Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Jamie Natural Health and Healing is her energy-healing consultancy. Her modalities, workshops and boutique natural products can be viewed and purchased from www.jamienatural.com.
Published February 28th 2018
An 'up-close-and-personal' dolphin experience
Swimming with Dolphins is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
The Melka Excelsior Hotel, at Lovina Beach in the north of Bali, offers an up-close and personal dolphin experience at an affordable price. Laid-back Lovina is resonant with dolphin-culture and has become a favourite destination for divers and other aquatic tourists and adventurers. Most visitors embark upon the popular ocean dolphin tour at the break of day, but a northern Balinese holiday is not complete without a visit to Melka Hotel, which has developed a once-in-a-lifetime dolphin adventure that is safe and enjoyable for the whole family.
The Melka Excelsior Hotel still ran my session even though I was the only one registered. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
Swimming with Dolphins at Melka costs $120 per person and bookings are essential. Generally, swimming is organised in small groups of between 4-6 people, and families are kept together. For half-an-hour, the trainer, who stands poolside, gives directions to the ever-patient dolphin called 'John' who never fails to respond and show the gentleness for which dolphins have become known. If you are in a group, the trainer is careful to ensure that all swimmers have adequate 'John-time'. I was extremely fortunate because even though I was the only person booked, the session went ahead. My one-on-one time with John will be forever treasured.
Swimming with Dolphins opens up the heart. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
Swimming with Dolphins includes a half-hour dolphin show at another of Melka's pools to showcase dolphin agility and the skilful experience of their devoted trainers. This show (which runs only if there are adequate bookings and hotel-guest attendance) is an absolute treat, especially for young children. Melka's 'performing' dolphins have been rescued from injury and are generally younger animals. The acrobatic show highlights dolphin intelligence and their grace and wets your appetite for the subsequent up-close and personal dolphin experience.
Feeding and stroking John was part of this unique immersive experience. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
After the dolphin performance, you are asked to shower before you meet the trainer who briefs you on safety protocol. This is fairly straight-forward: as well as basic pool-entry and life-jacket instruction, it is imperative not to pet or pat 'John the Dolphin', around his eyes. Life-jacket donned and in you jump! John, who is friendly and calm, swims over to greet you and the games begin.
This is a 'pure joy' experience. I could not stop smiling! Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
For a half-an-hour, the trainer takes John- and you - through the paces. Tricks, and turns are well- paced: you feed John, stroke him and are treated to a ride around the pool, first holding onto his back fin and later, onto his side fins as he swims upside down with you attached to his belly-side. These fast dolphin rides are full of splash and plenty of laughs.
John is gentle and impeccably trained. Be prepared for a lot of splash as he escorts you around the Melka pool. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
One of my favourite moments was asking John to 'spin' and 'turn': an explosion of pure joy as I created a true and natural conversation with a dolphin. I marvelled at John's body strength, responsiveness, and of course, the skill of the trainers who have worked with him tirelessly over the years. Dolphin-trainer rapport is as beautiful, as it is inspiring.
Dolphin kisses seal a beautiful friendship. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
The beauty of this dolphin experience lingers. There is a deep intimacy and warmth as you touch and stroke John on his belly, sides and back. Swimming with Dolphins is a tactile joy. There is heartfelt intrigue that comes with being so close to another animal species who is responding to your own loving intent. This humbling immersion into the dolphin world is sealed with a kiss.
Some dolphins at Melka may have been rescued and rehabilitated from injury, but remain at Melka because re-entry to oceanic life still poses a threat to their survival. Sea-faring tourists will notice that Melka's dolphins are bigger and are of different variety to those that frequent Lovina's coastline. When I visited Melka, there were four resident dolphins: two 'Olympic' acrobats in the performing show, John with whom I swam, and another older dolphin used for Melka's dolphin-therapy program.
The dolphin's patient nature makes them ideal for animal-therapy programs. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
Many children and adults with behavioural challenges or who are on the autism spectrum, visit northern Bali to specifically swim with Melka's dolphins. Susanto, who trains the dolphins for the therapy program explains: 'People come from as far away as Russia for our therapy program. Dolphins help them how to relate, and to let go of stress.' Dolphin Therapy is similar to other animal-therapy programs, which because of the non-judgemental nature of animals, inspire confidence in those who struggle with verbal communication demands. After being up-close and personal with John, it is easy to imagine what a life-changing experience the dolphin-therapy program would be for those who feel alienated in our fast-paced human world.
At last- a responsive Salsa partner! Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
Swim with dolphins at the Melka Excelsior Hotel and you literally escape into another world. The half-hour swim swings from fun times, such as the riding, to the deep emotion stirred as you touch John, feel him swim beside you and join his cheeky game-play. Be surprised as John shows off his strength and balance skills visible through backward slides on your signal;, and laugh out loud as you partner-dance together and nail text-book salsa spins. You know you have made a friend for life with an on-command tongue-touch. This is a half-hour interactive-swim that stays with you, ticking all the gradients of joy and beauty.
John knows the routine- you are in safe 'fins'. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
The $120 price-tag is expensive in a Balinese context but a pittance of what you would pay in the West for a similar experience. The Swimming with Dolphins package includes the show, the half-hour swim, two photo prints from a professional photographer, a take-home certificate and a complimentary after-swim drink and light snack of spring rolls. This activity is absolute value-for-money or, even more bluntly, a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Note that you are not permitted to take your own photos of your swim but for an additional $5, you can purchase the CD ROM which has in excess of 50 customised photos by Melka's professional photographer. It is a small price to pay for high-quality pictures of truly treasured moments (and you will help a local artist make a living).
For an extra $5, I gained a CD ROM with over 70 pro-quality photos. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
As well as being an international hotel offering a dolphin-experience and pool-complex, Melka is also home to crocodiles, otters, deer, birds and other exotic and rescued animals. You can wander around the zoo-like enclosures to visit other animals.
Swimming with Dolphins is in a large pool, within Melka's pool complex. Pic: courtesy of the Melka Excelsior Hotel
The dolphins have no say and are not free. They are trained like performing monkeys. They would be happier to be free in the ocean with other dolphins rather than having to perform and be cute for people in a swimming tank. Poor dolphins worked to be a profit.