The following day we got a taxi to the bus station and caught a bus to Semporna where we stayed one night in Scuba Junkie hostel before going to Mabul Island the next day. And one night in Semporna is one too much! Nothing can prepare you for how dirty and run down Semporna is. There are mountains and mountains of rubbish, with children playing in them, coughing and spluttering as they do so. Every group of guys that drove past in a car looked like they could start a fight with you any minute. The buildings are run down and the sewage smell is vile. We saw children as young as 10 smoking and we were even told by the Scuba Junkie staff that mothers give their children glue to sniff to suppress their appetites so they don’t cost so much in food. The whole place was awful and as soon as we got there we knew we wanted to be in and out as quickly as possible. Luckily we arrived late afternoon and we’re catching the boat to Mabul Island at 8am the next day so we weren’t there too long. We opted to stay on Mabul Island as it was supposed to be beautiful, but if you want to save money you can choose to stay in Semporna and get a boat over to Mabul Island every day to do diving and snorkelling. We didn’t fancy doing that as there is absolutely nothing to do there and it actually didn’t feel that safe. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant a few doors down from the hostel as the restaurant next to Scuba Junkie was very expensive. We had a few drinks there though (non-alcoholic mind you) and watched the second Inbetweeners Movie on our laptop in the communal area before bed. After breakfast in the restaurant next to Scuba Junkie Hostel we were packed and ready to get the 8am boat over to Mabul Island which took about one and a half hours. The Scuba Junkie resort on the island is very nice. Really clean and nicely decorated. We stayed in a dorm room which was £25 per bed (Europe prices!) but included breakfast lunch and dinner every day, as well as snacks, and tea, coffee and drinking water all day. You could buy alcohol at the bar upstairs if you wanted and there was a small shop that sold a few cosmetics, Scuba Junkie branded clothes and snacks. Jordan started his open water diving course straight away so spent the whole day in a classroom learning all the theory. Natalie went down to the ‘private’ beach. The ‘private’ beach was a big selling point for us as we had heard that the locals don’t look after the beaches on the island and throw all their rubbish on the sand and in the sea.
The Scuba Junkie website also said that they did regular beach clean ups so we were expecting the beach to be fairly clean. However when we got there we realised that the term ‘private’ beach was used a little loosely. There was a village of Philippine sea gypsies living on the beach right next door to the Scuba Junkie resort who regularly walked over to the ‘private’ beach and threw their rubbish in the sea.
It’s a shame because the sand area was clean but the sea had awful amounts of rubbish, clothes, and metal floating in it. There was no way we were going to swim, or even paddle in it. It was very hot on the island so it was frustrating that you couldn’t cool off in the water. Natalie asked at reception when the next beach clean up was and as it wasn’t for a few days she actually asked for some bin bags and rubber gloves so she could have a go at cleaning it up herself. It was useless.
There was honestly a ridiculous amount of rubbish and after filling two big bin bags, you couldn’t even tell that she had cleared anything. It was a mammoth job. This first picture is when the tide is in – it’s pretty hard to see all the rubbish and the beach actually looks rather beautiful. But the second picture is with the tide out – what a difference!
Jordan enjoyed his first day of the open water course and finished up with a swimming and floating test off the jetty. The jetty was much further out than the beach so the water was deeper and cleaner which was good.
There was also lots of fish that you could see in the water whilst hanging your legs off the side and watching the sunset. The sunsets on the island were truly beautiful and one night we saw the sunset one side of the island, and the moon appearing on the other side. Beautiful.
Day two on Mabul Island and Natalie decided to do a snorkelling trip so she could see some of the amazing marine life, while Jordan did his first practical day of the course where he dived off of the jetty doing various skill tests.
Natalie’s snorkel trip included three snorkels at different points with a guide who swam in front of you to point out to you all the amazing sea life. She was really impressed with how much you could see by simply snorkelling and saw a total of 16 turtles across the three snorkels. It was incredible. However, on the last snorkel she got stung by tiny clear jellyfish that you could hardly see so she stopped early and relaxed on the boat, watching turtles come up to the surface for air.
The third day was the last of Jordan’s course before he became qualified as a PADI open water diver. He spent the morning diving around the jetty again but for the last dive of day he went on a boat with his teacher to Eel Garden and saw some amazing marine life. Natalie chilled out around the beach and jetty and took part in the beach clean up with some of the local kids and workers from Scuba Junkie.
Sunday was the beginning of Shark a Week at the resort in which there are lessons, presentations and documentaries on sharks and why we should be protecting them from poachers who cut off their fins to make shark fin soup and then throw them back into the ocean to die. So that night there was a presentation to the guests of the resort hosted by marine biologist David Mcguire on his work to protect sharks and what we and others can do to protect them as well. It was really interesting to listen to and understand why it is that particularly the Chinese population are contributing to their extinction. On our final day on Mabul Island Jordan did two dives as a qualified open water diver and then in the afternoon we relaxed in the bar area watching a film as it was windy and a little rainy. It was then time to catch the boat back to “beautiful” Semporna at 4pm and stay one more night there before getting on our flight to Bali the next day. The bar and restaurant next to the Scuba Junkie hostel was closing down that night so there was a party with the staff members and lots of the newly qualified divers. We hung out in the bar for a bit chatting with a Spanish couple we’d made friends with on the island and got a taxi to Tawau airport with them the next morning as they were on the same flight as us to Kuala Lumpur. We changed there to Denpasar, Bali.