Yesterday, as I said, I sorted out moving town – finally. I packed up and shifted just after 18:00 with Vincent kindly giving me a lift the short distance to the City Bus stop – the one that takes you to the long-distance terminal outside of town. Good job, as the City Bus left 6 minutes early and had I walked I’d have missed it.
The little bus is only MR1.5 for the 15 minute journey. Vince had also reserved me a seat on one of the three overnight buses – a good job as all three were full to the brim as far as I could tell. I had a window seat (woo) for my MR58, 10-ish hour ride to Semporna. And a person in the seat next to me who seemed to assume I wouldn’t mind sharing my own seat with him. Every chance he got as he tried to sleep, his bum was in my lap or head on my shoulder. He didn’t take too kindly to my wedging my arms to that whenever he crossed “the line”, my elbow dug into his spine.
As per the boats elsewhere in the country, and the buses in India, loud crappy music played for the entire journey. All I can say is I’m glad I picked up new earplugs from Boots in Bangkok. We had a couple of scheduled stops for food and so that 3/4 of the bus could pollute their lungs, and two unscheduled stops where the police (with big guns) boarded and checked all IDs. Strangely the latter two were within around 15 minutes of each other.
All in all, an uneventful and annoying journey during which I managed barely an hour’s sleep. Things were to get “better”…
Upon arriving in Semporna, I was accosted by taxi drivers as I’d been warned. I’d also been told to tell them where to get off as all the accommodation in Semporna is within 10 minutes’ walk at most from the bus station. This didn’t stop them lying barefaced to me: “long way! Half hour to walk!” At least, I’ve been told, you get your money’s worth from the drive as they usually go round the houses for 10 minutes before depositing you round the corner from the bus stop.
Instead, I whipped out the map Vincent had given me courtesy of one of the dive shops… and realised not one of the landmarks on it was visible in the darkness. Did I mention it was 4am? Of course, I couldn’t ask anyone as the only people around were the taxi drivers, all of whom wanted to charge me too much to drive me there instead of just telling me where it was.
Eventually I found a girl who was sat waiting for a bus herself and asked how to get to the Damai Lodge. Thankfully she knew and at 5am I stumbled over the threshold. The night guard showed me to my room… which was strange as I had asked for a dorm to be booked, but I didn’t worry about it. Toilet, teeth brushed, bed… and after 45 minutes as I finally started to drift off, the loo made a noise like an asthmatic dragon and woke me up.
After kicking bells out of it, I managed to fall asleep for a whole two hours before my alarm went off. I gathered my kit and walked to reception. A very smiley man demanded MR45 for my room. Erm, no.
I told him I’d booked a dorm and they’d put me in a room by mistake.
“We have no dorm! Last year, yes. This year, no.”
“So why did you not say that when I was booked in?”
“Fine, well I’m not paying 45 Ringgit. I’ll pay you twenty – I have been in the room for 3 hours, only slept for 2 and haven’t even used the shower.”
He rang the manager, who would accept MR25.
“Tough. 20 or nothing at all.”
I started to pick my stuff up and leave. He took the twenty. With a big poop-eating grin on his face. Needless to say I wasn’t going to stay there for the rest of the week. I stomped off and checked into Sipadan Scuba, worked out how much I still owed them for my courses and scouted some other accommodation.
Scuba Junkie’s hostel sounds like the best place in town, but it’s very busy and also quite expensive unless you’re diving with them. This in itself is awkward as they dive side of things is also busy so you have to book in advance. Something they don’t make easy – say by replying to emails or not hanging the phone up on you when you’re trying to offer them money. I’d mailed them a month previous asking for a price on EFR, Rescue Diver, Nitrox, Dive Master and accommodation – probably 3000+ Ringgit. And had no reply.
A shame as the place looked good, breakfast was included and it was packed. But they only had room for one night and the next place on the list was half the price. So there I headed – the Dragon Inn, “floating” on the sea. Well, it says it is, but it’s not – it’s on stilts. A gorgeous building either way you look at it.
The dorm rooms are MR15 a night, it’s very basic but the staff were incredibly friendly and made me feel a lot better than I had when I left Damai “lying buggers” Lodge. They were up front about everything – one key for the room, squat loos, cold showers, no lockers (although they’d look after stuff at reception). They even took visa at no extra fee, and insisted on only taking one day’s payment in case I didn’t like the place and left! I guess a lot of people don’t like cold showers.
Well, it’s a little scruffy. The sheets aren’t the cleanest I’ve ever seen and the bunks wobble. The pillows feel like they’re filled with cotton wool balls. But it’s still comfy, the location’s pretty good (small walk into town) and the building’s gorgeous.
Next stop was the Maybank to pretty much empty my account as I’d not transferred enough soon enough to pay for my diving. Oops. Still, I should be fine by Thursday when more cash drops in. The queue there was madness as there are only (I think) three ATMs in town and two of them are here. It took twenty minutes to get to the front and withdraw far too much cash, then shake off the kids following me going “Money! Money!” with their hands out.
The remainder of the day was pretty much all spent in a room by myself watching self-study DVDs and reading textbooks for Emergency First Response and Rescue Diver. Then filling in exercises. Then doing written exams. Which I passed with no problems at all.
In the middle of it all I had a rather nice black pepper chicken and chips from a Chinese place round the corner. Very good for MR5. Norbert, a German guy I’d met in Kota Kinabalu, turned up in the evening and we had dinner in the Turtle Tomb Cafe next door to the dive shop. Some nights, a chap barbecues food on the street outside. MR15 will get you a decent lump of chicken with a load of trimmings (spring rolls, rice, chips, bread, veg and dip). Pretty good. MR20 gets you the seafood equivalent.
One beer after that and I was ready to walk home despite the early hour. I think I did pretty well on three hours’ kip.