James and I wanted to visit the Gili islands off of Bali (near Lombok) but we never made up our minds which of the 3 islands to actually stay on. Gili Trawangan is known as the party island, attracting the most tourists with an abundance of activities and nightlife. Gili Meno is the smallest island and most quiet, with a population of 500 people and the fewest (overnight) visitors. We’d heard Gili Air was really beautiful with wonderful snorkeling and only a few resorts, so this was a very strong consideration but ultimately James, Kelsey and I felt that after a pretty mellow week of sightseeing in Bali, an island offering some nocturnal adventures might be cool. Plus we could just bail to Gili Air if we hated it.
One strange irony of this party island is that most of the permanent residents who live there are Muslims. On the center of the island is a large mosque, which broadcasts readings from the Koran at prayer times over loud speakers, which can be heard as far away as the beach. It is very strange to listen to Bob Marley intermingled with Islamic prayers, while watching the parade of practically naked people (typical jean shorts are basically denim thongs).
The island itself is quite small, so there is no motorized traffic (not even the ubiquitous motorbikes) only bicycles and horse drawn carts. One main road circles the entire island, and is about a 1-hour bike ride (although its hard to tell how long exactly because parts of the road were so sandy that our bikes would get stuck and we’d have to get off and walk them). In terms of irritation due to the many (often drunk) tourists, my only source came from walking this road. You are constantly trying to avoid people dragging their luggage, the horse carts, people swerving on bikes and large muddy holes on the road itself. There is no where to go, as the road serves as both sidewalk and traffic lane, at times I felt I was having flashbacks to living off of Bedford Avenue in the ‘burg. A particularly scary/funny example was when Kelsey tried to go for a run around the island. About 20 minutes in, she was run off the road by a horse that had gotten lose from the cart and gone buckwild. After this scary brush, she realized exercise on the island was better left to swimming, dancing and bike riding.
We found our lodgings through one of the “helpful guys” who follow you from the pier where the ferry drops everyone off. He was the least aggressive and took us to Funny Homestay, a 5 minute walk off of the main drag. It was a nice enough room for all 3 of us with a private bathroom (no hot water), a sitting area in front and AC + a desk for James. In the negotiations James asked for 250,000 BR (about $23 USD) per night but after conferring with the owner of the homestay our middle man came back with $18! It’s always nice when something lost in translation turns out to be cheaper than planned.
We had a great time on Gili T lounging at the many cute beachfront restaurants, bike riding and enjoying the nightly scene. Every night had a life of it own from hanging with the locals at the Irish bar to a late dinner at the night market with Linda, my former Louis Vuitton co-worker, who also happened to be on Gili T. A particularly memorable night was on the South Sea Nomads sunset cruise. The boat departs at 3:30pm goes to a coral reef near Gili Air, where you have the option to snorkel, followed by dinner at sunset and drinking as you head back to Gili T. When we arrived at the meet-up location for the cruise, the rest of the group who appeared to all be British, were taking shots. Not just any shots but vodka mixed with a fizzy powder poured from a sealed silver packet. Hmmm, just what were we in for? On the boat we got to know the Britpack, most of whom it turned had only met in Bali in the past few weeks.
At the snorkel point the three of us were amongst the 8 people (out of 25?) who left the boat. The Australian crew from the boat pointed towards the direction of the reef and off we went unattended. After about 15 minutes of swimming together James joined a German guy (one of the few non-Brits) to explore the reef wall further ahead and after a minute or so, Kelsey swam away in another direction. Literally at that moment I notice a Hawksbill turtle scavenging on the seafloor directly beneath me. The turtle’s shell pattern blended in so perfectly with the coral, rocks and plants, that until it started moving I didn’t even see it despite its size. I stuck my head out of the water and called out to Kelsey but she was already out of earshot and I thought "Oh well I guess it’s just you and me buddy". It was AMAZING to observe (aka stalk) my first sea turtle, watching him eat off the coral with fish tailing him and nibbling at the algae (?) on the his/her shell. I tailed the turtle for about 10 minutes by myself, until Kelsey surprised me and finally I had someone to freak out with (as much as one can freak out silently and with a snorkel mask on) - right as he swam up in front of us for a breath of air. IT WAS BEYOND!
We climbed back aboard the boat exhilarated from our Jacques Cousteau adventures and relayed the sighting to our new friends who had been busy drinking while we were away. Around this point (it’s a bit fuzzy) we met a young woman who expounded on the many virtues of “Extra Joss” shots, the mysterious mix added to vodka shots. Supposedly a powdered ginseng (mixed with ?) along the lines of Red Bull, “which is only legal in Bali and in the Philippines” a mantra recited many times. When she learned that none of us had tried Joss, we were immediately ordered a round. Two shots later I could now understand why this group appeared to be life long friends. It was a very fun night, which ruined my ability to go on a longboat snorkel tour the following day.
For our last night on Gili T we planned a quiet dinner at the romantic, beachfront Indian restaurant – which we had! But it was followed by a stroll for a nightcap. Our little group was befriended by an Australian guy who WAS Mr. Gili T – a friend to all, a one man dance party/DJ and big fan of Joss. It turned out to be a long night, filled with new friends and made the already long boat ride back to Bali extra grumpy (me) and painful (James).
When you don't have any good pictures to show from a week, I think it's because you were too busy having fun! Or James was on a travel footage strike. For MUCH better pictures from our week on Gili T and other stories / insights, check out www.howtokissanelephant.com