Clownfish in Borneo

Under the Celebes Sea: Diving in Borneo

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When we arrived at Mataking Island, they didn’t waste a minute. After giving us the island briefing, we were whisked away to the dive center to be outfitted for our equipment. We were then made to do a shore entry dive to prove we knew what we were talking about. It was clear that people come to this little blip in the middle of the Celebes Sea for one reason and one reason only: to go diving in Borneo.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Truth: I was a little nervous about the skills test. Sure, I’ve logged quite a few dives in the past three years, but I hadn’t suited up in over a year since my trip to the Cook Islands. What if I forgot the most basic of commands, like clearing my mask?

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Another area of concern was my panic attacks. A year ago, I spent the summer having pretty severe attacks that resulted in a stint in therapy and a round of anti-depressants (which I quickly went off, as they in turn gave me an auto-immune disease…just can’t win). Granted, I’d been fine for almost a solid 12 months, but my attacks were always brought on by extreme claustrophobia (planes, vans with heavily tinted windows, you get the gist). I can’t think of anything more claustrophobic than being 60 feet below sea level or deeper with thousands of gallons of water on top of you.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

The good news is all my worrying was in vain (it usually is). From the moment we first submerged, I forgot my anxieties and remembered just what it was I loved about this sport.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Mataking is all about macro life. You won’t find big ticket items—your sharks, your bumpheads—around here. At first, I thought that would bum me out. But I found I much prefer the macro diving. It becomes a game, not unlike Photohunt, where you have to be at your best, keeping your eyes peeled and peering closely between the rocks and corals to spot something really cool.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Since Finding Nemo, clownfish have been among my favorite swimmers. They’re so cute, and they sit there and try to challenge you, but you know deep down they’re terrified and just trying to guard their “nemonemones” (anenomes).

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Turns out, I have a knack for this spotting business. I was the only one to see the very elusive cuttlefish. I found the octopus that inked on our divemaster once she swam over and tried to coax it out of the hole. I saw both a crocodile fish and a few stonefish, which are extremely hard to spot as they blend into the underwater terrain.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

(That’s not a stonefish, FYI. I didn’t get any photos of the quick little suckas.)

Don’t be fooled, though: Macro life doesn’t mean everything is so small you can barely see it. In fact, other than turtles by the dozens, the spotted ray was probably the creature we saw most often. It seems like there was one hiding under every rock we swam by.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

There were also a number of lionfish sleeping beneath rocks. They’re traditionally shy, so you have to know where to look and often swim upside down to see them.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

There were all kinds of crazy coral floating around.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

And sea slugs and sea cucumbers, which I think are such funny creatures, don’t you?

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

Not to mention, nudibranchs everywhere we looked, barely an inch long and in a plethora of neon hues.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

We did 20 dives that week. I would have done 20 more if they’d let me. We also did our first night dive, which was a bit creepy, given Charlie, the massive barracuda who lives under the dock, but fun nonetheless. Besides, anyone who says they’re not afraid of the dark is straight-up lying!

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

I’ve now been submerged in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Cook Islands, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, the Maldives, Honduras—and up next: Bonaire—and I must say, Mataking was probably my favorite underwater experience to date.

Underwater Borneo: some of the best scuba diving in the world. | CamelsAndChocolate.com

COMMENTS
  • August 11, 2010

    Wahooooo!!! I was waiting very patiently for an underwater post. I LOVE clown fish too, there were so many in the GBR, but recently I’ve fallen in love with nudibranchs, so I was super excited to see your pic of one. Love the pic of you and SVV together. Glad you were able to dive w/o any panic attacks (not fun!). What did you think of the night dive? I have mixed feelings about the ones I’ve done…

    PS GORGEOUS PICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • August 11, 2010

    Wow, these are great captures. Funny how our fears can slow us down, but always good to challenge and overcome them. Sure glad you did. I tried diving a couple times, but being I don’t have gills in this life, I’ll stick to snorkeling instead.

  • August 11, 2010

    Oh these pictures are just swoon worthy! I can’t wait to get certified.

  • August 11, 2010

    Seeing these pics makes me want to break out my scuba gear and go diving. I need to brush up on the basics again as I haven’t been diving since I got my certification in 2006.

  • August 11, 2010

    Love, love, love the scuba pictures.

    Now how am I going to keep working?

  • August 11, 2010

    Just like growing up in papua, Indonesia. AMAZING diving. And snorkeling. And night diving.

    My high school weekend hang out time was at a beach an hour away, with nights around the campfire eating lobster that the boys caught on their night dives.

    That was the life. 🙂

  • August 11, 2010

    Awesome photos! The clown fish ones look surreal!

  • August 11, 2010

    That looks like a great time! I’ve never been diving, and never snorkeled anywhere where was anything to look at, but I know Bonaire is supposed to be great. One of my friends and her family have been going there once every year or two for over a decade because they love the island, the people whose hotel they stay at, and especially the snorkeling there so much. Hopefully you’ll love it too.

  • August 11, 2010

    Amazing pictures (as usual)!!!! Whenever I’ve tried taking pictures underwater they don’t turn out well…although I was using a disposable underwater camera. LOL

  • August 11, 2010
    SVV

    Who’s the crossed-eyed dude with the hair and the thing in his mouth?

  • August 11, 2010
    sbc

    great pics… makes me want to take up diving.

  • August 12, 2010

    Spectacular! I want to go!!!!

  • August 12, 2010

    Amazing pictures! I am jealous because I have a fear of the water and the thought of scuba diving makes my stomach turn. I have however, been working on tackling some of my fears and for example, went sky diving a year ago. So, I am thinking I could work on the scuba diving then next ….. maybe!!
    So congrats on accomplishing this for yourself!!

  • August 14, 2010

    These photos are amazing!

  • August 16, 2010

    I think your underwater posts are my favorite. And yes! AMAZING photography.

  • August 24, 2010
    k

    This looks awesome. I’ve never really been drawn to scuba (I don’t know – seems like a lot of work to get certified for something you can’t do all that often), but I may be changing my mind…

  • November 14, 2012
    Alison

    These underwater shots are amazing. I want to go scuba diving right now. I especially love the clownfish shots.

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