With roughly 25 of them scattered around the island of Lombok, there are 3 that receive the most attention, Gilli Trawangan, Gilli Meno and Gilli Air. Just 30 years ago these 3 Gillis (meaning small island) were uninhabitated but with their powder white sands and crystal clear waters with the backdrop of the mountains of Bali and Lombok on each of the islands horizon it was only a matter of time before the resorts, bars, restaurants and dive shops were going to pop up.
Being the biggest, boasting the best party life, top class resorts and home to the majority of the population of the 3 islands, Gilli Trawangan (or Gilli T as it is most commonly known as) was our First stop........
5:40 am isn’t a time you want to be waking up when you’re on your holidays, but as the shuttle bus was going to be picking us up at 6.30-7am, we had to peel our clamming bodies from the bed (after another hot night in our budget jail cell) . A nice 30 min worrying if we were going to be picked up at all wait on the steps later and we were all aboard the minibus en route to Padang bay harbor. A good 1.5 hours weaving through the scooters, cars and horse carts later we arrive.
The benefit of our boat deal was they sort out all your baggage, so no need to wrestle with your bags with locals trying to carry them for you then demanding money (which can be a big problem). There was a wait checking in to the office and while we waited for the inevitable street sellers approaching you trying to sell you glasses, fruit, shoes etc. While I was giving them the usual "no thanks" I could see out the corner of my eye Sarah was growing more and more worried about the boat. The Lombok strait is renowned for its choppy waters so Sarah’s concern was legitimate.
So with our fingers crossed we walked to our ocean express boat to find a beauty of a specimen! Nice and clean, with individual leather seating (no squeezing together on this beauty!) and with 5x 250hp outboard engines at the rear I could already feel this was defiantly going to be a "fast boat”! We left the Padang bai harbor at a slow pace with the swell making us sway side to side making Sarah feel glad she had her sea sick tablet 30 mins prior. Word was being spread that all the windows needed to be closed (shutting off the fresh air supply to the seasick fearing passengers) but all of a sudden, in a swift but effective motion, the throttles were opened and the 1250hp engine roared to life with the boat bouncing over, in and on the waves, violently kicking water up the sides of the boat. So instead of fearing sea sickness it felt like a hold on as tight as you can roller coaster rally drive!
Unsure how, we both drifted off to sleep for the remaining hour of the journey waking up at the Harbor of Lombok. Surrounded by crystal clear waters that reflected a million shades of blue. It is the perfect path leading to the 3 Gilli Island located just 5 km away.
Making a short taxi stop at Gilli Air, then onto our destination Gilli Trawangan, it soon became clear just why people rave about each of the Gillis as they all look like something you would see on a a postcard. But upon closer inspection, my first impression of Gilli Trawangan fell well short of the deserted tropical paradise that i was expecting. The bustling main street full of shops, bars and resorts resembled a mini island style Kuta. Was I expecting too much? Come to think of it........what was I expecting? After all this is the biggest and most popular Island and being the high season it’s able to accommodate everyone from families to single backpackers on any budget.
Need a room?????
The good thing about looking for accommodation on the island is that you don’t have to really look for it (unless you know exactly where you are going) because your are approached by endless people offering you theirs. So you just ask them the price, work out if it’s in your budget, and then have a look. Typically the accommodation located on the beach is the most expensive ranging from 300-600,000 rp (per room per night) and the cheaper more budget options are inland where they range from 100-300,000rp. After all the offers we ventured 150-200m inland and ended up agreeing a deal of 150,000rp for a double room, cold saltwater shower and breakfast at the pleasantly looking Milla home stay.
Of course it would of been nice to be at one of the resorts with the swimming pools and a/c etc but looking at the positive side we would get some exercise walking to the shops, beaches and bars and also we would be out of the noisy hustle and bustle.........or so we thought!
2011 creature comforts............1911 forms of transport
After the first 10 minutes you soon notice that there are a few things that are unique to the 3 Gilli islands. The most obvious one is the law that there is to be no motorized vehicles on the island, meaning the only forms of transport are push bike or the popular horse and cart (just listen out for their horns to let you know to get out the way because you don’t want to get a whack from one of them !). Not only is it an absolute dream to not have to listen to engines roaring all day or choking on the smoke but its way more fun! The other, more subtle but completely obvious difference, being cocktails of the more alternative variety because they contain mushrooms of the more magic variety. While cannabis is illegal mushrooms don’t seem to be, so it’s quite amusing to see all the advertisements around offering to "take you to the moon".
Food and drink
With plenty of restaurants offering menus of local (Warung - rice and noodle based dishes) and western (pizzas, pasta, burgers etc) food there is no shortage of options. Although we only went into the larger establishments on the beach front to take in the incredible scenery and kickback with a fruit juice or beer. We always opted to stalk out the small cafe style restaurants, street food stalls or markets where local Indonesian food is on the menu. These places are always going to raise a few questions when it comes to hygiene but the only rules you should live by are......if locals are eating there its 1. It’s cheap and 2. It’s good. (10,000-30,000rp a meal!)
Our favorite places were:
The market: Where after dark it comes alive with bbqs, rows of fresh fish, chicken and vegetables. All of which is reasonably prices with small fish 20,000 - large fish 100,000. The larger the fish, the more people it serves.
The kiki-novi restaurant/cafe: A small cafe with a Warung menu but it is all the pots of different vegetables, curries and meats that are at the counter that draws the crowds, because for 20,000rp you can get a big buffet style feed of each of the dishes. Defo a crowd pleaser!
Gado-Gado street seller: Located at the harbor ticket office a lady serves up the local dish of nassi goreng (rice, local veg, satay sticks, peanut sauce and chili sauce) in a massive prawn cracker (so you eat your plate, lol) for 15,000rp you can also have the optional fried vegetable and tofu in batter for 1,000rp (yum yum). This is my favorite dish of the trip so far. I even had it every day!!!!!!
Island life....for us
Being the largest and most popular island there was always something to keep us occupied, so when it gets too hot catching rays on the beach, a dunk in the sea cooled us down and we also were able to snorkel the crystal clear reef where an array of colorful fish and sea turtles were almost everywhere ! When we wanted a break from the various beach bars, the lay down cinema showed 2 new-ish films each night and while the only condition you had to buy a drink or some food each it was great fun and different. We only went out on the tiles a couple of times, one being a few beers at different beach bars, then ending up at "tir na nog", the smallest island in the world with an Irish bar! Another being the Full moon party where after being intoxicated on local vodka, local red bull and packets of NRG powder called Joss we partied under the brightest moon I’ve ever seen with locals, tourists, djs, fire dancers, fireworks and a big camp fire (not sure why because at 2am it was still 25 degrees !). Not having any sleep that night, the next day we felt very rough, but luckily because if there is one place to have a big hangover it’s on a paradise of an island!
Looking past the resorts.............
All three of the islands are actually inhabited by communities and although most of their income is from the tourism, normal village life goes behind the busy beach resorts with such things as school for the kids and (as most of the island being Muslim) prayer time (trust me you are reminded of this 5 times a day most notably at 5am (!) when prayers and announcements are made over the (very loud) speakers). One of the big incomes for families is the kind of place that we stayed at. Called a home stay or a "Pondok" its literally a home been made into several rooms. They are then rented out as accommodation, while they live in, what is sometimes, pretty dire conditions in comparison. I understand that western poverty maybe very different from Indonesian poverty because how do you exactly class poverty it in different cultures? But with 5 star resorts no more than 20-30 meters away the village is a stark contrast in comparison.
Ok, I got woken up each day at 4am by the chickens, the massive problem of rubbish isn’t exactly pleasant on the eye and the pathways are sometimes "questionable" but you know what? I wouldn’t of changed it one bit because when you make the journey to and from your home stay you talk to the locals, eat from the same food stands as everyone else and see kids play up trees and on their bikes with the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen! Sure the villages are rough around the edges but it was real and shows what life is like for them, thats something that I want to experience in every place I go....
Look out for my next blog entry when we experience our first stick fighting match !