Gili Trawanagan, Indonesia
Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
47Trip End Apr 30, 2009
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Where I stayed
The place is called Melati Home-stay and it is situated about 50 meters from the beach, right across from the Head Village Office for Gili Trawanagan. There is no police on the island, so this office is used by the village elders for deciding legal and community matters. There is one of these offices on each of the Gili islands and then there is an elected chief that decides matters important to all three islands. We were told that the head person is currently seated on Gili Meno, the island next to Trawanagan.
Also on the short alley which we are staying on is a small market, which is used by visiting farmers to sell fresh produce. It is open from noon until 13:30 six days a week and Lisa and I have gone to it to buy some fresh mangos. I have a feeling that locals would pay much lower prices, but paid 5,000 Rp each time we bought a mango. The market is used by many of the locals and very few tourists seem to know of it. There is no source of fresh water on Gili Trawanagan, so almost all fruit and produce must be imported from Lombok.
Since there is no source of fresh water, the showers, sinks and toilets of most places use salt water. Some of the higher end hotels advertise that they have fresh water showers and pools, but they are rather expensive since all this water is imported from Lombok via boats. There are no dogs currently on the islands, although there are lots of cats. This is a bit of a relief for us after listening to the dogs bark and howl all night long in Padangbai. However when we asked why there were no dogs around, one of the locals told us that they had tried to bring dogs to the island before but that they had always died. I presume this is due to the lack of fresh water, but this is just a guess really because there are lots of cats around.
None of the Gili Islands have any motorbikes or cars on them. The islands are all pretty small, so we were told there was no need to introduce cars. There are many horse and carriages around if you need to move something heavy. There are also many bicycles available for rent and many of the local men ride around BMX style bikes for their transportation. Lisa and I walked around the circumference of Gili Trawanagan on our first day here and it took about two hours. I am still surprised that nobody wants a motorbike on the island though because they are so popular everywhere else in Indonesia.
Gili Trawanagan is famous for its party scene and there are quite a number of bars along the main road on the east coast. There are also quite a number of young men looking to entertain any of the women visitors to the island. This contrasts rather heavily with certain places in Thailand where there are lots of young women looking to entertain the men. The island seems to be run by these young men and they are happy to hook any of the male tourists with any party supplies that they may need. Of course anybody reading this that knows me would know that I would never do anything illegal, even if there are not any police on the entire island. However I overheard some of our young neighbors here that purchased joints for 50,000 Rp and a magic mushroom cocktail for 50,000 Rp as well.
Gili Trawanagan is lined right around it by beautiful beaches. Lisa and I have frequented the beaches and found great snorkeling on the northern coast of the islands. We noticed that the boats were dropping people off there for snorkeling and found that it was easy to swim through the 50 meters of shallow coral to get there on our own. The water is about as clear as any that I've seen in the world with visibility approaching 30 meters. The water is actually hot in the shallow areas but pleasantly refreshing once you get into the deeper areas.
It is really a pity that the underwater camera is out of commission because the marine life off of the coast is truly abundant. Most of the coral that can be reached without scuba gear has mostly died off but the colorful remains still seem to encourage a diverse range of fishes to gather around. We have seen huge schools of fish, including some giant ones that must be 20 kilograms each. I read that the snorkeling and scuba industry is so vital to the Gili islands that the dive shops actually pay the local fisherman to not fish around the island. Lisa and I bought some crackers and used a water bottle to bring some crumbs for the fish. It isn't really necessary with fish all around anyhow, but it was fun to see them eat what we offered them.
We spent six nights on Gili Trawanagan all together, but most of our days had very similar itineraries. We would wake up, enjoy our provided breakfasts of a banana jaffle (for Lisa) and a banana pancake (for myself), then grab our mats and head out to the beach. We usually walked north along the east coast and set ourselves up on the northeastern shore where we could take our snorkeling gear out and explore the reef and it's supported marine life.
After a couple hours of lying in the sun and snorkeling, we'd head to Kiki Nova Warung for lunch. Kiki Nova was a great restaurant for cheap eats. Our favorite dishes included the vegetable noodle soup (8,000 Rp), grilled chicken with rice (20,000 Rp) and fried noodles with vegetable and egg (10,000 Rp.) They also had delicious fruit juices for 7,000 Rp and I had a mango juice with almost every meal. The only real downside to this place is that you had to take off your sandals and venture inside to order or pay. The floor was really dirty and our feet would end up being black after this.
After lunch we would either hit the beach again or (if it was too hot), lie around our room and nap, play video games or watch a movie. We would eat dinner at Juku Restaurant or go back to Kiki Nova Warung. Juku Restaurant served excellent Mexican food for around 30,000 Rp a dish and also made an excellent fish and chips (I was told the fish was Tuna) for 30,000 Rp as well. The Mexican dishes we tried carried names like "fagos" and "varittoes", which I'm not sure are real Mexican dish names, but they were consistently excellent with their taste. Juku also seemed to use delicious home-made bread on their sandwiches, but the lack of mayonnaise (or any other sauce) stopped the sandwich from truly excelling.
After dinner we usually venture out to a bar for some Bintang beers before going to bed. The usual place was the popular Irish Pub (Tir Na Nog), which had a happy hour from 18:00 until 22:00 that provided large Bintangs for 18,000 Rp (the cheapest beer on the island). Another place next to it offered free wireless Internet, so we would sometimes get beers from there (20,000 Rp + 10% tax). Although the beers were relatively expensive in the bars of Trawanagan, there were plenty of local drinks available that were very cheap. A local spirit with mixer was 7,000 Rp for a single and 10,000 Rp for a double. The Irish Pub even offered free drinks for all females that sat on the bar one night until 21:00.
On Saturday night, we had more than our normal one or two beers at the Irish Pub (Tir Da Nog). I think it was around five each before we ventured out on the town to look for some better music. The Irish Pub advertised "live DJs", but they essentially just played random tracks from CDs that were mostly Top 40 and hip-hop albums. They had no idea what beat matching was or how to transition songs. The DJs were just bartenders taking their turns with the pub's CD collection.
Rudy's Bar was playing house music, so we pulled into there for some more drinks and fun. We quickly met the bar staff and two girls that were visiting from Darwin. Lisa screamed when she shook hands with one bartender that hid a small crab in his hand. Lisa did not see anything but felt the little legs crawling around between their two hands. I tried to share my MP3 collection with the bar, but their computer-like device that was used for music did not have a USB port on it. The girls were pearl harvesters that worked on a boat based out of Darwin. They were both very nice girls, but at this point I was really too drunk to remember much of our conversation. I am sure I did not make much sense to them either.
On the Sunday (Nov 16, 2008) that we were on the island, many of the locals had the day off and they also liked to spend the day on the beach. Lisa and I were approached by a half dozen students that asked if they could join us to practice their English language skills. Of course we were happy to talk with them and I learned that they were from a town in central Lombok and had spent 3.5 hours travelling to Gili Trawanagan for this practice. I also learned that they go to school six days a week, so Sunday was their only holiday. They said that they had 24 hours of instruction a week though, with a normal day starting at 7:00 and finishing by 12:00 (so I presume they had an hour off to eat each day). They explained how English was very important to them in order to help Lombok residents economically.
The tutor of the group told me that their village makes handicrafts, which are sold to Bali businessmen, whom it turn sell the good to tourists and the export market. He explained that they would like to do this international exporting on their in order to make Lombok more prosperous. He also understood that having good English skills was critical to make this happen, so as of this year English was going to be taught from primary school onward. Up until this point, only senior high-school students would have any exposure to English and many residents could not afford to keep their children in school for that long.
One of the more senior students, a 21 year old man, showed me some of the handicrafts that they produced in their town. There was some run-of-the-mill jewelry, but also some very interesting pottery made from coconut oil, sand and some fruit seeds that were cut up and placed in a pattern for decoration. I probably would've bought some if it was easy to get them home, but I have a feeling that they may have disintegrated in our dish washer anyhow.
I asked about furniture and clothing and he said there were craftsmen in his village that made both. He said that a typical piece of clothing would be woven by hand and would take one day to make and be sold for 30,000 Rp. Better articles of clothing would take two days to make and cost around double. Everybody was very friendly and they invited us to visit their village, but without a map around I have no idea how I would find them again.
One other interesting event that happened during our stay on Gili Trawanagan was when the Head Village Office became active at night. We asked Andy, the caretaker of our home-stay, what was going on and found out that a tourist had their camera, towel and money stolen from the beach. They had quickly rounded up the guilty party and had them in a holding cell while discussing what to do with them. Apparently they did decided it was too late to do much, so they left them in a locked room overnight and resumed their meeting the following day.
With plenty of local spectators around, we were able to find out normal practices for how such events were dealt with. First of all they explained that this was the first occurrence of a theft for the year of 2008, so this was not a very normal event to be watching. Then they said that the punishment would be different, depending on whether the guilty party was a tourist or an Indonesian. Tourists would simply be kicked off the island and taken to the Lombok police. Locals on the other hand could be made to walk around the island naked while the other local people beat them. After this they would be banned from the island for life and turned over to the Lombok police afterward. I suppose this humbling experience is why there is not very much crime on this island.
There were three men who confessed to this crime and they got off rather lightly, compared to the punishment we were told of. They did not have to walk around the island naked and nobody beat them, but they did have to wear a sign around their neck (saying they were thieves) and walk to the centre of town and back. After this they were banned from the island for life and turned over to the police. We were told that they could expect to spend three months in prison for such an offence. Pretty much every local person on the island seemed to watch them on their march of shame and you could tell that they were all deeply ashamed of what they had done.
During our stay on Trawanagan, we experienced yet another equipment failure. This time the casualty is the battery powered hair trimmer, which has accompanied me on trips around the world and had seen nearly every continent on Earth. They were over three years old now, so it is not really a surprise that we will have to replace them now. The only unfortunate aspect is that I had just purchased new AA batteries for them and we have no other equipment that uses these. I gave them to Andy from home-stay though; whom I'm sure will find a good use for them.
After six nights of living on Gili Trawanagan, I was starting to really crave a fresh-water shower. Between spending hours swimming in the ocean and then showering with salt water, I was starting to constantly feel dirty. We packed our bags and waited out in the harbor area for 8:00, the time that our ticket with PT Global was to pick us up whenever we were ready to come back to Lombok. There were enough other tourists waiting that we filled two boats (although they were not at all overcrowded) and we went back to Bangsal by 9:00. From there we walked the 300 meters to PT Global's office/restaurant and waited until the bus came to pick us up at 10:30. I enjoyed a banana milkshake (8,000 Rp) while we waited and watched some TV on my little laptop (which the locals all gathered around to watch as well.) Around 10:30 we boarded a bus that drove us to Hotel Elen in Senggigi, which took almost an hour.
I will remember Gili Trawanagan as one of the most beautiful places in the world, with friendly people and an active nightlife. The water and beaches surrounding the island are some of the most beautifully clean and clear in the world as well. Of everywhere we have been in Indonesia so far, this is the place I would most recommend, although Ubud also holds a special place in my heart now as well.