Article: Sport Diver magazine

I recently contributed to a feature entitled 9 Trips of a Lifetime in the Nov/ Dec '06 issue of Sport Diver magazine. My section on page 100 was about Sipadan. The other areas highlighted in the article include Australia, Wakatobi, Yap, the Red Sea, Kona, Little Cayman, the Galapagos, and Cocos.

Hmmm, looks like there are quite a few more places I need to get to. So little time, so many things to do... here's my little part of the feature:

Surreal Sipadan
For as long as I can recall, I have dreamt of surreal encounters with fascinating animals from the ocean realm.

I imagined myself floating in warm, soothing tropical-blue seas, finning gently past parrotfish, angelfish and other colorful residents of the reef. I daydreamed about swimming among powerful manta rays, or sharing a casual encounter with an enigmatic sea turtle.

When my spirits were particularly high and I let loose the wildest of my childhood fantasies, I even dared on occasion to hope that I would one day come face-to-face with a hammerhead, my all-time favorite shark.

Many years ago, my dreams became reality with my first visit to the island of Sipadan in Sabah, Malaysia.

Times were simpler then. Resorts on the island offered basic accommodation and, though well on the way to iconic status, Sipadan was still a relatively new destination.

With diving certification fresh in hand, I recall my first peek over the famous dropoff — blue, blue and more blue. That’s all there was, just as I had envisioned so many times in the private reverie of my youth.

I held my breath as a large green turtle glided past —a turtle! The first I’d ever seen. Life couldn’t get any better as far as I was concerned — until three manta rays crossed my path. Cavernous mouths sweeping plankton from the current, the majestic rays flapped their wings and banked away from the reef, disappearing like shadows into a dark blue night.

Later in the trip came swirling schools of barracuda and jacks, shy whitetip reef sharks resting on shallow plateaus, an enormous gathering of bumphead wrasse — and then, on my last day, a lone hammerhead shark that swam toward me with the confident swagger of John Wayne heading into a gunfight.

Things have changed a bit since then. Sipadan is well known and, in an effort to preserve the unique environment, there’s no accommodation on the island. But you know what? All those magnificent animals are still there, just waiting to make your dreams come true, too.