compass The Graduate compass Semporna Part 2 compass


June 4

James and the IDC class are going to Singamata to practice skills and the dive instructor invited me along to snorkel, Whooo Hoooo! I get to get out of Semporna! Singamata is a resort on stilts just inside the bay about a 15 minute boat ride from Semporna. Now, after seeing the bay and the filth of it I swore I wouldn’t even dip my pinky toe in but this was almost out of the bay….how bad could it be?

The dive boat docked and we got off for a coffee before the class started their dives and I got excited looking around at the decks filled with loungers sitting in the sun. I watched them take off and eyed a huge garbage slick a little ways away from the resort. The resort had netting wrapped around one side and depending on the current it kept the garbage slick from entering the L shaped resort, luckily the current was going the right way. I did a bit of snorkelling but could hear the loungers calling my name.

James and the gang came back for lunch just in time, I needed a shade break. I was going to do a bit more snorkelling but the tide was low and I’d have to enter out of the safety of the resort’s netting in the garbage slick. So I grabbed a beer and headed back to the loungers. I didn’t feel so much like a princess when I heard that James’ group surfaced at one point into the garbage slick and he chose a jelly fish floating towards him over a floating diaper. One guy in the group (a true princess) actually ended the dive and got out of the water. I had a great day, some sun, some sea and out of the stinky city.

June 13

A girl we met in Myanmar was in Borneo for a few weeks and I was tempted to go join her for a jungle tour and to see the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary but James and I would be heading that way when his course was over and it seemed like a waste of money to do it twice. But I got lucky and she had to do a stop in Semporna the night before and after doing Mabul Island. Again, I was tempted to head to the island with her but I was determined to for once help the budget, not spend more. So she bunked with us and I got company! She had just come from the Kota Kinabalu area and hearing her talk about it helped me decide our route outta here! If only it was tomorrow (giggle giggle). Considering there is nothing to do here, we had a great meal at the Indian place and watched tv in our room. Man do we know how to entertain!

June 17

Jess (the girl from Myanmar) is back today. We decided to meet in Scuba Junkie restaurant, where I’ve found the fastest internet and cheap, chilled red wine. James has the first of his exams tomorrow so we will hang out, drink wine and give him some peace and quiet. It’s funny to have “company” while on vacation but fun. We talked and drank in the Scuba junkie until the live band started and headed back to our room to bug James.

Last dive instructor you would ever want

June 18

James is finally done (and passed) his IE exam. I am now married to a dive instructor, how hot is that!?! I’m glad it’s over; he was a bit stressed about day 2 of the exam. The in water having to relate to people made him nervous. Everyone else was freaking about the written part, but with James it’s the people part. Go figure?!? I’m also glad it’s over before someone killed one of the students. The course seemed to last forever and spending this much time in Semporna isn’t fun to start with but add a thirty something spoiled man-child princess to the mix (James’ Note: she means another guy in my class, not me…I think) and it ends up being much worse than it even has to be. Most afternoons around 4 -5 pm I’d sit in the tiny eating area of our hotel and play on the internet and wait for James to get home and usually “princess” would come in to bitch about something, once it was even how as a collective group they didn’t think James had what it took personality wise to be an instructor?!? (James’ Note: I'm pretty sure this was BS on his part, as this was the day he randomly freaked out on me in class. I was literally about one of 8 or 9 people he lost it with). I wasn't very sympathetic after the princess gave me the James Sucks speech, so he would usually also have to run off to find another, more sympathetic, listener, and then the rest of the group would arrive with the gossip of what really happened. It ranged from the normal hissy fits, to spitting on the owners feet, to wearing a competitors t-shirt to class, to asking the boat to turn back almost 45 minutes into a 1 hour boat ride because he didn’t check his equipment and missed something (nothing that would affect his day of diving) to leaving his dive equipment on the boat for the poor crew to carry when everyone else carried their own (well except for me, James carried ours – I lost the lid to my coffee cup and didn’t want to spill it ?, teasing he just spoils me). The princess should never have wrote the exam, one of his many issues, but somehow managed to pass and still bitched. He got to dive Sipadan for free numerous times, not to mention how many other dive sites in the area, and for pretty cheap, passed and was going home to a dive job offer and he had the nerve to pout. Seriously dude, if you are reading this, DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE WOUILD GIVE ANYTHING TO TRADE SPOTS WITH YOU? Whew! That has been eating away at me.


To celebrate we all went to a Chinese restaurant with a few bottles of rum in tow. After a decent meal and too many drinks we all went to the staff quarters for a few more. Well I did, James went to bed. (James’ Note: I actually went to play with my camera housing, as I was getting to fun dive for the first time in almost a month) Funny, but not anything out of the ordinary. It was actually a fairly quiet night but most interesting was we met one of the 21 that was kidnapped on Sipadan Island by Philipino pirates in 2000 and held for about 3 months. He brought out a bunch of newspapers, that were unfortunately in Malay, but we took a look at the pictures as he told us about the ordeal. He laughed when we asked how much ransom was paid, and said that they were asking 1 million US per tourist and 1 million Malayan Rupee per Malaysian. It was reported that they were paid but he seemed to think no money ever changed hands. What I found interesting though was that the hostages were taken to the Philippines where they had to walk miles each day through thick uninhabited jungle and sleep in different spots each night to not only avoid being caught but to also avoid the Philippine government who often attacked the group not realizing they were partly hostages. Often the hostages were handed guns and told they might have to protect themselves.

Crocodile Fish, with the prettiest eyelashes you will ever see

June 19

James has a day off before his specialties section starts and we are going diving. Finally! Sitting around nothing but divers every night, who of course do nothing but talk about how great their dives were, was driving me crazy. To make it even better it’s a macro type dive at Si Amil. Not so great is that I had a wee bit too much rum last night and feel a little rough.

We saw so much fantastic stuff. My theory is that if I only see one new thing on a dive I am more than pleased. Some people moan and groan about not seeing enough or not seeing what they saw in other parts of the world but I dive because I love it and every dive still surprises me and amazes me. I think my favourite today was the crocodile fish that had the coolest eyelashes.

I love nudi-time

June 20

It’s official. Everything we own is clean including the dog pee bag, the gum from the bottom of James’ day pack (by the way I think a new rule should be “the one who puts their bag IN the gum has to clean if off…..but those free toothbrushes I can’t help but collect came in handy), all our toiletry bags, my day pack, random mesh bags, the kitchen sanitized (I’ll explain the kitchen later) and all clothing. I’ve done a face scrub, a foot soak, hair treatment…..I must admit I am a bit bored. I slept in today, read, watched tv, had 15 coffees and all before noon!

The only thing that seems to keep me entertained is the usual travel booking frustrations. I am trying to get a few things booked seeing as though we have decent internet but am having no luck. We decided to do a Raja Ampat liveaboard. When doing research in Korea we thought it was too expensive but know we will regret it if we don’t. It’s a pain to get to and we are going to be so close…..do we really need a place to live next year? Anyways, we had to rearrange our route a bit and add flights and another Indonesia VISA and of course if we are going to be in Sorong….why not pop over to Nabire and Ahe Resort to see whale sharks (number one on James’ must see list) and…well to make a long story short we added a few extra weeks to our time in Indonesia and I have managed to fill pretty much every day. But we’d need a few flights and reservations for places that fill up. So I sit, patiently waiting for people to get back to me so I can send them money. UGH!

Not a bad island to spend a day on

June 21

We dove Mantuaban today! It started out a bit rough (we had to surface 5 minutes into our first dive because I had bad air) but the next 2 were fantastic! We saw not one but 2 different coloured frog fish and James even got great pictures. In between dives we docked at a beautiful island surrounded by a white sand beach where we sat in the shallow water and chatted with two snorkelers from England and teased an Irish couple who had to swim 200 meters (doing their open water). It was a great day of diving surrounded by interesting and fun people.

After rinsing our equipment after our dive we stopped by the dive shop to see about James’ schedule and Myra (the dive shop girl) said there was 2 spots open at Sipadan the next day due to a cancellation and asked if we wanted to go. Did we? Of course!

A couple of frogfish and a cute crab

June 22

Sipadan! It was a bumpy 1 hour boat ride but after we signed in as the Dutch couple who cancelled (the permits had already been sent in before they cancelled) we were jumping in. The dives were great (and I can’t believe I am saying this) but not quite as good as the first time. I think it’s because the currents were a bit stronger, which I think prevented us from skimming over the coral garden in shallow water where ALL the turtles slept, and the schools of fish weren’t quite as big, but an average day at Sipadan is a still an amazing day.

Some highlights of Sipadan dives, and proof for a couple of skeptical kids that it is actually us down there

June 23

I was supposed to go to Tawau tomorrow to get our Indonesian VISA’s but as it turned out the owner of the dive shop who lives in Tawau decided to have the speciality class there today. So no local bus for me! Interesting though, James and I figured we hadn’t been in a moving vehicle other than a boat in about a month (the longest we’d both likely ever gone) and got a little car sick.

We were taken to the Yacht Club where I caught a cab to the consulate. I have never been so pleasantly surprised. I was a bit concerned right when I got there because there was about 5 signs saying no short pants (I was wearing shorts – Travel Hint: Keep in mind in strict Muslim countries their consulates have dress codes!) but they smiled and welcomed me in. After answering all my questions, by the way you cannot get a multi-entry VISA as a tourist; they took my forms and asked me to sit for a few minutes explaining I’d have the VISA’s in a few hours. Seriously? I had read it was that quick but did not for a second believe it was true. Getting VISA’s in other countries is usually a hot, sweaty, drawn out for days event. I sat reading until my name was called an hour and a half later and in a cab a minute or two after that. Easy peasy!

I headed back to the Yacht Club and lounged away a few hours while the class finished up. After we all (except Princess) got KFC and the driver picked us up for our ride back to Semporna. If only all VISA runs were this easy……..

Not quite James Bond--well maybe George Lazenby

June 24

James had his last day of diving for his specialities today and what a treat it was. They got to play James Bond with diver propulsion vehicles. I was sooooo jealous. They were supposed to practice with them in the pool but the driver forgot to load them so on one last dive to Sipadan (yes, the owner sent the class for FREE to Sipadan) they got to play in the sea with them. They were so excited and chatty when they got back and kept replaying the videos – jerks!

In my boredom I made them all bruschetta and decided I am almost ready to write a “Hostel Cookbook” with sections like “if you only have boiling water” and “If you only have a toaster oven” and “all the wonderful things you can do with cheese slices”.

A video of James during one of his tough classes (Click on picture for link to video - 3.4MB)

June 25

We have pretty much packed up and are very excited to be moving on. We did up our budget and were looking at the numbers…we have been traveling for 105 days. Wow! It honestly doesn’t feel that long. Well maybe Semporna a bit. We’ve managed to get ahead by $1934.00. Not bad!

It was interesting to see how things are working out and this might be a good time to answer a few questions. People have asked about packing, budget, route etc. If you are not one – just close this now.


James and I have been planning this since he signed up for the Self-funded deferred leave at work about 5 years ago. We day dreamed about it for the first 3 or so and have changed routes and places visited many, many, many times. One route had us driving our old FORD south through the states stopping to visit both of our snowbirding parents then heading through the interior of Mexico, quickly through Central America and then slowly around South America until we reached the bottom where we’d ditch the car and likely fly to India or Africa. Once we found out we would be starting it from Korea we changed plans altogether and decided to do Asia properly. Researching Asia I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the diving and one thing led to another and our year off ended up looking very dive heavy. Luckily we were pretty good at saving money and it looked like we might be able to actually afford it.


Since starting this trip we’ve had countless conversations about the “ if we had endless amounts of money what would we do”. Pretty much the same thing, just eat at nicer places and stay in mid range, maybe higher hotels.

We have been paying into this since the start which helped, as did the amazing opportunity of working in Korea. We also bought 2 fixer-uppers in Canada hoping to make a few bucks. It meant 3 years of weekends full of tiling and painting and leaky everythings, but we were able to add a few bucks to the pot. We also had our mind set to do it so even though we obviously didn’t suffer (we still traveled a bit and enjoyed the odd weekend in Toronto and Montreal) we gave up, or rather just didn’t buy things that weren’t that important to us. Our tv was a hand me down from B&J that was a little old and even had a lovely burn hole where Jude had left a candle too long. My lap top was second hand and James’ a much welcomed gift! We didn’t own fancy cell phones or ipods or any new gadgets (although once home a Tasimo is the first thing I am buying…if and when I ever have money again!). It’s not for everyone, but for us it was worth it. Once the plans were well under way we started to buy decent quality travel & dive gear, but that’s in a few minutes.

To determine a budget (James said we needed one) we finally sat down and listed all the countries we wanted to see. From there I spent endless hours researching how to get to/from places, what seasons we’d want to be there and how much per day it would roughly cost. Most important though, I had to try to figure out how much time we’d need in each place. All those Lonely Planets we had in Korea actually got read! Once that was done I roughed it out for James and we spent a few days (weeks maybe) cutting and adding to the route. Because it was so dive heavy it added weeks to each country. Indonesia for instance will end up being almost 3 months with almost 6 weeks being just diving.

Once we had a rough route and what each country would approximately cost for the time there we added in the extras. This is where your budget gets blown to bits. For example we were doing so much diving that renting would end up costing almost half as much as a new set so we decided to invest in a travel light set designed for travelers. OUCH! Other extras to be considered is insurance, VISA’s, equipment, pills & shots etc.

Our budget ended up looking like this:

Spent before/not accounted for/bought in advance – Dive gear $ 3200, netbook $250, James’ new backpack $270

Day to Day (includes, accommodation, food, alcohol, getting around, entrance fees etc.) $100 /day for the 2 of us (x415 days)

Flights (main flights, not the quick ones we take instead of a bus or boat) $10,464 (not including AECL allowance to get home)

Diving $4500, + James dive course $3000, + booked in February Komodo Live aboard $2750 (7 nights)

Misc & emergencies $10,000

Total we had about $75,000

About 2 months in we added $2 each /day which doesn’t seem like much but it’s an ice-cream cone, or a cab when it’s sweltering out, or a cold beer – even if you’ve gone over for the day. I don’t think we’ve used it much, but it made us feel better.

Other large purchases/extras to be considered (included in the budget above):

Did we need new backpacks. Yes. Mine (just for dive gear actually) was $150

VISA’s for most countries, which can be anywhere from free (Thailand) to $80 for Myanmar

Travel Insurance, and for us it had to include dive coverage ($450 each for 6 months)

Pills - Malaria pills, anti-biotic, Imodium, allergy pills

Shots were another lucky break, both of us are up to date on all our shots otherwise we would have needed Hep A & B, yellow fever

Good day packs, which took a surprising amount of time to pick.

We both needed good all-purpose hiking shoes and a sport type sandal

A few weeks in our point and shoot waterproof camera had to be replaced ($400)

James’ kindle


This was amusing (I’m sure Sandra remembers it well). We piled everything on to our spare bed in Korea and (a little too late) tried to make it fit into our packs. Which resulted in Sandra mailing a box of leftovers back to Canada for us and me buying a bigger backpack for the dive gear. But what was left was our must haves and a few luxury items (body powder and a jar of nail polish for me). I read a thousand sites on what to pack for extended travels and the main bits are the same but there is always something someone can’t live without that I think is silly, just as most people would think my cork screw is a waste. We did luck out in that all of our travels would be in hot climates which cut down on packing warm clothing that can be bulky and take up space. We decided that if our plans change and we found ourselves cold we’d just buy a sweater.

The thing to remember about packing for almost any trip is that whatever you bring has a good chance of being stolen, ruined or lost. No matter how careful you are shit happens, so if you are thinking of packing your favourite earrings your grandma passed down to you because you can’t bear to leave them at home – just imagine them gone. I have been so lucky in the past but still don’t chance it.

Here is our basic list.

Kitchen – A small mesh bag with folding knife, 2 sporks, cork screw, a few extra ziplock baggies, matches, those big headed metal paper clips, . Plus a plastic plate and a decent size tupperware container.

Food Bag – Peanut butter, small baggie with garlic powder, Italian seasoning, stolen salt & pepper packets, too many cliff & luna meal bars, cup-a-soups and usually crackers. Also, depending on where we are and what we are doing, this can have much more or sometimes, but not very often, less.

Meds – About 6 months of Malaria pills for each of us, 2 full doses of antibiotics, allergy pills, Imodium, pepto bismol, alleve.

First Aid Kit – The usual, a few bandaids, anti bacterial cream, a couple of needles and some thread, all the pills (in a handy craft container for beads)

Day of Travel Kit – Mesh bag with 2 blow up sleep pillows, few pairs of ear plugs (extras are handy when one falls to the icky floor of the bus half way through the night), one of our flash lights (the small head lamp), sleeping mask (1 frilly black), mini deck of cards, 2 disposable toothbrushes, 2 kindle lights

Misc – About 6 clothes pins, small bag of powdered laundry soap, mini clothes line (thick string), 6 carabineers (big & small), multi plug adaptor, mosquitoes coils, travel guides (we narrowed it down to 3 but only because we downloaded everyone we would actually need onto the computer), note pad each and pens, 2 umbrellas (for sun and rain), tp, mosquito net, mini leatherman, silk sleep sacks

Electronics, Cords & stuff – Small computer (10.1 in) & charger, mini mouse, hard case, 2 kindles in cases & 1 charger (usb & wall pug), ipod & charger, waterproof point and shoot camera & charger, James DSLR camera with remote control & charger and case, 3 lenses total, all in cases, the most handy (and a gift from Chris) small flexible tri-pod, underwater casing and strobe light and 2 battery packs & charger (chargers take up a lot of space!)

Bath bags - UGH! Mine seems so big. But the usual with an extra bottle of my favourite can’t live without face cream. We also packed a few extra razors, an extra bottle of sun tan lotion (it is so expensive in Asia). We agreed this is one thing we could not share, so James has a small one with his few boy things in it.

Clothing – This was a hard one. But a few pairs of shorts, 1 pair of pants (zip off legs so you have an extra pair of shorts), few t-shirts, undies for a week, a few pairs of socks, pj’s (decent ones if you plan on doing dorms), long sleeve t, hoodie and/or sweatshirt, 2 bathing suits, dive shorts and dive t, couple of bras, few tank tops, rain coat, hat, flip flops, sport sandals, decent lightweight shoes (the style/type depends on where you go). I also usually pack a dress or two and a skirt or two but due to space took one of each. I also packed a tiny bit of jewellery but always like to buy it as I go.

Actual Bags!

James’ Day Pack – His camera, extra lenses, sarong, umbrellas, travel wallet (everything important like passports, cards, money etc), regulators/dive computers, computer, water, suntan lotion, lunch/snack, hats

My day Pack – James underwater casing, day travel kit, guide books, water

My purse – small emergency kit (tampons, antibacterial spray (Thanks Sandra!), few Band-Aids, a couple of each; Imodium, pepto, alleve and allergy pills, sharpie, nail file, cough drops, hand lotion, toothpicks, ), anti-bacterial lotion on amazing loop (New fav travel item, from Bed, Bath & Beyond - so my filthy hands don’t have to search my bag for it), my camera, few wet naps, Kleenex/tp, both sunglasses, kindles, ipod, wallet, mints, stolen straws in plastic wrap

My backpack – my bath bag and usually the bag of dirty clothes and shoes not being worn, the dive gear; 2 BCD’s, 2 sets of fins, 2 snorkels and masks and a little of the underwater camera stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else

James’ Backpack -the crappy thing (but must be funny to witness) is that all the dive gear fit in one backpack and all the day to day living stuff go in James’ big new one. Meaning – yup, we share a bag. Can you imagine? For over a year we will live out of one bag, fight over how it’s packed, when it’s packed and what should not be packed! If you haven’t made your bets on the “why” we break up this might be a good time to place it!

Hmmm…. did I miss anything?

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