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SCUBA and storms in the Perhentians

We were surrounded by the turquoise waters of the South China Sea. As clear as glass and flecked with white tufts of foam where the merest hint of a wave broke over the surface. Our boat was speeding towards the Perhentians, two tropical islands on the coast of northeast Malaysia, famed for an underwater landscape even more spectacular than that above ground.
There was an air of mystery surrounding the imaginatively nicknamed “Big Island” and “Small Island”, with rumours rife among the travellers we met in Kuala Lumpur: “So, apparently there’s no jetty and you have to swim with all your bags from, like, 100 yards off shore,” exclaimed one nervous looking German girl. “Like in The Beach, you know?”.

We’d booked a guesthouse on Big which thankfully came complete with a fully functioning jetty and as we stepped out into Tuna Bay, we were greeted by a picture postcard white coral beach drenched in sunshine.
We had entered a world in miniature. Two restaurants, one shop (selling the elusive Magnum Gold ice cream), a SCUBA diving school and a communal credit card machine. Everything shut down at 10:00pm when you had the option of turning in for the night or heading across the bay to Small, where the party continued until dawn.

As it happens, the rumours there were true and many a Small resident who had failed to put aside the correct change for a taxi boat to shore, was forced to jump ship and drag their soggy belongings behind them.

Each night the bay was rocked by storms. Huge and terrifying, turning the beach white with strobe and taking with them all the power on the island. On our second afternoon, we took the 15 minute boat ride to Small for a change of scenery and had barely sat down to eat when the grey-black clouds came rolling in and the usually calm waters began to churn. This was 6pm.

By 8pm, the torrential rain had almost flooded the bar that the entire populace of island had chosen to huddle in and we started to question whether we’d ever get back to Big alive. There was nothing for it but to purchase a £5 bottle of Stanley Morgan and sit it out.
At 10pm, El ventured out to find our boatman who was watching the football with a hot chocolate in his sister’s cosy souvenir shop and laughed uproariously at his suggestion of heading home. “My friend, come back to me in an hour and maybe, maybe we go then. Probably not.” In the end, it was past midnight when we finally persuaded a desperate/suicidal fisherman to ferry us home and en route rescued a stranded Malaysian couple who were even more terrified than we were.
The storm was gone by morning, leaving behind a calm, glistening sea just begging to be explored. Ten paces from our guesthouse was Seahorse SCUBA School, and we headed over to meet The Dive Team: Megan, Tobias and Jesse who were all impossibly toned and very, very cool. We made several attempts to become their best friends but they were having none of it. They did, however, persuade us that there’s nowhere better on Earth to dive than the Perhentians.
The following day we began our PADI training, the first stage of which was a four hour video outlining the SCUBA essentials such as “never bully or tease the sea life”. We notched up five incredible dives over four days, including the wreck of a Vietnamese cargo ship that sank in 2001.
On our final day, we took our theory exam and were feeling dammed confident until we noticed several other PADI students actually revising on the beach (ahem…losers). We needn’t have worried. We passed with flying colours despite getting three questions wrong and missing out an entre section on how to avoid getting the bends. Go Dive Team.

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  1. Ma

    This looks like another place on our list for possible holidays. Pictures as always like post cards. The sea is just beautiful. We are batoning down the hatches for a polar vortex tomorrow from Scandinavia. Last polar vortex we experienced was that rain in Cancun – how could you forget. Snow is forecast so the country will grind to a halt. Big hugs xxx

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