Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Scuba Diving at Pelong Rocks











Azli Azney
BRUNEI-MUARA
Sunday, May 22, 2016

BLUE waters, blue skies; it was a view that I enjoyed, among other things, one recent sunny day during a trip to Pelong Rocks – also known as the legendary Pulau Pilong-Pilongan – to discover scuba diving.

It’s always been something that I’ve always wanted to try but did not have the courage to do on the account of not being able to swim , but since I recently gained the skill, I decided to give it a try.

Pelong Rocks is located about five kilometres from the coast of Muara beach and aside from being one of the more popular beginner scuba diving and snorkelling locations; it’s also a location that is steeped in legend.

So I set out with a group from the Meragang Sixth Form Centre’s Scuba and Swimming club, led by its head, Norkhairulaney Hj Damit, aboard the Lantaran, belonging to Dive Master Rosland Hj Suhaili and the Lantaran Recreational Dive Tours Brunei to experience what Brunei has to offer in terms of aquatic scenery.

Since several of the members have never scuba dived before, we spent the whole morning at the shallow waters of Pelumpong Island to learn the basics of the equipment that we’d be using in our underwater adventure. These included the buoyancy control device, the tank and the regulator as well as the basic safety skills such as what to do in the event that one’s mask or regulator gets detached.

A few weeks prior to the trip, we attended a briefing session on the basics of hand signals that were necessary for the dive.

It was a little after lunch that we left the island to head towards the legendary Pelong Rocks, which was about a 15 to 20 minutes’ boat ride away.

The dive depth at Pelong is about three to four metres deep, perfect for beginners to discover whether scuba diving is something they’d like to pursue further.

Sadly, no thanks to human activity, many of the beautiful corals around the area are dead; something that I would see for myself when I dove down with rescue diver Jane and Rosland’s son, Alif.

“If you really want the beautiful corals that are left, come back when you have your open water certification where you can dive to a maximum of 12 metres,” said the rescue diver.

Jane also impressed upon us that we as divers are conservationists, first and foremost, and that we could only take certain hard corals with us if we wanted to do so.

Despite the dead corals, there were enough vibrant corals left and beautiful fauna shoaling and crawling here and there that the time we spent beneath the waves flew by.

We got to swim around and I had a blast chasing around colourful fishes, trying to identify all of them. Before I knew it, it was back to the boat where, for the first time ever, I experienced something that I’ve only heard about and never experienced personally despite the many boat rides I’ve taken; seasickness.

As Rosland puts it, “It’s the seasickness that gets to people who want to become a certified scuba diver and puts them off of certifying or practising. I know people who got their (open water) certification and never use it because they can’t handle the seasickness.”

However, there are tips you can take such as having polarised sunglasses and not eating certain food prior to a boat trip, to minimise the effects of seasickness.

By the way, I didn’t get to step on Pulau Pilong-Pilongan. I was contented to just take pictures from afar because I’ve heard that the island is a protected area. Trespassing is prohibited and I didn’t want to get into trouble.

Sitting there on the boat and looking at the rocks , I tried to see if I could make out any features that would bring to mind the image of a cock turned to rock, which the island was supposed to be, according to a legend associated with it written in the Syair Awang Semaun, something I read long ago as part of school.

The story goes that in the 14th century, there was a grand cockfight between the champion cock of Brunei, belonging to Awang Senuai, the nephew of the first Sultan of Brunei, named Mutiara, and Asmara, the champion cock belonging to the Betara of the Majapahit Empire, Raden Angkasuka Dewa.

Both cocks were undefeated, with Asmara said to have special powers and that it was so fearsome that when it crowed upon arriving on the shores of Brunei, none of the local cocks crowed in fear for days.

Here, there are variations to the story. Some say that the cockfight was to determine whether Brunei continues being the vassal state of the Majapahit Empire, while another was to determine whether Brunei will pay its tribute for the year. Either way, come match day, it was a grand spectacle with many coming from far and wide to witness the fight.

The story goes that Mutiara had landed a critical hit on Asmara, who then flew out of the ring to escape. Sadly, it succumbed to its wounds and fell into the sea to become Pelong Rocks. Mutiara gave chase to finish off his opponent and, in a fit of anger and embarrassment, Raden Angkasuka Dewa cursed it and it fell into the Brunei River to become Lumut Lunting.

There are still tales from the locals of Kampong Ayer that says that if Lumut Lunting were ever to be fully submerged that it would be an ill omen.

Anyway, despite the unpleasant experience of upchucking my lunch and breakfast twice, I had a largely positive experience and I actually am looking forward to going again in the future.

If you are interested to go for yourself, you can check out the diving operators such as Lantaran and Poni Divers and check out the waters.

The Brunei Times

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