Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Forgotten world

Paradise Posted by Hello

Pic: A tongue of greenery, extruding out, dividing sky and sea. Nothing sums up Semporna better. Semporna, Sabah, 2003.

Not many people stop over at Semporna, not many people have reason to. Besides as a stopover for more popular destinations such as Mabul and Sipadan, the only other reason anyone would throng the area would be for the annual Lepa-lepa festival whereby the sea Bajau, famed seafarers of old (of which many still take up the occupation or even live their life on boats) decorate their boats and stage a parade and celebrations. But Semporna is beautiful no doubting that and since it's not as well known as other destinations, that primeval beauty can still be viewed pristinely. Formations of islands, mostly coralline in nature are found jutting out from the sea akin to jewels, crowned with a luscious growth of greenery which amazingly survives and even thrives in this nutrient poor environment.

There are no luxury hotels to mention besides one, the best way to see Semporna is through the kampung life or traditional village homestay. We were fortunate to be able to reside with a friend's relatives on Bum-bum Island, one of the larger settled islands. Most dwellings here are shanty wooden constructs built on the island's edge over the water surface. Villagers fish, swim and eat, all in their backyard facing the open sea. Children are seen carefreely jumping into the sea from their house, many of whom are seasoned swimmers at an early age. The only other importance of the area is seaweed cultivation of Kappaphycus for carrageenan extraction (a very common substance used in everything from toothpaste, gel, juice, medicine and even preservatives for processed meat), making Semporna one of only two areas in Sabah to be doing so.

A boat ride, provided by our friend's uncle took us to a secluded island, which by tradition belong to their family. A prayer was made to an ancestral shrine there for safe use of the island when we disembarked. The water there was crystal clear, not an ounce of trash was seen for miles, sky blue to the point of looking turquoise and the sound serene. Starfish, giant clams, shells, king crabs, sea cucumbers and fishes were seen in copious amounts near the coast. The islands, some look as if they're on stilts others with depressed bases, were eroded on the base from wave pounding on the coralline base for ages. A lack of development meant the environment was incomparable to anywhere else I've been to. Though we arrive by boat, low tide meant we could walk from island to island, now connected by sandbanks. Our visit was topped up by having coffee at a local village, a different tasting concoction that taste of a hint of saltiness, most probably from the mineral spring the water was taken from, but the taste was unforgettable!

Sabah Parks (the agency in charge for conservation and maintenance of state park areas) is proposing the setting up of the Semporna Islands National Park in the near future and plans are already in the process of being finalised, so maybe more people would be able to view this geologic splendour.

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