The Gili Islands are known to be idyllic paradises free from dogs and motorised vehicles, not that dogs are much of a thing in Indonesia. Muslims don’t tend to like dogs so they don’t keep them around and even the dogs we met on Hindu Bali were owned by someone and only tended to have a little shout when someone wandered past. It shits you up, mind, even if they’re chained up and you’re expecting it, your heart still tends to try to take refuge in your throat. It’s not like in India or South America though where packs of strays dogs roam the streets, stalk terrified tourists back to their guesthouse and keep the neighbourhood awake all night with their barking and fighting. The no motorised vehicles thing though, that could be nice.
There’s one fast boat a day from Amed to the Gili Islands at 9.30am (Bali time though which tends to be a teeny bit elastic) and we were on it in search of white sand beaches. Even though I don’t like sand. Any sand. The colour is irrelevant. I’m an equal opportunities sand hater. Fucking sand. Gili Trawangan was to be our first stop, affectionately referred to as Gili T by all and sundry because more than three syllables are difficult after a couple of Bintangs.
This is the biggest island of the three and you can still apparently get around it in a couple of hours by bike. As in, push bike. The kind you have to pedal with your own actual legs, because no motorised vehicles, remember? Fuck. Y’know, my arse is so vast you could land a helicopter on it but despite this there’s no padding on it. I don’t get on well with bicycles, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the cunt after the first five minutes. Well we’d give it a go, right?
We got there in one piece but barely, the boat skipped over waves and I’m not even shitting you, I swear it got air a few times, crashing back down and upsetting everyone’s spinal columns. We located Candi of Ubud fame who’d beat us here by a day and found a wonderfully cheap place to stay thus eradicating the need to do any actual accommodation related leg work, rented a bicycle each and picked up some snorkelling gear from one of the many tiny stalls that rent that shit out. It wasn’t actually far to Turtle Point from here, so-called on account of all the turtles that mince around in the shallows. Go figure.
I think it’s probably best in the morning but guys, we still saw quite a few despite our lateish start. The beach slopes gradually downwards at first which allows for some pretty nice snorkelling before dropping off down a steep slope into the deep blue, and it was along the edge of this slope that we found the most. It’s pretty incredible. We watched as they munched food at the bottom then ascended to the surface so very briefly to suck in a gulp of air before returning to the seabed. I could watch them all day but I also like having skin on my back that hasn’t been claimed by the sun.
So it turns out you can get around the island by bicycle but there’s this little bit at the north end where you have to lift your bike up onto a narrow ledge and wheel it around and I managed to catch the pedal on the back of my calf in the process thus losing a bit of skin. Hmm. Maybe my dislike for bicycles is reciprocated. There’s also a lot of sand you’re better off pushing the bike through unless you’re some kind of masochist that actually enjoys pedalling through sand, you fucking weirdo, and once you’re round to the west side of the island you might as well hand over your bank card and your PIN because prices shoot up for those sunset views.
It’s resorts around that side of the island, backpackers tend to stay in the east and only visit the west to grab an Instagram photo on the swings at Ombok resort. I was expecting queues and loads of humans getting in the way of my shot because yes, I wanted my shot dammit, but it wasn’t that bad. There were no queues, people hung back and let others take their photos before they moved in and I didn’t have to roll my eyes at tut in a suitably British manner at anyone.
As for your dinner, you’ll want to go to the food market in the evening because you can apply a crap tonne of the stuff to your facehole for better-than-Bali prices. One of them offers five items for Rp20,000. Yes please, mate. I ran out of ideas after four, I’m not used to varied food or actual choices anymore, you confront me with anything other than nasi campur, nasi campur or nasi campur piled with everything whether I want it or not and I get all flustered and end up just pointing at something green because it looks vaguely healthy. Green stuff is healthy, right? Give me the green stuff. And a beer. Yes, there’s beer. It’s your one stop shop for all your digestive system’s needs.
Pro tip: If you’re getting up for sunrise just go to the beach. Don’t bother heading up Bukit Tranwangan, it might have once been good for sunrise views but now the trees are overgrown and all that bloody nature just gets in the way. So we wanted to go to Gili Air and there are speedboats which any one of the million travel shops will tell you about whilst insisting that it’s the only way. It’s not. There’s a public boat that leaves Gili T at 9.30am and 4pm, stopping at Gili Meno along the way which is the really really quiet island in the middle of the two. Please do check these times at the public harbour though, they’re very much subject to change.
Or you can catch a ferry to Bangsal on Lombok then a ferry from there to Air. Or you can just fork out for a speedboat, it’s your money, you splash it around as you see fit. What we ended up doing though, which I thought was a stroke of fucking genius at the time, was get on a 10.30am snorkelling trip which stopped at Gili Air for lunch then simply don’t get back on the boat.
Well that backfired didn’t it. We told the guy of our plans and he said it wouldn’t be a problem. We confirmed with him that all three snorkelling sites were before lunch so we’d still get to see everything. There was even a fucking map that blatantly said it was snorkel snorkel snorkel lunch. Nope. It turned out it was snorkel snorkel lunch snorkel, and if I’m honest the snorkelling was a bit shit anyway and it was only the fact they were chucking biscuit crumbs into the water (and is it more than a little bit wrong I had to fight the urge to float by the boat where they were chumming with biscuits because I wanted the tasty tasty snacks too?) to attract fish that we saw anything other than dead or dying coral.
But that’s not the point. Tarrant ended up on the phone to the guy who’d mis-sold us the trip whilst the crew on board took the brunt of her wrath and Candi called out from the water to the staff, “Shame! Shame on you!” It was all very dramatic. It got us to Gili Air though and Tarrant got us a little bit of money back so we ended up only spending the same as we would have on a speedboat.
Gili Air isn’t a place where you go to do stuff unless that stuff involves snorkelling and Bintang and lying very still in quiet contemplation. Well, quietish. There might not be any motorised vehicles but taxis both here and on Gili T come in the form of horse drawn carts with a shit tonne of bells on so it sounds like a troupe of morris dancers on crack are passing by the guesthouse. Some locals actually do have scooters too but they’re electric, the downside of which is the fact that you can’t hear the fuckers coming until they’re right behind you, hitting the horn, and you have to retrieve your nerves from the nearest tree.
But Air is billed as the happy medium island; not as crazy party as T, not as dead as Meno, and at the moment it was even quieter on account of Ramadan. Candi and Tarrant went in search of a place to stay, Candi located a cheap food place called warung Muslim which was still serving nasi campur to tourists despite it being the holy month and we were set. And no, we wouldn’t be renting fucking bicycles, my arse still hadn’t forgiven me for the jaunt around Gili T.
So anyway. Relaxing is generally what you do here so relaxing is what we did. We bar hopped with Candi, drank cocktails, read books, and after she headed to Lombok to continue her journey we did some more relaxing with a spot of turtle bothering thrown in. There’s a place on the east of the island, about halfway up, where you can rent snorkelling gear from a bloke in a little wooden shack then leave your crap with a bloke in a different wooden shack diagonally opposite, right on the beach, who also just happens to sell Bintang.
Then you walk north a little bit, get in the water and very slowly drift snorkel back to where the beer is, purchase beer from the lovely gentleman who’s minding your gear, consume said beer, resume snorkelling, repeat as many times as desired or until water safety becomes questionable on account of the quantity of Bintang you just applied to your basic motor functions.
You don’t snorkel in the Gilis for the beautiful coral beds because they’re mostly bleached and dead. You do it for the marine life, predominantly sea turtles and one of them came right up to us. Okay, she actually came right up to whatever it was she wanted in her facehole, we just happened to be in the vicinity, but she gave exactly zero fucks about the over-excited homosapians floating around above her a mere couple of metres away.
I also saw a sea snake swimming around in the seagrass so I followed it for a bit because who wouldn’t follow a venomous creature to see what it’s up to? There are loads of fish and terrifyingly spiky urchins to put in your eyeholes in between beers too. It’s hours of fun. It’s just a shame about the ruined coral but I guess that’s what happens when you add humans to the ocean.
I reckon I could spend longer here and on Gili T buuuuut we can’t because we booked a trip on a boat to Flores which I may or may not regret because boats are the devil’s transportation and I dislike boats more than I dislike bicycles. Bicycles might cause enough damage to make sitting down an extreme sport but at least they don’t try to coax my last meal out of my stomach and deposit it all over the nearest available surface.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
Stayed at: Indah Beach Bungalows, Gili Trawangan
Bambu Homestay, Gili Air