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14 Trent students along with 3 members of staff, ventured to Malaysia on 6th July for what was to be a fantastic dive trip. Take a read of the diary below from their amazingly, actioned packed adventure… and watch the video here....
Sunday 6th July was a day of travelling, starting early and ending late. After arriving at Trent at 5:30, to find the school gates locked, we eventually managed to load the minibuses and start the journey to Heathrow. Once we made it to Heathrow, and passed security, we had some free time before our flight. Not long after, everyone realised it would be the last time that we could spend time on wifi and indulge in the reliable mediocrity of western junk food. Eventually we boarded the 12 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur on one of the new (large) A380. When we arrived in KL we had another few hours to kill, and visited various café’s and restaurants. From KL we got a short connecting flight to Kota Bharu which took around 1 hour. Some of us were so tired by that point that we hardly noticed how long it was. We then got a minibus that took us to a seaport which was around 90 minutes away. Once there we loaded up two speedboats with oversized luggage and tired, irritable travellers. The boat trip although long (in over an hour) certainly woke us all up. At the end of the boat ride we were relieved to see our dive resort Bubbles right next to the beach.
After arriving at Bubbles Resort we sat down for lunch and had our first encounter with the local food. Some struggled with the spices, the rice and noodles; others loved it. After lunch we got our room keys and were able to settle into what would be our base for the next 7 days. Despite sleep being the initial priority on everyone’s mind, we went out for an interesting and fun snorkelling trip. The visibility was great and there were loads of fish including a wide variety of clown fish hiding in their anemone homes. After returning from snorkelling we finally had the chance to shower after two days of travel. Freshened up, we headed to dinner and then gladly to bed after a ‘mega’ days travel and adventure.
The next morning, 8th July, we got up at around 8am for breakfast which included fresh fruit, cereal, noodles, beans & onion, sausages, toast and freshly made pancakes, omelettes or fried eggs. This was to be our morning routine for all our days at Bubbles. Drinks were available from the bar ‘The Thirsty Turtle’ and these included fresh juices, milkshakes, tea, coffee and cans of pop. After breakfast we went on our first dive with our instructors James and Alesandro so we could test our equipment and buoyancy. It was good fun getting under the water and everyone got their weights & equipment sorted so they knew what they would be diving with for the rest of the trip. The water temperature on this first dive was a remarkably warm 31 degrees which increases the rate of bleaching the coral as it was so hot. This was the water temperature on all the dives we went on and is a concern for the future of the marine environment in this whole area. After our dive we went back to the dive centre to tidy up our equipment and wash the salt water off of it. Lunch followed and it was an open buffet which was a wide variety of choices to satisfy all. Our second dive after lunch involved a variety of agility tests underwater to ensure we were in full control of our buoyancy and we were briefed on how to avoid any damage to the coral by touching it or bumping into it. We quite literally went through the various hoops and then looked at some of the coral and fish on House Reef 1 and 2. Supper followed and a Turtle lecture which informed us of the various types of turtle that live in the surrounding seas and those that come up onto the beach to lay eggs. We were then fortunate to be able to watch some baby turtles being released into the sea. In the resort they look out at night for turtles that are nesting and then dig up the eggs so they can be taken to the ‘hatchery’ area that is supervised. The reason the eggs are removed is to ensure they are not eaten by giant lizards or local people. It was great to see the little turtles making their way down to the sea and start their aquatic life.
On day 4 we started the Eco-Diver course of lectures that was delivered by James. He explained the purpose and origin of the whole course and that we would have lectures and tests on fish, coral, and invertebrates. This was to raise our awareness of the marine environment and threats to it. We were also given practical instruction in carrying out a reef survey using a standard technique adopted throughout the world. The initial fish talk focused on 9 ‘indicator species’ that were key to identifying the health of the reef. Whist we listened a number of the group became distracted by a giant spider weaving a web above our heads. We were reassured when James told us that the silk thread woven by the spider was one of the strongest fibres known – it was unlikely to fall through its web and onto our heads. The spider remained ‘on watch’ throughout our Eco-Diver sessions in the presentation room. We followed the lesson with a dive where we attempted to identify the fish we had just learned about. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hammocks by the beach or snorkelling in the bay. The snorkelling was very good with lots of fish including black tip reef sharks, parrotfish, wrasse, anemone fish and even giant monitor lizards swimming! We also discovered a previous (now abandoned) resort near our own with a volleyball court we made our own. Some of the group also went for an additional boat dive to the reef that was in the adjacent bay. It was an enjoyable dive and gave those on it their first experience of a backward roll off the boat – amusing to watch some ‘learn the hard way’.
On day 5 we did a bit more on fish ID and, later in the day, sat the fish test. It was difficult and only a few of the party passed it with over 80% (the requirement for the Ecodiver course). There was a retest for those who needed it and all passed the retest. Prior to the first test we went scuba diving in our four groups to help us prepare for the test and enjoy the marine life. We knew we were getting better at identifying the fish and controlling our buoyancy. We were also getting used to the high temperature (around 33oC ) and the extremely high humidity which was present throughout our trip. There were some tummy upsets but these did not last and we found out later that the cause was a bug brought in by a child who was visiting the resort. Some of the group also went on a late night dive which left at 19:30 so we went in just after sundown. The night dive was a personal favourite amongst several students for a variety of comedy reasons. We had slipping tanks, forgotten flippers, dropped masks, much laughter and that was before we got under the water. The actual night dive was excellent and we saw lots of shrimp, a hunting blue spotted ray, fish sleeping in barrel sponges, nudibranc, crabs of all shapes and sizes, eels, scorpion fish, a beautiful cat shark resting in staghorn coral and much, much more. It was certainly well worth the effort at the start of the dive.
On day 6, the 11th July we started and finished the invertebrate part of the Eco-Diver course. This involved studying the key species of invertebrates which are used to identify healthy reef systems (including lobster, sea cucumber, boxer shrimps, pencil urchins and long spine sea urchins. We had a lecture on these so we understood what they were and how they interacted with their environment. We then went on a dive so we could try to identify them in their natural habitat. The test for this section was much easier and everyone passed with over 80%. After the test some of the group also did an extra dive to Shark Point – called this because a nearby rock resembles a shark. A shark was seen by some on the dive; a large hawksbill turtle was seen by everyone as it casually chomped its way through some tasty ‘turtle food’; oblivious of the divers around it. Dinner was livened up by a storm that swept through the resort with lots of thunder, lightning and rain.
On day 7, the 12th July – we had our coral part of the Eco-Diver course: the lecture, the identification dive and the test. The test was a marathon one with 100 questions (the others had been 50) but we all coped well with it. As if that test was not enough some had the fish retest (that everyone passed) on the same afternoon. Earlier in the morning some of the group dived a site that was called ‘Temple of the Sea’. It was a 30 minute boat trip from our resort but was well worth the trip as the variety of sea life was stunning and the visibility very good. By this time we were all able to identify the coral, the fish and the invertebrates whilst being in full control of our buoyancy. It was easy to see why the guides said that this site was the best in the region. We were also lucky that not many other divers were at the site at the same time we were as we were told this site can get very busy. A lot of the students also went on the late afternoon boat dive which was a short boat ride away from our resort. All who went enjoyed their dive and the last one of our stay at Bubbles.
The 13th July we had breakfast, packed up our cases and took pictures with the dive team. They had looked after us so well and helped us enjoy practically every minute we spent in the lovely beach camp. A short boat trip took us to the main village on the larger of the two Perhentian Islands which was to be our base for the remainder of the trip. We hauled our bags ashore, pulled them over the sand and onto the stone road. Cecile (our Ecoteer guide) met us off the boat and took us to our accommodation. We were not sure what the village would be like but we were pleased to see it fulfilled all our expectations. We were also mightily relieved and pleasantly surprised to find out it had air conditioning. There was little time to relax and we met up with the Ecoteer staff who gave us a briefing on what we would be doing over the next four days. We then went on a tour of the village and found out it was a small place. Following this we had lunch at a small food stall that served us up spicy chicken, fish and rice with watermelon to follow. There was also an interesting bubblegum flavoured drink. We then headed back to the Ecoteer house to prepare our activity we would deliver to the school children on 15th. From there we went on a beach clean-up, picking trash off the main village beach. The most exciting part of the day was yet to come. For our Malay dinner we split into three separate groups. We got shown how to tie a sarong and then put one on for our traditional evening and we were led to the houses by local children. We sat on the floor around the plates of food prepared for us fish, rice, chicken, vegetables) and learnt how to eat the meal with our right hand (no knife or fork). We also learnt how to say ‘Se dong” which means delicious. We really enjoyed the evening and the local hospitality. We then headed home saying thank you and went to sleep – although Matt, Felix and Mr Cowie were up at 3am to visit a local house to watch the World Cup Final.
On Monday we woke up in our new accommodation after a good sleep. It was a short trip (everything was in the village) to breakfast which consisted of noodles and a hot and sweet drink. After that we made our way to the school where we designed our murals in separate groups. We were all given an area of blank wall to transform into a colourful and educational masterpiece. After drawing up our designs we pencilled in the outline onto the wall and finally set about painting it. After a few hours we went for lunch; another traditional tasty Malay meal of rice, vegetables and chicken; then it was back to finish painting. It took a long time to complete and it seemed even longer due to the hot and humid conditions. It was well worth it, however, with everyone contributing and having fun in the process. Notable pieces of artwork were Oliver’s reader; Charlotte’s rabbit and Matt’s book carrier. The perseverance award goes to Adam who did not let Iron Man get the better of him and eventually brought the superhero down to size. We took so long painting that the scheduled jetty jump was postponed and we just crashed out for a couple of hours (nipping out to buy ice creams). With it being Ramadan the shops were not open at normal times but we always managed to find one open. Dinner that evening was in a different local restaurant (we ate out in virtually every one). The food was good but the attention we received from the multitude of cats coming round the tables was not universally appreciated.
Tuesday 15th was a particularly busy day. We woke up early and had breakfast at the same stall by the beach we had eaten in the previous day. This time, rather than noodles, we had rice and a very sweet tea. We then went on a snorkel tour that took us to four different places. We saw lots of fish including large bumphead parrotfish, numerous sgt. majors and a green turtle grazing on sea grass. When we got back to the village we went jetty jumping and had great fun jumping into the sea in all manner of styles. By that time we were hungry and lunch was much appreciated. After lunch we made some traditional Malay snacks which were a bit like a doughnut and were eaten up after being coated with sugar. After finishing the snacks we went to the local primary school to run our activities with the after school club. We had around 18 pupils who were split into 3 groups of 6. Our activities all lasted for 40 minutes and each group did all 3. The pupils were good at English and did well in the activities leaving time at the end for fun games which everyone enjoyed. The Turtle Dance being a real favourite. After our lessons we went back to freshen up and then joined the Ecoteer team for a farewell barbeque and a presentation of our time in Malaysia. It was a great evening and after the presentation we all had to pick a counter that was one of four colours. Depending on the colour we had to say:
• One thing about the trip we really enjoyed.
• One thing you learnt about someone.
• Something new you tried out.
• Something you found really challenging.
It was clear from the stories everyone gave that the trip had been a resounding success and everyone had thoroughly enjoyed it. It was then back for a good sleep before our marathon travel throughout the following days.
Wednesday was our last morning and it started with a late breakfast at 9am. It was to our usual local beach stall and was followed by lots of packing. This got us ready to catch our boats at 12 noon. The Ecoteer team accompanied us to the jetty and saw us off. We were sad to be saying goodbye but were very grateful for all they had done for us; particularly Celine and Yun. The boat trip, bus and flights were a similar routine to the one that got us there although the 6 hour wait at KL airport was an unwelcome additional delay. We were pleased to see Ms Matthews at Heathrow airport to meet us at 6am and get us back to Trent right on schedule for a 0900 arrival; a mere 31 hours after we set off. Although we were all tired we had some fantastic memories and were all grateful to Mr Ormerod for organising such a superb trip.