I was never really daring, but I was never really afraid of things either. Maybe a bit apprehensive to sleep in my own bed after watching too many Spartacus movies with my dad, but not really afraid. I was a child with a happy, undisturbed upbringing and there was never anything to really fear. My biggest thrills were thus harmless compared to any real adventures or misfortunes others might have: riding the highest rollercoaster at our annual town fair.
First I would look at it from afar while circling the square a few times with my mother, my heart beating faster whenever we got closer. Eventually, I would send her to ‘interview’ the passengers who had just gotten off: was it scary, fun, really high? Eventually satisfied with the answer, knowing there was nothing else to do but just do it, I would circle one more time before declaring with a brave little face that I was ready to buy my ticket. Except for one unfortunate ride on a Viking ship that I was simply too small for, I loved every ride I took.
Now, I don’t have my mother to hold my hand nor can I ask the captain of our little boat to circle around our dive sites a few more times. As for interviewing other divers, this is the first dive for all of us at world famed Sipadan so that option is out too. If you are looking for some of the best scuba diving in the world, Sipadan is the way to go but it is not for kids. Scuba diving in sipadan is nothing like my first underwater steps and love at first dive in Koh Tao, this is where the big kids come to play. There is nothing else to do than to gather all my courage, remind myself that this is what I came for, and literally dive in head over heels – I am doing my first back-roll entry ever.
Once in the water all seems well enough, a fellow diver has even spotted a turtle and so we are all eagerly sticking our heads in the water. A few dives later I will have seen enough turtles, they don’t even warrant a picture anymore, but for now, a turtle is still exciting news and so I look around. Unfortunately, I can’t see anything but a titan triggerfish charging towards me. Luckily I remember what I learned about them, shout ‘Triggerfish!’ as a warning for all, and am on my back swimming away from it and kicking hard. The bugger is not deterred, follows me, and eventually puts its ugly, gnarly teeth into my fins, part of my brand new Scubapro scuba diving equipment as I will later detect. My heart is beating hard and the last thing I want to do is getting any closer to it. But unlike when I was that child at the fair, I don’t really have a choice here and my mother cannot hold my hand; I try to calm my breath, empty my BCD, and follow the pull that takes me under. After all, Sipadan diving is all about adventure in the deep.
There, the world slowly becomes alright again as there is much to do and see; after all the underwater world doesn’t get any more paradisiac than here. Only before my second dive does it hit me: I am actually terrified to get back into the water now. Let me explain if you are a not a diver as they certainly don’t tell you about triggerfish in Finding Nemo. A triggerfish is smallish, unassuming reef fish with very ugly teeth. A dentist would have a field day, a diver on close contact not so much. Parents, protecting their nest, become extremely aggressive and will attack divers upon entering their territory. Unlike a shark or any other sea creature you might be scared of, this is the one that gets two separate pages in the dive manual. But diving in Sipadan means you get to see them all: the good, the bad, and the ones with very ugly teeth.
This is my only picture of a Clown Triggerfish, which is not as aggressive and actually quite pretty. Needless to say, I didn’t go near any Titan Triggerfish with my camera. If you care to check one out, have a look here.
And apparently they don’t seem to care to make it a fair fight and attack without waiting for the bell to ring. But terrified or not, I know if I don’t get in now, I probably never will and so, again, I take a deep breath and jump.
This time there is only a turtle to greet me, my first ever, and I am soon enveloped by many more, sharks, and colorful reef fish en masse. While there is so much more to see, I still keep one eye peeled for triggerfish, which are unavoidable in this part of the Celebes Sea and diving in Malaysia. I opt for a strategy of either hiding behind my divemaster, Ralph, or seek refuge with a little reef shark that seems a lot more docile and friendly when I see them, but overall I am too busy breathing and well, diving.
When I come up I am exhausted, mentally and physically, but I can’t help feeling quite proud of myself. Have you ever seen the nasty mouth of a triggerfish? Maybe I am daring after all if I can brave it twice in a day, because unlike rollercoasters they are a lot scarier upon close inspection than from the other side of the far reef.
If you want to get diving in Sipadan you will need a special permit. Most scuba diving operations in the area will get you one day of Sipadan diving for a 4-day stay. I went with the MV Celebes Explorer, one of the only liveaboards in Sipadan. How to get to Sipadan? The gateway to some of best diving in the world comes via Semporna in northern Borneo. From here you will get transferred by your resort to Mabul island or in my case, to get on board the liveaboard.