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Day 4 of David McGonigal’s Orion II “Faces in the Forest” cruise to Borneo

Asia is hot! Coming from a Sydney climate that can’t decide within a 10 degrees if it’s summer or winter, the constant heat and humidity of Singapore is a pleasant shock. Of course, you have to go out of your way to get to the great outdoors in this city of air-conditioned everything: malls, hotels, walkways and taxis.

So there is some joy to discover that, even on our earnest mission to discover the wildlife of Borneo (preferably not in a Redmond O’Hanlon comic disaster way), we have the chance to stop off for a swim on the way. Overnight we cruise from Singapore across the South China Sea into Indonesian waters and the uninhabited island of Pulau Lintang. We are here for the day so there’s lots of time to snorkel. The unshaded beach has little appeal for sun baking and the water temperature is around 28°C.

We offered two options for snorkelling. The first is a swim off the beach and within 20 metres of the shore we’re over coral gardens with a surprising diversity of fish life. Perhaps I haven’t been snorkelling for a few years but I’m taken aback by the profusion of life shimmering below me. Of course there are clown fish peering out of anemones and parrotfish chomping on coral and angel fish gliding past looking beautiful and a bit superior. An hour and a half quickly passes then it’s time to catch a Zodiac back to Orion II for lunch on deck. Well, that was the plan but a tropical thunderstorm saw the buffet moved down to the dining room.

I think it was less than my Mum’s regulation hour after eating that we are heading back to the beach. But this time it’s only a staging point to go out to a zodiac drifting as a snorkelling platform over a mid-channel reef. In my rush to get there I keep my sunglasses on and have to stuff them in the pocket of my swimmers when I switch to mask and snorkel.

This reef is exceptional with every conceivable coral and sponge and colour, and the canyons are crowded by a profusion of impossibly bright fish. We swim enthralled until I realise my sunglasses have floated out of my pocket. There’s still over an hour until last zodiac so my mission is to retrace my path and reclaim my sunnies. After such a random meander it’s not easy to figure out where I’ve been but wait, there’s the broken stag coral lying on the coral platform and over there’s the brain coral being devoured by hundreds of parrotfish and then that must be the isolated bommie with the sponge on top. I swim around and around and around and even some fish seem to recognise me by the third lap.

With a set goal and search pattern I take everything in with magnified intensity and appreciation. My glasses remain undiscovered but it’s been a wonderful swim. Finally I admit defeat and swim back to the Zodiac only to emerge and find my sunglasses sitting on the front box. I ask where they came from and an American lady says that when they floated past her she grabbed them. What a great ending to a perfect snorkelling experience.

Words and photo: David McGonigal