If there’s one thing I learnt on Gili Air, it’s how to find the Scorpio and Gemini constellations in the night’s sky whilst half a bottle of overpriced cab-merlot down. That, I think, is a positive lesson. The rest of the zodiac, however… let’s just say they’re a “work in progress” (and, to be fair, I didn’t have my glasses on, so it’s a wonder I managed to find two).
A second thing I came to realise, was that sometimes cutting the cord of people in my life who are no longer serving me in a positive way, doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply means I like myself way too much to put up with your crap. I’m enjoying saying that lately: “I like myself way too much to… *fill in blanks*”. Positive manifestation in it’s perfect form; it’s taken just a week of saying that regularly for me to realise I actually mean it. It’s a refreshing change from the past few years where anxiety over people’s opinions of me got inside my head, or worries that I’d said or done the wrong thing, or that I was unlikable. If travelling has made me realise anything, it’s that I am likable, and sociable, and I love to make people laugh and share in their journeys, thoughts, ideas. Spending precious time worrying about the little niggling insecurities in the back of your mind is futile, because the voice in your head doubting and criticising yourself, isn’t what makes you ‘you’. So love yourselves, people!
My visit to the Gili islands has been pure perfection. As if I thought Bali wasn’t paradise enough, the trifecta of the Gilis (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are another world away once again. There are no cars or petrol-run mopeds allowed on any of the three tiny islands, meaning the only methods of transport around are horse and cart (which I didn’t really want to buy into), bicycle, or by taking an old-fashioned stroll! The horse and cart is such a tradition on the islands, no one bats an eyelid, but something inside me felt like I didn’t want to put my money into this trade. The horses are worked hard, in the sweltering humidity, pulling heavy carts often piled with a family-of-four plus luggage and the driver, and they always have to go at a trotting pace. I have to be fair and say the horses themselves don’t seem mistreated, especially compared to the terrible treatment of many animals in Asia – their owners do really seem to be fond of them. However, as someone who’s spent their fair share of time around horses, I could see many of their hooves weren’t in the best condition and they were often standing around in the hot sun for long periods of time.
To get more specific, Gili Trawangan (or ‘Gili T’) is very much the more ‘party’ of the three islands. This was my first Gili and to get there I caught a ‘fast boat’ by the company Scoot. Scoot are highly rated and love plastering “the most awarded travel company in Indonesia” all over their boats. I have no idea why. It cost me 600,000 rupiah (just over £30) for one way. This is expensive by both Indonesian and backpacker standards. Our boat left 40 minutes late (not the biggest deal – this is Asia after all), but then it proceeded to break down in the middle of the ocean, leaving all 50+ passengers and crew along with all our luggage violently swaying in the sea for 20 minutes with not a word said about what was happening, just the noise of hammer against metal on deck. The little boy next to me was throwing up in a plastic bag, a 20-something year old girl was crying, clutching at her stressed-looking boyfriend. I just breathed deeply and pretended I was one with the damn ocean to stop myself retching over the side of the boat. After that 20 long minutes, we were sent back to the nearest island to await a new boat, which arrived about 1.5 hours later and was far faster and better. Finally, relieved, we were on our way. I don’t expect things to go wrong, but they so easily can, especially in Asia! When they do, I try to accept that maybe it was supposed to happen this way so something else can fall into place. You’ve gotta have the really bad to make the good even better. Yin yang. Rough smooth. Light dark. On the beach whilst waiting for the new boat, I found one white and one black rock washed up next to each other on the sand. They felt like an omen confirming my thoughts; something saying “this is exactly what was supposed to happen”. I waited peacefully.
I’d booked three nights on Gili Trawangan, and I have to admit that was enough. If a strip of bars and clubs reminiscent of a European ‘girls/lads holiday’ is your scene, you’ll love it. But I’d just spent two weeks partying in Canggu, Bali, where the music variety and choice of venues are amazing and felt more ‘me’, and I was really looking to switch off from the drinking-every-night vibe. That said, I had a lot of fun there, and the Night Market is incredible. For 50,000 rupiahs (around £2.60) you can get 3 kebabs (calamari, snapper, beef, pork, chicken, etc) plus 3 salad sides and homemade sauces, which are MOUTHWATERINGLY good – but be warned, the hot sauce is no joke for Westerners.
I stayed in the Pondok Wahyu hostel – a good way to save money at only around £4.80 per night with breakfast included, but you do get what you pay for! When I checked in, I was told I had a roommate, and I don’t know why I expected a female, but when I opened the door to be greeted by a 6ft3 Polish man, I was a little taken aback! That said, Cezar turned out to be a great roomie and perfect gentleman, and we had a good time cycling around the island in search of the best sunset spots. Our bathroom also had the literal meaning of a skylight – a hole in the roof. It was perfect for stargazing, but not so perfect at keeping the critters in our room at bay.
I also met up with the new best couple I know, Georgie and Alex, and we went snorkelling with turtles, had many delectable meals and a lot of laughs together. Georgie I’ve known vaguely for a long time through a schoolfriend (holla, Bobs!) but it was the first time we properly hung out and I’m so happy to say I have two great new friends after this trip! The openness of travellers is so beautiful. Back home, this meeting probably wouldn’t have happened. But when you’re away from home, meeting someone you know – no matter how small the connection – is something you jump at the chance to do.
After being advised that Gili Air had a little more life and a lot less couples than Gili Meno (and when I’d already seen some of Gili Meno on my snorkelling trip), I decided that Air was the next stop for me. I’m so happy I went there. Days spent dipping in the ocean, the colour of which I can only describe as the lovechild of the colour azure and milk. Evenings spent enjoying fish kebabs barbequed by the beach, all you can eat sides and happy hour glasses of red. Conversations and time spent with locals which opened my heart and eyes to new ways of viewing the world, from people who have lived a life so different to mine.
My accommodation was called Old Village Gili Air, and I slept on the upper floor of a big bamboo structure, sharing a room with one other girl. The owner was Japanese and you could see that in some of the ways the guesthouse worked. For around £8 per night, you got breakfast included, a clean and very comfortable room with amazing AC, a shared but clean bathroom, and free (iced) tea, coffee, water whenever you wanted. I was so impressed, I’d definitely go back.
My final word is: snorkelling with shipwrecks and underwater statues, swingin’ in hammocks, delicious food, the most tempting of oceans, incredible people. If you’ve ever considered the Gili Islands – take it from me, you should go. If you’ve never heard of them before… well, now you have, so what are you waiting for?!
Until next time…