I started my volunteer experience in Expedition 2 of Blue Ventures Malaysia back in the summer of 2009 and was scheduled to stay for the standard six weeks, however I ended up staying throughout Expedition 3 as well and then going on to do my DiveMaster certification as well.
In the End, I have absolutely no idea how long I was in Tioman for, but I know it wasn't long enough. In fact, I sit here writing this on the deck of the TDC (Tioman Dive Centre- the dive centre which BVM runs from in Malaysia) a year after I left. I have been back to visit a few times since finishing BVM and guarantee I will be back for more in the future.
Over my time at Blue Ventures Malaysia on Pulau Tioman I lost count of days, dives and incredible experiences. As Katie Yewdall-AKA The Boss- often reminds volunteers, ‘this is not a beach holiday’ - she is completely right. Although there are certainly aspects of a beach holiday, lying on the beach, going diving etc, it’s so much more than that.
One of the most valuable things I gained from BVM was learning. Learning to identify the infinite and amazing things you find on the reefs from coral to invertebrates to fish, gives one a far more rich experience when diving. You learn how fish live, what they eat and what they do, how they live in conjunction with other creatures of the deep and thrive because of it. I enjoyed diving before BVM and came as an Advanced Open Water diver, I left absolutely addicted to diving and as a DiveMaster.
Our daily routine was something as follows:
8:30am - Awake to the sound of the oceans waves gently breaking over the shore, and the muffled sounds of light chatter around the breakfast table. Stumble into breakfast at Swiss Cottage which usually consisted of a choice of French toast, or eggs and toast done the way you like them.
9:00am - Prep for your morning dive and set up your equipment, have a dive briefing and a coffee and leave for your morning dives about 9:15am.
12:30pm - Return from the two morning dives having done point outs in order to learn the fish, corals and invertebrates if at the beginning of your expedition or having done surveys of the reef, inverts and fish if everyone has learned to identify them already. Then rinse and put away dive equipment whilst bragging about how many turtles, sharks, eels, triggerfish and any other cool stuff you saw on your dives to anyone who was unfortunate enough to not have been diving with you!
1:00pm - Get some lunch! lunch is cooked by the wonderful Stella, who runs Swiss Cottage (The beach front chalets that give you accommodation) or you may go out and eat at one of the many restaurants around Tekek.
2:30pm - Having had some time to digest your lunch, the afternoon activities can vary. You may spend your afternoon entering your data from morning surveys, working on environmental campaigns, planning trips to other parts of the Island, working with schools or the marine park on activities that they may have scheduled or doing a beach clean-up and having a bit of down time to relax when finished.
7:00pm - A nightly meeting to discuss what will be going on the next day, discuss the day’s events, watch one of the incredible sunsets that Tioman offers and once more brag about the things you saw on your dives during the day.
7:30pm - Dinner time! Again, either cooked at Swiss Cottage by Stella or go out to another one of the restaurants in Tekek and enjoy a fantastic meal.
8:45pm - Everyone breaks from dinner and usually head to the Cabana, a beach bar/dive centre just down the beach run by a load of great local lads that you will soon become friends with if joining BVM. Have a beer or cocktail, get your groove on, play some cards or learn how to spin fire poi on the beach and enjoy some down time in your evening before heading off some well needed sleep to do it all over again tomorrow!
When added up, BVM amounts to an unforgettable experience with a group of strangers that will soon become good friends. It’s educational, enjoyable and is one of the most valuable things I have ever done.