The Gili Islands

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Trip End Jun 27, 2009


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Flag of Indonesia  , West Nusa Tenggara,
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The route to the Gili islands is long and dangerous. We've read stories on the net of people traveling through the port of Bangsal and being harassed, soaked in seawater, pinched, punched and spat on, probably because of the downturn in Lombok tourism due to the bombs. And so, through gritted teeth we took the slightly more expensive travel option, with Perama tours (they were excellent, highly recommended).

Our first stop was Gili Air, billed as the middle of the road option, not too loud, not too quiet; when we arrived at 6pm it was hard to imagine things getting any quieter. The horse and cart (cidomo) jingled its way toward us and took us to our bungalows, on the ten minute ride we saw about four people. But, this is partly the reason why we came, the islands (except Trawangan) don't really embrace all that comes with tourism, or at least haven't succumbed to the lures of taxis or mopeds. I think it gives them a real charm. While on Gili Air we did some off-shore snorkeling and were rather impressed with the visibility and number of fish, unfortunately much of the coral is dead and it wasn't a patch on the Perhentian Islands.

After two nights we moved on to Gili Trawangan, the "party island". It was quite sad to see this beautiful island trying to be Ko Phi Phi, at times it towed the line between tacky and charming. Reassuringly a one hour walk around the entire island confirms that Trawangan isn't the black sheep of the Gili family. All the area not fronted by bars and dive schools have sandy, secluded (if a little narrow and littered) beaches. Sadly though, there are many signs reading 'Land for Sale', I think it's only a matter of time, I feel lucky to be seeing the islands as they are now. On the walk we also stumbled upon the villages hidden in the forests, these are a good insight into island life before the masses arrived. In fact, most of the people living there today are descended from fisherman who arrived a mere 55 years ago. All in all the parties are good and the islanders do their best to accommodate the tourists whilst getting on with their own religious obligations, whether the tourists like it or not (they begin chanting at 6am).

While we were sat on the over-crowded, poser beach at Trawangan we looked across the water at Gili Meno, we hadn't planned to go as Air was quiet enough, but looking at the pristine, wide, white sand, deserted beaches made us want to be there, so we went. Meno has by far the best atmosphere; a calm, friendly one. Having said that, the accommodation is appalling so it's a good job the locals make up for it. Our bungalow had fresh water (not only is this cold but it's also salt water, really clean!) and frankly, it smelt of poo, writing this is bringing back the memory of the smell so I'll stop here. The beach we chose was, as expected, deserted. I think it gives the beaches at the Perhentians a run for their money. There's also a turtle hatchery nearby ran by a local guy and funded entirely by donations. I guess they know that they have to keep the turtle population healthy as diving is the number one earner on the islands; fishing has been banned close to the shoreline, very strange for an island of inherent fisherman.

In the centre of Meno there's a bird park, but honestly, it's not worth your time. The birds look a bit worse for wear, some look damaged (some look psychotic). Meno though is definitely worth the visit, don't be put off by people saying it's too quiet, it's not. With a permanent population of just 500, I'd say it's just right.

All the islands have a healthy population of stoned workers who constantly forget your order and offer you weed. Trawangan has numerous bars and cafes selling mushrooms but we declined (look mum, I'm being sensible).
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