Having been made redundant after 12 years working for a certain UK bank, I was determined to have an experience with my enforced time off that would allow me to clear my head and move on into my next career.
I considered various camping trips across Alaska and the Australian outback, but then I remembered that I really liked diving. Much research saw me plump for Blue Ventures in Tioman Malaysia.
Good choice. Although still in its early days as an expedition, Katie, BV and the rest of the staff have really put a lot of effort into making this both an enjoyable and educational trip.
Our group was pretty small, only 4 diving volunteers (all advance qualified), 2 non diving from California and 4 Malaysia students (who were also diving). However, that mix worked really well.
The accommodation at Swiss is fairly basic, but with warm showers and comfy beds that’s all you really need. The big plus is the location right on the beach, steps from the dive centre, some great staff (Stella and Malik in particular) and easy access to Happy Alice’s local shop of delights and the duty free stores.
Learning fish, invertebrates and coral types took some time but it ends up being pretty satisfying being able to actually identify what you are seeing under the water rather than just concentrating on the big fish as I tended to do as a regular diver.
Surveys take some time to perfect but are equally rewarding.
After hours activities included volleyball games on the beach against the local bar side, mad games of musical chairs (many scrapes and bruises discovered the morning after), bonfire on the beach, partying at the Berjaya resort and trips to ABC for the best pizza on the island.
We assisted at the Marine Park camp for mainland school kids. Making complete fools of ourselves in a skit on preserving the marine environment.
The 3 day trip to Juara and the turtle sanctuary was really rewarding. Seeing hatchlings released on the beach (albeit at 6am) was fantastic and diving the other side of the island demonstrated the difference between the monsoon side and the calmer better reef sites on the Tekek side. The trek up the hill through the jungle was a hell of an experience. Make sure you are reasonably fit!
The two days we spent in Mukut a small fishing village in the South was a real eye opener, staying with local people, getting the chance to see how they live and eat. Helping out at the local school was great fun especially the train game.
I maybe haven’t decided what I will do when I return, but the last 6 weeks are an experience I will never forget (particularly the sight of Christian buried in sand with his ‘sand boobs’ set on fire).,
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