My first scuba diving experience: I was only seventeen and had just completed my Padi Open water course with my Mum, Dad and two brothers in the grey murky waters of Weymouth on the South Coast of England. We took the course in preparation for a two week diving holiday in the Red Sea, Egypt.
I remember my first dive in the Red Sea like it was yesterday, the contrast from the cold murky waters of weymouth to the warm crystal clear waters of the red sea with thirty metres visibility.
The colours were so vivid and vibrant, it was like entering another world. In short, it blew my mind, and I was hooked. I loved it so much, I remember telling my Dad I’d rather not go university and would prefer to take a gap year for travelling and becoming a Dive Master. He quickly talked me out of that idea, and pushed me to go university before travelling. Of course parents are so sensible and that’s what I did.
After that trip during every holiday where I had an opportunity to dive, I would. Then as years passed my other interests and priorities took over. I then didn’t dive for over 10 years, but still yearned to be underwater.
Manta Dive in Gili Air
Then on our return trip to Bali this year, a fantastic opportunity arose to do a refresher course and write about my experience diving on Gili Air with Manta Dive. It was like a dream come true, of course I jumped at the chance.
In fact this would be our second visit to Gili Air as family, we visited last year, and were excited to be returning. One of the many reasons we loved the Gili’s so much was the lack of cars and scooters. It’s a dream come true for young families, walking around the island with kids is so easy and very safe; the only thing to watch out for, are the odd bikes and horse and cart.
We took an easy transfer by fast boat from Amed in East Bali straight across to Gili Air, the journey took an hour and half. Manta Dive Resort is 10 minute walk or 5 minute horse and carriage ride from the harbour.
The location of Manta Dive centre was perfect for us as family, due it being so close proximity to the best beach on the island, with shallow and calm waters. Our girls love swimming pools, but on Gili air they actually asked only to swim in the sea. They referred to it as their big swimming pool, the water of course are crystal clear and calm, with the added exciting bonus of seeing some tropical fish.
Marco and I were both interested to see the island after the recent earthquake, it surprised us how well the island seemed to be functioning. The only obvious disruption near Manta Dive was the replacement of the underground electricity and internet cables. Plus the earthquake had affected the fresh water supply, which meant showers were a mix of fresh and salt water, which was a mild inconvenience and is due to be fixed shortly.
The Manta Dive Resort
Manta Dive is an organised little set up, with the dive centre and Dive pool and restaurant at the front of the resort then leading to the back are the modern air-conditioned bungalows, with outdoor showers, simple minimalist design in perfect keeping with the island environment.
We slipped easily into island life, with a quick snorkel and swim on our first day, then a shower and dinner with our feet in the sand and waves lapping below us. Island life was definitely good for the soul.
The Refresher Course
After a good nights sleep and healthy breakfast at Manta Dive restaurant, I was introduced to my instructor, Al, who would be taking me through my refresher course.
After meeting Al, I immediately felt at ease: a Yorkshire man who has been working on the Gili Islands for 5 years and the previous 5 years in Rotan, Honduras as Dive instructor.
It was reassuring doing my refresher course with someone with so much experience. I’ll be honest I was feeling nervous, as it had been such a long time since I last dived. I was hoping and praying that all the skills and technical knowledge would come flooding back once we got started.
After a quick recap video explaining some of dangers and safety aspects of Scuba diving, we went straight into the technical stuff, going through the hand signals and safety procedures and then on to the equipment set up and buddy check procedures. Al, made this easy to remember with funny acronyms like this one BRUCE WILLIS RUINS ALL FILMS – For the the Buddy Check procedure.
Before getting in the pool, Al reassured me, that it was fine to let him know anything I didn’t feel comfortable doing. My gut extinct told me, I’d be ok once I was in the water.
We started in the shallow end of the pool kneeling on the bottom, going through some skills mostly involving filling my mask with water, losing my regulator and using the correct technique to find it, as well as taking my mask off and putting it back on with my eyes shut and practicing the most important hand signals.
Al, always explained what he was going to do on the surface and told me which hand signals he would be using. He reassured me that if I felt uncomfortable at any time, all I needed to do was stand up!
As I had rightly predicted I felt fine once I was in the water, my nerves subsided and I went through the procedures and skills without any problems. We then moved to the deep end and repeated the procedures. Al, always explained clearly what we were doing prior to going under water and let me know what to do if I felt uncomfortable at any time.
Being in the deep end of the pool, did feel strange and took a little getting use to; I knew Al had my back though. We went through the final technical part of the refresher course which was mastering neutral buoyancy a key skill of scuba diving and then the final safety procedure was going back to surface using your buddies regulator, this procedure is to be used when either yourself or dive buddy run out of air.
With the pool side of the course done and dusted, Al told me he was impressed how much I remembered considering it was such long time since my last dive. He told me I was great in the water and had mastered all the key technical skills to use in open water. I’ll be honest this made me feel great and most importantly confident to go out in open water for the afternoon dive.
Isabella and Maya had been watching me from the edge of the pool and were intrigued to learn more about the strange equipment. Al, kindly let the girls jump in the training pool with me, to have play ith the regulator and make bubbles. They also wanted me to go underwater again to the bottom of pool, obviously still trying to get their head around me breathing underwater.
Prior to the afternoon dive Al, completed the briefing letting me know the location of the dive which was Hans Reef. Al, was very relaxed and happy to explain the fish and marine life we would be seeing to our girls as well, who were very interested to know whether we would be seeing Nemo, as well as learning the hand signal for clown fish and turtles.
Diving in Gili Air
After the briefing I couldn’t wait, to get in the water. Hans Reef was a short 5 minute ride on the boat, our equipment was already ready and waiting on the boat for us we just needed to carry our weight belt, mask and fins.
I felt reassured doing my first open water dive with just Al, my instructor. Although it seems a little selfish it was good to know if I had a problem he only had me to deal with. There were other people on the boat with us, but they would be diving in separate groups with their own instructors and dive masters.
Al, I were the second divers to enter the water, having already warned me he would hold on to me as we descended as he explained novice divers often forget to equalise their ears. I was glad he did, as I did have a few issues with my ears and couldn’t equalise properly so we went back up a metre to release the pressure.
It was a weird and wonderful sensation being in the open water, I was definitely more nervous. However about fifteen minutes into the dive, I started to relax and felt like I knew what I was doing. We had an excellent dive, seeing a huge variety of marine life from clarks anemone fish, peacock flounder, yellow infantile box fish, blue spotted ray, longhorn cow fish. Plus green and hawksbill turtles, my personal favourite.
Just Before ascending to the surface and during our safety stop, Al made me run through taking of my mask and putting it back on and taking losing my regulator and putting it back in. This was to give me the final reassurance that I could deal with these type of scenarios in open water and with that dive completed so was my fresher course, I was thrilled and excited to be diving the following day doing some fun dives.
A Day of Fun Dives with Manta Dive
The following day I was raring to go at 8.30am for my fun dives. I was introduced to my Dive Master Moly who was from Lombok and most importantly who would be my dive buddy, it turned out to be Sandrine from France.
Sandrine and I instantly connected through a shared a love of travel. We talked and exchanged travel stories for a few minutes. Afterwards, I felt relaxed and happy to be diving with Sandrin.
Moly, went though the dive briefing and told us we would be spending a lot of time near the sea bed searching for tiny critters like sea horses on this dive. The dive site was aptly named Seahorse Bay, so it was important to keep our eyes peeled. The dive site was located off the island of Lombok about a 20 minute boat ride.
Most dives off the Gili islands are classed as drift dives, due to strong currents, so entry and exit points are different. It takes a lot of skill by the boat captain to drop off and pick up divers safely manoeuvring the adapted fishing boats is quite a skill.
After jumping in the water, we descended and Moly wasted no time in searching and spotting those small elusive sea creatures. It was apparent he knew the dive site like the back of his hand and quickly demonstrated his knowledge, pointing out the most hard to see, sea creatures.
I’m convinced if I had been doing the dive on my own, I wouldn’t have seen a thing. The dive went well and we saw a whole host marine life from; colourful Ribbon Eels, Long finned batfish, yellow boxfish, Spiny Devil Fish, Peakcock, manta shrimp, scorpion and lion fish, plus five different type of seahorse, one looking so much a like a sea plant you could easily miss it.
Our Second and afternoon fun dive was with Moly and Sadrine again, there was no need to get to know a knew dive master or dive buddy. In sharp contrast to our morning dive, Moly explained during the diving brief we were going to see lots of turtles and big ones, which was very exciting for me, even though I had already spotted a few turtles snorkelling I never grew tired of watching these graceful creatures.
This dive site was called Marlin Hill located in front of Gili Meno. As soon as we were in the water Moly our diver master demonstrated his knowledge of the reef immediately spotting hard to see moray eel hidden in the rocks and and a day octopus hidden in the sand with just his head above the sand.
Of course we got to see the beautiful turtles, so many in fact, that we lost count both green and hawksbill, some of them huge with their shells measuring almost a metre of across.
We were lucky to be diving with Manta Dive resident photography Aaron from Wanderdeeper who snapped some great shots of the turtles including one with myself and Sandrine in the shot. This made me so happy as turtles along with whales are my all time favourite marine mammals.
Thinking Nomads Verdict
I had fantastic time diving with Manta dive and I would highly recommend them for both fun dives and for any technical courses, the staff are friendly and professional, with proper safety and operating procedures in place. All the equipment is new and good condition and most importantly clean. The groups are small and divided by competence.
I also really liked that Manta employed local Indonesians as dive masters and instructors and obviously looked after their staff well, as many of the instructors had been working at Manta for more than 5 years.
Also Manta Dive are very eco-conscious and aware of the fragile environment they are operating in and are proactive in their efforts to educate and inspire their guests to do the same.