A breath of Gili air
Trip Start Dec 28, 2010
37Trip End Apr 24, 2011
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The journey to the Gili Islands was classic backpacker style....get on one bus, then wait a bit at a cafe type place, then walk down a road where they'll try to convince you you need to hire a horse and cart, then wait interminably for the "boat that leaves at ten" which really leaves at 10.45, or whenever you can squeeze on one, while some crazy guy chants cockney phrases in the meantime and tries to persuade you to buy a bunch of bracelets his uncle made. As with most of the boats we've got on, we ended up having to wade into the sea, where the violent tide ripped off one of my flip-flops - luckily it washed up almost straight away and a kindly fellow traveller snatched it up off the beach for me!
There are three Gili islands - Gili Trawangan which is the most developed "party" island, Gili Meno which is still relatively untouched, and Gili Air which is something halfway between the two
I was waiting on the beach by one of the dive resorts when I noticed an open-sided hut housing a collection of young Scandinavian boys smoking weed with an Indonesian guy (at half eight in the morning). There was a black cat asleep on a neighbouring bench - nothing unusual in that as Gili T hosts hundreds of cats. It's an island though, so they all look pretty alike, and some don't come across too smart from the years of inbreeding. The guys were laughing at something and there was a popping noise, at which point I realised they were shooting a BB gun at a hapless tabby confusedly running up and down in front of the bench. I went over to the bench to try and rescue the poor thing, and it looked up at me pathetically. If it had gone behind the bench it would have been fine, but like I said we're talking years of inbreeding here so it took me calling it out of the line of fire to save its skinny neck
If we hated Gili T from the moment we got there, I think the opposite was true of Gili Air. We trusted in a seemingly nice man who took us to a hotel on the other side of the island, a 10 minute ride by horse and cart (there's no motorised transport on any of the Gili islands). We went through a criss-cross of dirt tracks surrounded by fields filled with cows and goats, with little kids running through the streets and people smiling and waving hello. The hotel itself was perfect, on a deserted stretch of beach with turquoise water but with a few beach bars scattered either side. We splashed out (well £20 a night is upper end!) on our own beachfront bungalow which had a little Lombok style hut right on the water for lounging about drinking Bintang and watching the sunset.
We spent our first day lying on the beach in the blazing sunshine, at the edge of the clearest turquoise water I've ever seen in tatty loungers perched on the white sand streaked with beds of dead white coral. At about five the tide went out leaving an ankle deep layer of bathtub temperature clear water over the seagrass - perfect for scouting out tropical sea creatures
Gili Air is a one party a week kind of place, and we happened to arrive on the day of the one party. It was a pretty big event, and we saw three big amps being delivered that day...by horse and cart of course, which pumped out reggae and weird ace of base remixes from sunset. We headed down about nine-ish and sat on the beach in front of the fire (which it was too warm for anyway), watching an amazing lightning show performed out over the horizon, forked white streaks illuminating the clouds over the sea. The music was great but the sandy dancefloor deserted except for one mushroomed up lady dancing about with only a scarf for company, so we headed back towards midnight. We had a boat trip booked the next morning to do some snorkelling round the islands at 9.30 and given my rubbish one beer hangover record we figured it would make sense to take it easy.
Unfortunately, after waking up bright and early, still queasy despite the limited beer intake, the rest of the snorkelling party had already cancelled because they'd got too drunk the night before
We were really excited about the boat trip the next day, which was in a glass bottom boat as well. But disaster struck when we woke up the next morning to torrential rain, and I was even more annoyed at the people who cancelled the previous day with their hangovers - infuriatingly they had yet another day on Gili Air so could go the next day, while we were going on to Bali. We sat and waited until lunchtime, when the rain finally tailed off and then dashed back to Sandy Cottages where the boat was and agreed to shell out the extra cash if they'd take us out in the boat on our own. It worked out about £11 each in the end so it was hardly a huge extravagance, and we got our own snorkel guide, Adi
It looked ancient, stretching maybe three feet from nose to tail. Adi dived down and inquisitive, it followed him up, paddling around us and peeking its head above the surface to take a huge gasp of air. It was one of the most incredible moments of the trip sharing the water with this beautiful animal, which happily swam with us. I'll never forget seeing it silhouetted against the endless deep blue of the water.
The current was very strong so it was easiest just to drift along following Adi, as the boat looped round ahead of us. Swimming against the current is nearly impossible even with fins, taking an enormous effort just to stay still or move a few feet. As we carried on, Adi pointed out another turtle, this one a little more shy, along with snapper, barracuda and huge shoals of silver fish.
We hopped back in the boat both feeling completely awestruck and headed on to the next site at the Gili Meno reef wall. The coral itself is spectacular, so colourful and varied, it even beats the Great Barrier Reef (but don't tell the Aussies.) We were lucky enough to see about another six turtles as we made our way across the wall, although I doubt we would have seen them all without Adi's eagle eyes to help us
We headed back to Sandy Cottages after that, right next to our hotel, and Adi asked if we wanted to snorkel a bit there before going to the shore. It was quite shallow but I was curious to see what was outside our hotel so we carefully lowered ourselves in off the boat. We were rewarded with a huge electric blue starfish, beautiful pouty looking fish which are called Harlequin sweetlips, and best of all a seasnake. It was black and white and had a kind of frill shape, wriggling around through the reef. I couldn't believe there were so many amazing fish right on our doorstep, especially snakes which are pretty rare.
After getting changed and having a victory sea turtle spotting beer, we went back to Sandy Cottages for dinner, walking along the beach with a torch. The tide was completely out and the sea was full of wading islanders looking for nocturnal octopuses and fish to eat with nets and buckets, shining torches into the water. It was a beautiful night with all the clouds of the day gone, and so clear that we could see a dusty galaxy round two constellations
Sandy Cottages had had a good day on the waves fishing so they had a flaming barbecue and a table full of fresh fish. We opted to share an enormous barracuda we'd probably seen swimming around earlier. It was absolutely delicious, with crunchy chargrilled skin and soft flavoursome flesh. Lying back on our cushions drinking fruit shake, looking at the stars and watching the moon sparkle on the water, I was very tempted not to leave Gili Air at all.
But leave we did, and against parental advice because it was apparently very unsafe, got on one of the fast boats leaving Gili T the next morning, starting a long journey to our next stop: Borneo.