Monday, March 14, 2011

Borneo: The flight and the Beginning

My last-minute flight to Kota Kinabalu was almost without incident. Getting to the airport with my backpack involved a lot of public transportation: walk to the trolley, take the trolley to the subway, take the subway, then jump on a bullet train and finally walk the final meters to the airport. I flew with a Middle Eastern company called Etihad Airways through Abu Dhabi. They are the cheapest and have the highest quality service I’ve yet encountered: they serve cappuccinos and lattes, give you metal silverware, and fleece blankets.
At the beach
I bought a Russian scuba diving magazine in Domodedovo and read an article about ice diving in the Arctic Sea with Beluga whales and with sea lions in Kamchatka---definitely something to keep in mind for the future.

I arrived in KK (Kota Kinabulu, Malaysia), but my luggage went missing, soon to reappear the next morning. I decided I didn’t want to spend money on a taxi or a hotel, so I spent the night at the well-conditioned airport trying to avoid the local security guards that desperately wanted to kick me out.

Sarah and I headed for a swim
The next morning I took a minivan to the taxi stand, then a 3 hour drive to the northern village of Kudat in Borneo through rainforest and palm oil plantations. The car overheated about 10 km from our destination. The driver calmly picked up a water bottle, disappeared into the jungle for five minutes, and returned with the bottle full of murky water he’d filled up from a nearby stream, and then proceeded to pour somewhere into the engine. 15 minutes of sitting in the car (that was starting to resemble a sauna), and we were off. 

I arrived at the shipyard and started looking for Ceil VI, the red sailing yacht that I would be living on for the next two months free of charge. It was easy to find, as it was the largest, tallest yacht in the bay. I was met by David and Sarah-the owners and showed to my room and personal bathroom and shower. The yacht is 61 feet long, has a flat-screen tv, a kitchen with weird gadgets, a library of books, a Nintendo, a lounge, dive gear, an air compressor, etc… you get the picture. I often found myself wondering, “How did I happen to get here?”

 My home for the next 2 months
I think it’s time I explained what I’m doing here in Borneo, living on a yacht in a place with the greatest scuba diving in the world (turtles, hammerheads, octopuses, manta rays, etc…) with no expenses. Dave and Sarah are businessmen from New Zealand that gave up their stressful life and bought a yacht to sail around the world. They have been contracted by the Mike Horn Program to find and develop an environmental project center on an uninhabited island in Borneo, that will be dedicated to protecting Borneo’s world-famous and dwindling coral reefs.
view from our  marina
We are currently doing about one week of final refurnishing and restocking before setting sail from Kudat down south to Sipadan. We will be test-diving as many sights as we can around different islands to see what’s worth saving and what reefs have been destroyed.

Once we find a suitable island, we are going to begin building the project center with all the amenities to support a group of 14 volunteers (dorms, kitchen, gear storage). Once the environmental center is built, we’ll start developing the shark nursery and reef restoration program.
So that’s what I’ll be doing in Borneo for the next two months. It kind of feels like we’re a modern-day Robinson Crusoe—finding an uninhabited island and then settling it. 

David (with a background in mechanical engineering) checking on the prop

There are two laptops onboard with wi-fi, so I’ll try to keep updating as the project develops.

sunset at the marina

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