I have found a place where time stands absolutely still. At the bottom of the deep blue sea, just you and me, time becomes irrelevant and the earth stands still. The you of course alludes to my oxygen tank, fins, and mask while the me remains, well, me. The second day in Layang Layang I started seriously questioning my insistence on coming here. Why did I ever want to do a trip centered exclusively around diving, where everything else fades into the background so that I end up sleeping in a frumpy bed in a room with poor lighting and smelly water, take multiple cold showers, and freeze on the boat to and from different dive sites? Oh yeah, and the inconvenience of a bathroom doesn’t matter, if you really can’t hold it, think again. And if it’s just a tinkle, no worries the ocean becomes your own personal toilet.
That day began with waking up at 7am to do an 8am dive, I hated the morning along with putting on a damp bathing suit from the day before, too lazy to look for a fresh dry one in the suitcase. Instead of complaining and risk the boy remind me that this had indeed been my idea, I made my way to the dock and commenced the day without even a grumble. At least the sun was shining so that I hardly noticed the salt water spray my back on the boat, and when Barry, our dive master explained the first dive of the day, my interest peaked. We were going to be “hammerhead hunting” he said. So when we jumped in the open water, per the dive master’s instruction, we deflated our BCD jackets dropped off the reef to about 40 meters down and then swam about 100 to 150 meters from the reef drop to open water. The “deep blue” he called it, and the words resonated in my mind when swimming away letting the reef disappear into the ocean behind me. I looked back and saw no hint of the drop off, but only deep dark blue in front, behind, and on both sides of me. It felt as if I was suspended in mid air, déjà vu in a dream I once had, and we were so far from a shoreline to sense any current at all. The tiny specs of ocean life residue that resemble summer pollen you see on a sunny day stood completely still. These particles of dust, which usually indicate in what direction the current drifts a diver, just hung there as if the whole ocean remained motionless; they didn’t sway back and forth, but just clenched frozen all around me. For a second I imagined I was slowly pushing my way through a dark blue gelatin desert, but this felt way better than any jello I ever tasted. The motionless water hypnotized me, so that I actually questioned if I progressed in any direction. Only the divers I followed indicated that I actually made way through the calm immobile sea. Glancing up, I could see no trace of the surface, and time stood completely still. At the bottom of this deep blue sea time stops and people and sea life wash away like a distant memory. Caught in no man’s land, out of the blue I hear an eerie loud wooing like a ghost singing through haunted seas. Stunned, I turned sharply left and saw a massive hammerhead.
The sight of its size shot shivers down my spine and when the hint of its tail disappeared into the blue color, I wanted to see more of them! Gravitating in the strangely still water, the thought of seeing more hammerhead sharks, a school of them even, consumed me! All the divers hovered around, waiting, when a dink of metal sounded, “tink tink tink:” The familiar sound that the dive instructor makes by clanking a metal rod on his oxygen tank in order to call our attention to something spectacular to see under the surface. With exuberance I looked in every direction and another hammerhead swam by quickly. This one closer to me, stayed within my field of vision for a few seconds longer and its sight stayed with me the rest of the day.
Pedaling back toward the reef, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at how absurd the activity of diving truly sounds if explained out loud. I mean ultimately divers are voyeurs; the ones who love to watch. To go on vacation precisely to capture abundant underwater sightings of particular sea animals over and over again sounds strange. I imagined having a conversation with sharks harping on my desperate plea for them to swim by me. “Please, please come over here closer, so I can stare at you in amazement.” The whole idea makes me laugh, and as this conversation took place in my head I smiled because I could not wait until the next day to go hammerhead hunting again. When on the second dive Barry declared that we’d go to the hammerhead point once more, my heart took a leap, and I knew I was hooked. I was horribly excited to get on the boat and jump into the ocean once more. Embarrassingly I found this excitement difficult to hide, but at that point didn’t care. Scuba junkie became me, and I didn’t have a problem with that. If along with this exhilarating experience I found Layang Layang, Malaysia, a modern day vacuum where time stands still and moments last a lifetime, then all I can say about this obsession is yes please!
The school of hammerhead fish came the third day in Layang Layang, the same day Barry switched my regulator (mouthpiece that dispenses air) as my previous one had malfunctioned the day before. This regulator however seemed to make a loud squawk sound that only increased as we swam deeper and deeper into the blue. Annoyed that I had had so much trouble with the stupid regulator, and embarrassed that everyone around me noticed, I lagged behind the group, which only served to my advantage. Distracted by the loud whistling noise, I almost failed to notice the girl in front of me suddenly start flailing her arms and looking over, see two large hammerheads. Swimming closer, the dive master signaled in two different directions and as I pedaled faster, two more hammerheads appeared. Then as I peered closer to those two sharks, three more to the left of the group appeared from the blue. It seemed to be that they circled all around us and for a good five minutes the hammerheads swam in and out of focus through the water. All around us they swam, so that I was able to get a spectacular look of the entire body and hammer shaped snout at the anterior part of the body. Never had I felt such excitement. The meaty body must have been about 12 feet long, maybe longer, as swimming closer they grew bigger and bigger. Back at the boat someone mentioned that maybe it had been the regulator wheezing sound that had brought the hammerheads closer. Yeah, I thought, perhaps the females make a similar sound during mating season. As we laughed I couldn’t help but think, maybe I shouldn’t switch my obnoxious mouthpiece, at least I won’t get lost out there in ocean somewhere, and if it meant encountering more hammerheads in the future I could deal with the irritating sound.
For an amazing time hammerhead hunting, Layang Layang fits the bill. A tiny little atoll with only an army base and a dive resort on the spec of land, there is nothing else you need, except maybe the tiny 10 passenger plane that flies you in and out from Kota Kinabalu. And perhaps then you too can turn around and tell me about that day, that day when you knew scuba junkie’s a thing to be!