Friday, July 06, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With The Near Death Experience on Day 3

I actually slept quite soundly despite the warm night and woke up on the 3rd day of my vacation fully refreshed and ready for the day’s adventure. Had a quick shower and got ready for breakfast which was banana pancakes, toast, fruits and coffee. Food was actually fairly serviceable for the amount that we paid for the stay so I was happy with it. After we were through with breakfast, we rested up a bit and got ready for our snorkeling trip which was planned for at 9:30am that morning.

When our snorkeling tour guide’s boat came ashore, we found out that he was not told that we would not have any snorkeling equipment with us. Fortunately for us, the resort had enough snorkel gear for all of 11 of us so we got the masks and snorkel from them. Of course they did not charge us for them as it was already included in our total package. We did need life vests to wear which the resort didn’t have enough off so our first stop of our snorkeling trip was the jetty at Perhentian Kecil for more life vests from another tour operator there.

(Jetty at Perhentian Kecil)

After getting all the life vests that we needed, we traveled north along the shores of Perhentian Besar to our first snorkeling spot. On the way there, we passed many secluded beaches that seems only reachable by boat. I tried to make a note of their locations in my mind in case that I decided to go wild a get in a kayak trip up to these beaches later in the trip. These beaches seems to be perfect spots to get away alone or with someone special for some private time.

(Secluded beach reachable only by boat)

We reached our first snorkeling point about 15 minutes into the journey and got suited up to go into the water. Before we did, the tour guide gave use some safety tips and rules to follow while we were snorkeling in the area. The one tip that stood out most for me was when he said to remain calm if we saw anything unexpected under the water. When we asked what he meant by “unexpected”, he just smiled and said “anything that moves down there which is larger than yourself”. Even though he didn’t say it, I knew for certain that he meant sharks.

I don’t swim … at all. I am deathly afraid of situations where I am in water that is deeper than I can stand in. Most of all, I am terrified of encountering a shark in any body of water. I fully blame getting scared shitless after watching “Jaws” as a kid for my water phobia. There was no way I would not be psychologically scarred my whole life having watched that movie as well as the equally terrifying “Piranha” movies. I remembered there was a time back then when I would not even go near any bodies of water for fear of sharks and piranhas. I have only recently been able to overcome that fear and get myself into the sea with a life vest on. Hearing that there could be sharks in the water literally drained the blood out of my face.

(1st snorkeling site and the view of the sea bed from the boat using normal camera)

Having come that far, it would be a huge shame if I were not to go into the water. Since I don’t see any sharks fin cutting the waves in the distance, I guessed that it could be safe to snorkel around for a bit. I was the last of us who got off the boat having finally found the guts to overcome my shark phobia. Of course in the time that I was debating whether to go into the water, I had not noticed how the others got into the water. I did not see any ladders to climb out of the boat so I assume that everyone just flipped overboard into the sea. Since I made it a life rule to never jump headfirst into anything, I figured that I could just drop into the water feet first from the side of the boat.

Really bad idea !!! The moment the water came over my head, I quickly realized that I was plunging into at least 30 feet of water. I’ve always eased myself from the shore into deeper waters in my previous snorkeling trips so I was not expecting to sink so low so fast when I entered the water. I could see the rest of the group floating above me when I experienced a major panic attack. I honestly thought that I would sink down to the bottom even when I was wearing my life vest. I literally had my life flashed in front of my eyes and felt my heart was about to burst out of my chest. Fortunately for me, I was able to get over the initial shock long enough to stay relatively calm and let the life vest do its work for me. I finally came back up to snorkel depth but not before getting a lungful of sea water. I had to hold on to the boat for a bit as I sputter out the sea water and tried to calm down after those frightening moments. In hindsight, those long moments were the most exhilarating moments that I have experienced in a very long time.

(Friendly fishes bribed with bread for a surface photo-op)

Once I got everything under control again, I was able to got back under and enjoy my surrounding. Since we were in about 30 feet of water, the sea bottom looked quite far down. We could see the bottom quite clearly as the waters were crystal clear and sunlight filtered through all the way down. The corals here were more colorful that the ones that I saw the day before but still were not as impressive as the ones that I saw in Sabah. We brought bread to feed the fishes so it was quite easy to get them to come near us as we snorkel. There were times that I was completely surrounded by fishes that I swear I could feel them nibble on my skin which kind of freaked me out a bit. I took some pictures of them and the corals below using the underwater disposable camera that we brought with us with hopes that they would turn out OK since it was the first time I have ever used this type of camera (Ed note: I have yet to see the pictures to date). And yeah … we did actually find Nemo among the corals so I could tick that off my trip to do list that day.

(Nemo ! Found him)

After about 45 minutes snorkeling in the area, we went back to the boat to go to the next spot. On the way there, we went past another boat operator who signaled to our tour guide that there were turtles in the area. It was a really lucky day for us as it was fairly rare to see them that early in the day. We cruised around the area slowly hoping to spot them when the tour guide pointed out a dark shape swimming just a few meters in front of us. It was too deep to really see what it was but from the shape I could imagine that it was a fairly large size turtle. They came to that particular area to feed on the jellyfish that were abundant there. Since most of use could not swim well enough, we could not go into the water with our life vest on to go down to where the turtle was. The tour guide on the other hand was a expert swimmer who took our camera to see if he could take a photo of it before it swam away. I don’t think he managed to as the turtle moved on shortly after he went into the water but I did get to see it’s head when it came up for air just 5 feet from our boat moments later.

After the close encounter with the turtle, we proceeded to the next spot which as called Shark Point for obvious reasons. The area was frequently visited by black tipped reef sharks and people go there to see them up close. While the tour guide told use that these sharks were harmless as long as we don’t provoke them, there was no way in hell I would be going in the water. I’m fairly convinced that on top of blood, sharks could also smell fear and I would be provoking them with mine just being in the water. As some of my group went in, I decided to wait it out on the boat with the rest of us who thought going into the water with sharks is just crazy as I did. While we waited for the rest, the sea got a bit more rougher that when we started on the trip and I started to feel a bit queasy. Thankfully, it was just a momentary situation and by the time we went on to the next spot I was feeling OK again.

(Rocks off Shark Point. The thought of Jaws in the water was enough to keep me on the boat)

Unlike the first place, there were already few boats in the area and the place was filled with other people on their snorkeling trips like we were. I guess it was a quite popular place because of the particularly beautiful coral formations you see under the water at this spot. I finally found a place in Perhentian where the corals rivaled those I saw in Sabah. The fishes here were also much larger here that they were in the first spot we went to. I’m absolutely rubbish at identifying the types of fish that I saw but I’m fairly certain that they were parrot fish and whatever species that Nemo belonged to. I was able to practically snorkeling in the middle of a school of fish at times even with the number of people already in the water with us. I wished that I had not used up most of my underwater camera shot in the previous locations as this last spot gave even better photo ops to get pics of fish underwater.

Out last stop was a secluded beach where there was a natural fresh water spring that we could drink and bathe from. The natural spring water was amazingly sweet tasting and icy cold even when it was already high noon when we reached the area. After washing the salt water off our tired but greatly satisfied bodies, we rested for a bit before getting back into the boat to go back to the resort. Aside the initial shock of literally getting over my head, the snorkeling trip was a success and I was happy with it. I just wished that I was a better swimmer so I could snorkel down nearer to the corals at the sea bed where there were more to see instead of just waiting for the fishes to swim closer to you. Still the excitement of swimming in the middle of a school of fishes was really exciting and would not be forgotten anytime soon.

(Beach where the freshwater spring was)

When we reached the resort, we rested awhile before lunch which chicken curry, assam pedas fish, vegetables and white rice. Feeling absolutely knackered after the snorkeling trip, we all decided to take a nap after lunch and we only woke up at 4pm to go mess around on the beach a bit. I had planned to try my hand at kayaking and go to the secluded beach that I saw earlier in the day but the waves looked a bit rougher that afternoon than it was yesterday. Sure enough, there were ominous dark clouds that rolled into sight as the afternoon progressed. So instead of kayaking, I decided to rent a life vest and just float on my back looking up into the sky. It was then I saw a huge sea eagle circling around the area. I must have spent almost 2 hours just floating on my back watching that eagle traced it’s hypnotic circles around my head all the time hoping that it doesn’t mistake me as a floating carcass and decide to dive bomb for a bite.

(Beach side cafe and the general store where I rent my life vest daily beside it)

As day light began to fade, the clouds seemed darker in the horizon and sure enough it started to rain soon after. It was quite exciting having a front seat to watch nature’s very own light and sound show from the balcony of our chalet. We were suppose to have our complementary barbeque dinner that night and I wondered if we would still since it was raining. Turned out the rains were not that long and it stopped as quickly as it came. We proceeded down to the café where our barbeque dinner was already cooked and waiting for us. We had grilled squid, fish and chicken with rice and friend noodles for the night’s meal. My mum had tried to get a cake as well for tonight as my nephew was celebrating his birthday that night but it was too short notice for the café staff. Instead of cake, they brought out a watermelon cut in the shape of a round cake with slices of oranges as the frosting on the cake and pineapple cubes as candle. It was actually quite sweet of them to do it for us.

(Dark skies over Perhentian Besar)

It rained a bit again just as we were finishing our dinner so we hung around the café for some teh tarik and watch some TV on the small TV set that they had there. When the rains died down, we all went back to the chalet and just sit around to listen the loud crashing waves that came quite close to the edge of the beach where our chalet was. It was not until sometime around 9:30pm that I turned in for the night. It had been an exciting and tiring day that I would not soon forget.

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