Buses in Borneo seem to have just one setting for the air conditioning - cryogenic. Having spent a few days in the jungle, we are en route to Semporna and the islands nearby to volunteer with TRACC (Tropical Research and Conservation Centre) - marine conservation, reef restoration, beach cleanup.
Apart from a spotless, shimmering mosque, Semporna is a pool of filth surrounded by some of the most amazing diving spots on the planet. We spend a night, by necessity, before meeting up with the folks from TRACC to head to Pom Pom island - a 45 minute boat ride.
A ragged fringe of rickety wooden shacks perched precariously on stilts surrounds the jetty where we meet the boat. These are the homes of the Bajau - stateless, nomadic "sea gypsies" who traditionally live on boats but are driven to land by a dwindling food (and trade) supply at sea.
The water pollution near the jetty is overwhelming - plastic bags, bottles, and diapers choke the shoreline and drift in the surrounding waters. Several times, on our way to Pom Pom, the captain stops the boat to clear trash from the propeller.
Apart from a police camp and a couple of largely vacant resorts, there is little else on the island. This is due, in part, to a string of kidnappings in recent years - a fact that made us seriously debate volunteering at TRACC. At only 2.3km in circumference, the island is a tiny speck of tropical paradise.
We spend our days snorkeling, doing reef restoration, and picking up plastic bottles that have washed up on the otherwise pristine beach. Surrounded by passionate and dedicated friends of the ocean, we are left with a newfound interest in diving and marine conservation.
Leaving TRACC is hard - new friends, lazy days, endless learning opportunities. Our next stop is the island of Mabul where Sebastien has his first taste of diving and is forever hooked.
In the blink of an eye, we are back in Kota Kinabalu - killing time before our flight to Manila. We will spend the Holidays in the Philippines - meeting my mother and some friends from Vancouver before continuing our travels in South East Asia.