|Feature Kid`s Diving - Dive Young
More and more children are getting into diving, and with the SEAL Team and Junior Open Water programmes, it has never been easier. Louise Murray joined three families on a trip to Egypt to get the kid`s responses first-hand.
Roey and his mum Bucket joined two other families of friends who all wanted to experience the underwater world for themselves. Three adults Bucket, Glynand Sarah and Amethyst, my 11-year-old niece, all tackled the full diving course, while the three little ones went for SEAL Team membership.
Avid watchers of the Blue Planet documentary series, the excitement started to build well before the holidays when the three kids - eight-year-old Millie, nine-year-old Natasha and Roey - all received their PADI SEAL Team packs. A fun video with cartoon characters introduces them to what is coming up on holiday, and increases excitement levels to fever pitch. For practice, all of the kids took snorkels, masks and fins into the family hot tub and local swimming pools, so they were real water babes by the time they actually got to Egypt. Sarah Hawkins said: "We`d always wanted to learn to dive properly, and didn`t find out until recently that it is something you can do as a family. For the first couple of days, we were all doing our training together in the same swimming pool, so you get to know the instructor who`s working with the kids quite well. I think that`s important.
"It was like flying, and it is so cool to breathe underwater," gushed Natasha. Her sister Millie chipped in: "I wish we - I t`s been the most-fantastic experience in my whole life!", writes eight-year-old Roey Edelman in his holiday journal, "I`ll never forget it." He`s also stuck in all his photographs and done a presentation at school, all within a week of coming back home to Cheshire. Roey has been on holiday to the Red Sea Riviera in southern Egypt, becoming a PADI SEAL Team member by learning to dive.
Diving and snorkelling feature in four of the top five things we want to do before we die in a recent BBC survey, so it`s perhaps not surprising that everyone - and especially the kids - enjoyed themselves quite so much. What may surprise you is that children as young as Roey and his pals can safely could have done more Aquamissions, my underwater photography one was great, and I took all the pictures into school. My friends were all jealous, no-one else had even been to Egypt - and I got to learn to dive, too.
The SEAL Team course takes the youngest ones through all the same underwater exercises as the adults but, as the kids have no fear at all, there was no dithering about taking off their masks and clearing the water out. In fact, the kids got through the skills parts of their experience far faster than the adults. It also helped that instructor Julien kept the emphasis firmly on fun! Life for the hermit crabs of Marsa Alam will never be the same and it wasmy fault, suggesting crab racing on the beach to give us adults a chance to have a relaxing after-dinner drink. It all started on a quite-modest scale that first evening, but by the end of the week hundreds of crabs were involved in threading their way through tortuous sand mazes. The crabs helped enormously in keeping the kids out of the sun in the heat of the day as they played in palm-thatched shade by the water`s edge at our base, Blue Heaven Holidays, at Tondoba Bay.Cove 50 minutes from Marsa Alam airport - a direct five-hour flight from London Gatwick.
For those with security concerns about Egypt, Tondoba Bay is a reassuring place. Run by experienced staff - general manager Ayman Taher is in the diving business since 20 years. He laughed and said: "No-one would dare to try and come in here."This part of the Red Sea is in an early development phase, with the airport only open a couple of years. The desert coast abuts the clear blue seas and just a fewmiles inland rise the rocky mountains that are often shrouded in a dusty desert haze that makes for spectacular sunsets. The best comes after dark when an impossibly orange moon rises above the sea to the east, gradually shrinking and turning to yellow and then white.
Late afternoon one day, we hired agroup of camels and took off into the desert to watch the sun go down an meet a Bedouin family. There were a few tears when Millie met her first camel and was lifted up on to Dad`. Glyns knees a couple of metres soon dried up as we set off in our own caravanserai, swaying across the valley floor. While I firmly maintain that a camel is far-more comfortable than sitting on a horse, not everyone agreed,and Sarah gratefully staggered off her steed once we`d reached our final destination. Saed, our guide, is a local Bedouin, and makes it clear that assuming that Bedouin and Egyptians are much the same is like telling a Scot that he`s English. They are a proud people and pleased to talk about their heritage and local customs. He pointed out where the local people had dug wells into the dry riverbed while answering a barrage of question from everyone, fascinated by the chance to learn more about the way of life of these nomadic people.
Arriving at the Bedouin camp as the sun was setting behind the mountains, the women made us local flatbread - a bit like hot pitta bread and eagerly demolished by hungry children. Later Aisha, a four-year-old, took the kids off to show them her kitten and the goats. "The best bit was when we got to hold the baby goats," said Amethyst. "We couldn`t speak the same language, but we all understood what we were saying to each other. I don`t know if I`d like to live in such a dry place, I like rain and green trees, but it is great to see a different culture and style of life."
Later, in the growing dusk, the men made up refreshing mint teas, another hit with the children and adults alike, followed by Bedouin coffee flavoured with ginger and a chance to try a shisha pipe, but all too soon it was time to leave and bump in the jeep down the valley back towards the sea. The next day, Julien came to the hotel to award the SEAL Team with their certificates and take some pictures. Later, the adults and Amethyst finished their classroom work and sat their exams.
"We did have the option of doing some of the tests and pool work at home before we came out, but decided that we just didn`t have the time, even though it was only a couple of evenings and a weekend. It would have been even better if we had, because that would have meant more time in the sea diving, seeing fish, and less in the classroom and pool." said Bucket. "My favourite part of learning to dive was seeing fish like the lionfish that I`ve seen on the telly, and watching goatfish rustling in the sand with their funny feelers to catch food," said Amethyst, "but it was also good fun when Mahmoud and me took off our fins and did a moonwalk together, totally weightless, bouncing along the sandy bottom. "Bucket, on the subject of diving, said: "Im going to do it again as soon as possible, it was wonderful. I`m extremely keen to do more, in fact I`m starting further training so that I can dive here with my husband. In a year or so, we`ll take Roey back to Egypt and dive together as a family."
For me, the real stars of the holiday were the Egyptian people themselves, who both love kids and have a real senseof hospitality. The restaurant manager at the hotel, running late on opening the buffet, sent out a plate of chips for the kids to get going on. Joseph at reception ran up an impromptu magic show to entertain them that was so popular he had to do it three times over the course of the week. The shop owner presented all four with a stuffed camel, and Ayman and his staff at Tondob Bay spoiled them with ice cream and put on a special Bedouin feast, to which we were invited as friends one evening. A fantastic experience all round.