Feels Like Family

Published June 16, 2021 in NEWS, RESORT

“One of the warmest and most caring experiences I have ever had in my years of traveling around the world. Wakatobi is my second family away from home.” That is how one guest describes her time at Wakatobi. And she is not alone. Over the years, many who visit have described the ways in which Wakatobi had a special impact on their life, from revealing new wonders of the underwater world to evoking positive emotions and fostering a ‘family feel’. Here is the story of how Wakatobi changed a life and rekindled a love for diving.

Many of our guests have expressed how much they have missed their Wakatobi "family" this past year. We miss all of you, and can't wait to see you again soon.

Many of our guests have expressed how much they have missed their Wakatobi friends this past year. We miss all of you, and can’t wait to see you again soon. Photo by Didi Lotze

For more than four decades Louise-Andrée Belanger and her beloved husband Gilles were inseparable. Beginning as high school sweethearts, they became a world-roving couple who took up diving in their late 30s. They pursued this passion despite Louise-Andree’s tendency for seasickness, earning additional certifications with the goal of eventually becoming dive instructors.

Also at the top of Gilles’s bucket list was a trip to Wakatobi. Unfortunately, that wish was not to be, as he passed away suddenly while cross country skiing in the winter of 2016. His death weighed heavily on Louise-Andrée, and she was on the verge of selling her dive gear and retiring from the sport when a friend encouraged her to pursue Gilles’ long-time dream of visiting Wakatobi.

“In December of 2016, I started living out Gilles’ Bucket List’,” she recalls. “I came to Wakatobi and was met by two amazing members of the diving staff, Andrea Balin and Marco Fierli. Their patience and caring carried me through difficult times. They certainly had their hands full, as I was grieving and emotional after each dive.”

Louise-Andrée with Andrea at left, the boat crew and one of her favorite Wakatobi sunset memories.

Louise-Andrée with guide Andrea Balin at left, the boat crew, and one of her favorite Wakatobi sunset memories. Photos by Wakatobi Resort

“When I first met Louise-Andrée she struck me as a strong and enthusiastic woman, smiling and interested in diving tips,” recalls Andrea. “But then during and after our dives, I noticed that she seemed despondent and would go off on her own crying. I noticed it even underwater after she saw some beautiful corals or colorful groups of fishes. Then, after a dive, she told me about her sudden loss, and how she was used to sharing the beauty of the underwater world with her husband. She confessed that she felt guilty diving without him, particularly at Wakatobi, since coming here was his dream.”

When Andrea explained the situation to other divers on the boat, here was what Louise-Andrée describes as an outpouring of sympathy and love. “I still remember all those caring faces,” she recalls. “One by one they came to hug me. I have never been hugged so much in 10 days! Thanks to the help of two incredible friends that never let me down, I was able to fulfill Gilles’s dream and rediscover my love of diving.”

Wakatobi is place for making friends, sharing memories and feeling like family.

Marco Fierli and Louise-Andrée share a toast at Wakatobi. Photo by Wakatobi Resort

“Louise-Andrée came to us in distress, she was trying to cope with a huge loss, and she needed to get away from it all. I was her instructor for a GoPro course,” Marco recalls. “I soon realized that she needed more than just a guide or instructor. I listened as she felt comfortable sharing her pain with me, and we became friends. Wakatobi is just that for her. A place where you have friends, and everybody knows and cares for you. Now she comes back every year, and I can’t wait to see her again soon!”

“Wakatobi is just that for her. A place where you have friends, and everybody knows and cares for you.”

“I have met so many great people in my job over the years,” says Andrea. “But in no other place do these things happen. Some guests come back to Wakatobi after one or two years and it’s like they just left the week before. It’s as if they leave their lives at home and come back to continue their first holiday at Wakatobi, with the same warm feeling as the day they departed on their first time-like this is home. Is there a price for a feeling like that?”

“I am so proud of the owners of Wakatobi, who reacted so quickly to the crisis, putting a plan in action for the survival of the resort,” she says. “During the closure, they refurbished the property, and Marco kept me up to date on the work being done through his Vlog. Thank You! I can’t wait to see my Wakatobi friends once again, to hug them and thank them for all they’ve done to keep the resort alive and safe. Wakatobi will always be a place where I feel like Gilles is still with me as I live out his dream.”

After missing her 2020 return due to the Covid pandemic, Louise-Andrée has made plans to visit in 2022 and during the latter part of 2021 to celebrate her birthday. We are looking forward to seeing Louise-Andrée, and all of you, our special friends.

Contact us to plan your visit.  Enquire > here.   Email: office@wakatobi.com