Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mabul, A Spectacular Tropical Getaway

Ever heard of Mabul, an island off  the coast of Semporna. For someone who is a non swimmer (and of course a non diver), one might think what on earth is she doing on that remote island. It must  be pretty wierd to take the trouble to go such a distant place like Mabul! First I have to take a flight from KLIA. Not to mention the one hour ride by taxi from home just to reach the airport. Then a 2 hour and 45 minute flight to Tawau. After that another one hour drive to Semporna. Finally a whole 45 minute boat ride with water splashing right onto your face and your clothes (no, you will not be drenched when you reach there). Believe me, all the hassle of  a non stop travelling was really fun and definitely a worthwhile effort.

What made I go there in the first place? Well, to tell the truth, we managed to get the Air Asia free tickets to  Tawau. 5 free tickets! Don't want to waste free tickets, right? Why did I pick Tawau? Maybe because it was one of the place I haven't been in East Malaysia.  We just chose randomly the places that we haven't been before and the availability of free tickets. When I browsed the internet  to check if Tawau has any interesting places, I couldn't find any. Then from there I found out about Mabul. Even though, I had heard about Mabul from the TV before, I could not imagine myself going there because I know it is a diving haven and I could not swim!

The boat that took us from Semporna to Mabul
So there I was in February, 2011 Alhamdulillah, the first time I set my foot on these remote Island yet enchanting............. "Welcome to Mabul", greeted one of the staff as he gave a hand and carried our bags onto the resort. Hmm... a warm welcome... something that I haven't experience for  a long time as a Malaysian when I entered  a Malaysian hotel , of course not as a foreigner. As we  went up  the resort jetty onto the verandah, we saw a few Malaysians relaxing in the dining area (that was the only area to relax, of course). We were told that we would be given a temporary/transit room because our room was not yet vacant since we had arrived early. The group of Malaysians were just chatting to let the day go by. They were going back to Semporna that evening. Just then we saw a container containing 3 big fishes which included a young stingray. They told us that the fishes were sold by the Bajau Laut for only RM 13.00. So cheap! One would have to pay more than thirty ringgit back in KL and mind you, this fishes were freshly caught and brought right to you at the resort jetty. The Bajau Laut, in my understanding were natives of the surrounding sea. They were also called sea gypsies as they had a nomadic life where they don't have a permanent site  that they regard as home.Most of their lives were spent in boats and they only went to the island for trading and buying daily necessities.

Sea weed and starfish under the resort area
The resort was actually a wooden house built on stilts in the water. That means directly beneath our rooms were only sea water. Amazingly the water was so crystal clear that we could see the sea bed if we look beneath. The water around the resort was more than 5 feet deep but we could clearly see the sea bed with lots of seaweed on it. Small fishes swam  among the stilts and several star fish could be seen lying among the seaweed. It was really amazing. MasyaAllah.

A few budget resorts and the Suluk Muslim houses by the sea
As we were seating at the dining area, one of the staff invited us for breakfast. Breakfast was mee goreng and bread. We met many foreigners relaxing and having their breakfast at the dining area. Some of them seemed in a hurry, getting ready to go diving, the purpose of their coming to this area. The Chinese couple that got in the same boat with us from Semporna were  asked to view a video on diving. They had planned to go diving later of the day.

We decided to take a walk around the island after breakfast. Earlier,we were told that it would only take less than an hour to walk around the island. There were no tarred roads, no cars and no motorcyles,that means no exhaust fumes. The very much of clean air that I've been yearning ,away from the nasty pollution of the city. To get to the village from the resort we had to walk on board walks made of wooden planks. Surprisingly just as we step on the soil of Mabul, we were already in the Bajau Darat or Suluk Muslim village.

The Suluk Muslim village
It was Saturday morning. The villagers were busy with their daily activities. Housewives were seen busy with their house chores i.e, cleaning and cooking. There were several small stalls selling vegetables and food items. One obvious stall missing was the fish stall. Yep! There were no fish stalls because most of them catch fish by themselves. Even the children had their very own small plastic sampan.Therefore it made no sense selling fish when they can easily catch it in the shallow waters nearby.Children, however, were seen everywhere playing happily using what was available to them There were no sophisticated toys with them.Small sticks, a couple of cans or bits of stryrofoams were enough to be transformed into toys. They  always seemed to be happily laughing and playing the simple toys, quite different from our hometown children where they were always busy with their tuition or playstations whenever they have free time.

Just as we passed the surau, we saw Muslim children going out of  their classes  from separate nearby building. I mentioned to my yougest daughter of how easy it was to just walk back home after class,without having to worry about traffic jams or riding in a sardined packed school bus. My daughter couldn't agree more and smiled gleefully. After that we passed by a beach and saw a few children swimming in the water. Not far from the area were some people trying to cut the trunk of a coconut tree to be made into benches. "Hmm..use anything that is available here. Waste not and avoid pollution," I said to myself. The beach was rather quiet in the morning , a moment of peace and tranquility.

Sunset near the resort
Lunch was ready by 11.30 am. After the scrumptious meal, we headed to our transit room for a rest. There was no electricity as I was told by the Malaysian guest that electricity was usually  only available after 7 pm. However, electricity was available throughout the day at the dining area.We had no choice but to take a nap inside the room eventhough it was hot. However, right after we got the permanent room, we immediatley took a bath  to cool ourselves and performed our jamak zuhr asr prayers.

We had spent the afternoon at the resort and later took a stroll again around the village. Eventhough it was small, it was indeed a village with  full of activities. Housewives were seen chatting and cleaning their surrounding areas, boys and girls playing with whatever they have, shouting and laughing at each other. Some of the men were relaxing while others still at work. We bought an apam balik at one of the stalls and ate at one of the beach nearby. We noticed that there was not much sandy beaches around the island and as we passed by  there was a  resort forbiding passersby the beach in front of their chalets. Many people ignored the signs since that was the only pathways to go around the island.

The Bajau Laut community
About 6.30 pm, the sun moves slowly towards the horizon and we had witnessed a stunning sunset with the  scenery of the boats of the Bajau Laut nearby. The Bajau Laut men were seen chatting in a group in one of the boats before the dark sets in.

The next morning, we decided to join the group who went snorkeling. Initially we didn't take any snorkeling package since we did not know what was actually available in Mabul. We were lucky because all of us in the boat did not know how to swim except a Tunisian guy and the resort staff . Therefore the staff took us to a quite shallow area somewhere around Mabul. Though not that deep (about 6 feet) and we were able to sea the ocean floor, most of  us were still afraid at first to take a dip. All of us were supplied with a life jacket to enable us to float and had our first snorkelling experience. Despite persuaded by the resort staff that we were safe with the life jackets many of us still cling to the aluminium stairs  that was placed on the boat. It was indeed an exciting experience for most of us even though all we could see were only the reefs. They were indeed beautiful when we saw them alive in the sea. We had the whole hour to practise our snorkeling skills. Then we got back to the resort to have a rest.

Two hours after that we went snorkeling again. The  Chinese ladies that were in our group kept reminding  the resort staff that all of us didn't know how to swim except the Tunisian guy . " Bawa lekat-lekat (dekat dekat) saja. Tak boleh dalam-dalam! Tatak tau belenang! Nanti takut" she said." Aiya, Amoi! Kalau lu takut, kami lagi takut lo!," said one of the staff, teasingly. At first, they brought us to an area that was said to have beautiful fishes. " Haiya, ini manyak dalam! Tak boleh nampak dalam laut!" said the Chinese lady again. It was looked very deep indeed. I was told that it was more than 10 feet but I wasn't sure. "Kami tatak tau belenang," the Chinese lady lady kept saying to the staff. Seeing that most of us were afraid to go down into the water the staff decided to bring us to another area.

Snorkeling in Kapalai- the crystal clear turquoise water
The another area was Kapalai, not actually an Island but rather a large sandbank area in the middle of the sea. There was only one big resort here with surrounding stunningly turquoise water MasyaAllah. The area seemed tranquil with very small waves. Beneath we saw the sea floor dotted with live reefs and starfish. We went down again, snorkeling around the area. While clinging to the float, one of the staff brought some members of the group to a deeper place where they could see the fishes."We saw stingrays and nemos!", exclaimed my youngest daughter as she climbed up the boat after snorkeling quite far with my other daughter with the help of the resort staff. It was indeed exciting for most of us in being able to snorkel in such a beautiful area.

We didn't went out  for snorkeling again as we were tired and had to pack our luggage. Those who went diving got back an hour later.

At 5 pm, it was time to leave and we were asked to board the boat for Semporna. New friends made overnight seemed like we've known them for along time.We made friends with Hikari from Japan, Mathias      from Switzerland, Carrie from South Africa,  Ali  from Tunisia and a couple from China. Not to forget the group of Malaysian Chinese from KL and a young man from Sibu, Sarawak. Friends shook hands with each other and had pictures taken together. As our boat disembarked from the jetty, other guests formed a bee line facing the boat and together waved us goodbye. It was really heartening. Deep in our heart we had hoped to meet them again even though they were of different nationals.

Thanks to the helpful and friendly Billabong Resort staff. We had indeed an exciting and enjoyable stay. I was grateful to God who enabled me to view the underwater world even though it was only for a few minutes. I would like to explore more of the spectacular God's creation of the lives underwater, InsyaAllah.
Mabul was no doubt a tropical getaway.

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