night we had a big storm, wind was coming from every where, which made the crossing to Sipadan the next day a wet and very bumpy one! Every one (and everything) was soaked with sea water by the time we reached Sipadan. It would be like this all three days I went to Sipadan, since we would have this storm every day. The third day the storm waited untill the morning, which made it look like we couldn't go to Sipadan at all that day, but luckily after lunch the sea was calming down and we went out for just the afternoon. Arriving at Sipadan was kind of shocking. A couple of years back there has been a kidnapping and since then the island closed for tourists, staying overnight. The bounty-island with the chalets, is now a ghost-island! The buildings are turning into wooden ruins, there are some old paintings left, but they are corroding due to the weather, all the furniture is gone, the tabs are loose and I couldn't find the chalets in which we slept in 1994. Though when I walked around the island, I learned that nature is blooming again! It's again becoming a beautiful wild, untouched island. At least, above the water. Below the water I could find only traces of what it has been when I was there as a kid. Most of the coral was dead, and there are still many fishes and turtles, but it's lost it shining, it's clearity... the blue water turned into a more greyish sandlike water with dirt and seaweed (with jelly fishes in between, brrr). Since a year tourism has been pulled back, allowing only 150 visitors a day, ensuring this using a permitsystem. Before, people could reach the island in uncountable numbers.

Really, humans are unendless careless and thoughtless when it comes to nature. They don't have any feeling or sense of what on earth they are doing! The impact of all these incountable visitors, which isn't measurable by any means, which can't be put into words... Just that one piece of coral you accidently hit, that one boat which navigated wrongly, that one piece of rubbish you threw overboard, or even accidently was taken by the wind, the fishes which are so cute to feed... And if you read this and think you're not one of these people, well think twice! 'Cause you are, we all are!!! Me too... But it's truelly heartbreaking to see so clearly how we are treating our own world. And honest people, in truth, it's just a reflection of how we treat ourselves...

And this, is what my staying at Mabul has been about... learning what we people actually do. How we, in ignorance and/or arrogance, ruin the most valuable things we have... And the people living around these places, suffer from this too... 'cause by coming and paying, we encourage them to exploit the tourism, we encourage them to give up their lives and families, to make us happy, in turn for just a little money! And all the guests are just enjoying all the fun, without wanting to notice the sadness in the eyes of most of them. But they can drink, staff and guests, so they are happy...

The 30th we all left, Sabine, Maiken, Silya and me. After three days of storm in the night, today the weather was lovely! Sabine would take the kitten to the vet, Maiken en Silya had prolonged their stay but wanted to see some more before departing Sabah and for me (I would stay longer), nearly a week was long enough. Though I didn't like braking up the party after the last two days, nor with the girls, nor with the staff... It's funny how things can change...

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