Turtle Surfing at Gili Islands

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I have aquaphobia. My childhood memories consisted of me watching other kids paddling happily with their parents in the swimming pool, while Dad desperately tried to lure me to learn with the promise of a large ice cream cone if I oblige. I didn’t of course, nothing in the world was good enough to compensate for my fear of the water, as I thought to myself.

Now, as a grown adult, I thought it was time for me to start facing my fears. This year, I decided to strike this off my list and pursue deep water snorkeling. Very timely for my trip to Lombok in Indonesia, particularly around Gili Islands, the home of sea turtles and other eccentric marine life in crystal blue waters.

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Where is Lombok? I thought you might ask. It’s Bali’s shy little sister. While Bali has blossomed and turned into an Australian young backpacker’s Summer Ibiza, Lombok has been quietly waiting in the background for its time to shine. The roads here are small and treacherous, the mountains are steep with adventure at every turn, and its beaches are quiet and beautiful.

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As someone who frequently travels, I love exploring unspoiled location, as they are now few and in between. Lombok has retained that idyllic charm while being only 4 hours by boat to Bali and 30 minutes to Gili islands, where I indulged in snorkeling with sea turtles.

If you have ever dreamt of swinging in a hammock, drinking from a fallen coconut and staring into the distant sunset before leaving some of footprints on a white sandy beach, then your Southeast Asian island escape awaits for you here.

I breathed in the pungent sea air before I arrived at the jetty from our hotel. The sound of waves swayed back and forth against the morning tide and I stopped for a moment just to take in the endless ocean view.

The sound of waves swayed back and forth against the morning tide and I stopped for a moment just to take in the endless ocean view.

The captain (his name KK for short) informed us that we are the only two booked for the morning’s snorkeling session to Gili Islands, which meant that we had the entire boat to ourselves for the next 4 hours with 2 other deck hands to help us navigate the waters.

The boat was quickly loaded with essentials, while we received a quick 2 minutes lesson how to master our breathing through a snorkeling mask. Then, off to the ocean we went.

Now, coming back to my issue of aquaphobia. Despite having learned swimming finally in high school, I, till this day, can’t stay afloat in deep water. Treading water just doesn’t come natural to me, but I’m working on it.

So as the captain parked his boat in the ocean, we were told to put on our life jacket along with our snorkling gear. Then, I just dived in. The cool sea water surrounded me, while I took a little sneak peak into the world below.

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I was stunned with the depth and also the beauty that I saw. Quickly coming up for air, I looked over to Mr. New Yorker and he had the same reaction, albeit he swallowed some salty water in the process.

We were then guided by a deck hand as we navigated towards the sea turtles resting grounds on the ocean floor. First, there was a flurry of shiny marine life passing us by as the sunlight reflected off their metallic bodies. Then, I almost held my breath as I saw a little sea turtle swimming below me to come up for air at the surface. I let go of my guide’s hand as I lost all fear while swimming towards the little creature to get a better look.

I let go of my guide’s hand as I lost all fear while swimming towards the little creature to get a better look.

It was such an amazing feeling to be in nature and experiencing everything first hand. Soon after that, we were surrounded with 8 larger sea turtles and the entire family hanging out in the sun light. Quickly as they came, they swam deep into the blue abyss below.

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We pulled the boat on shore to Gili Air, the medium child of the three Gili islands. It’s not too boisterous with party seekers, but not too quiet with lack of facilities either. The only form of transportation on the island were old-fashioned pony carts. We enjoyed a round of local beer with the crew and bar staff, chatting about all things that fascinated them about England as much their Indonesian culture which fascinated us.

I was completely mesmerised with the remote island experience around me. When we went back on to the boat, the captain casually told us that there are sharks who are around here once in a while. “But they are friendly,” he laughed as he saw the expressions on our faces. We were really glad that they told us after we had finished our snorkeling!

This is the sort of place, where people say it is heaven on earth. It’s the sort of place that some say is paradise, a total escape from the daily grind. It’s the sort of place you come to forget about your worries about the world, and come back reinvigorated, excited about the possibility that life can bring. It, ultimately is, the place to gain perspective and to live life on the slow lane.

  • I totally get your childhood fear of the water – I had the exact same thing and my mum would have to drag me to swimming lessons kicking and screaming. How amazing that you got to snorkel with sea turtles – that is definitely one for the bucket list!

    • Thanks Maggie! I love your blog too btw. The next one on the list will be sky diving, I also have fear of heights so that one will be interesting to experience. Fingers crossed I survive!

  • This is such a beautiful post, Laurie! Like you, I have a weird, irrational fear of being in open water … sometimes this even translates to the pool! John always asks me why I swim like i’m being chased by a shark, haha. Anyway, we went snorkeling in Thailand and at first, I jumped out immediately. Then, after a few minutes passed, I decided to go back and – oh my goodness – I’ll never forget it! It was such an incredible experience seeing all the tropical fish and coral around me … it’s interesting how we both confronted our fears and were so mesmerized/distracted by the beauty of what was in front of us that we forgot to panic!

    • Wow! I completely agree with you JT. The vast openness of the deep ocean still scares me, but with snorkeling I’m getting more comfortable with it. It’s such a beautiful world below water level. I will never forget it. Thanks for sharing your experience too!

  • Laurie, what a gorgeous post, and how brave of you to face this fear head on!

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