Gili Air

May 8, 2011 - Sanur, Indonesia

 Hey everyone.

We left Bali by fast boat and headed for Gili Air, one of three small islands close to Lombok.  The journey over was great, flat seas and bright sunshine, and we were accompanied by dolphins for part of the trip, which was a first for me and brilliant.

Gili Trawangan (or Gili T) was the first stop, the biggest and busiest of the three islands.  We dropped people off then headed across water to Gili Air, the furthest away with Gili Meno in the middle.  Air looked fantastic as we got closer to it, small (5km round), really lush and green with a sandy beach all the way around and crystal clear water and it felt really laid back from the moment we landed. 

We had been told to go to the Gogo bar by Karen and Mike, our friends we spent time with in Saigon, and ask for Eddie.  We found him and spent our first night in one of his bungalows, and spent the day checking out Air and finding somewhere else to stay.  We found great bungalows right next door to a dive school which owns them, booked in and we've been there ever since.  As we were unpacking I slid the bathroom door closed and there was a really nice plaster gekko on the wall.  I moved in for a closer look and it winked at me, then ran off.  It's the first one we've seen even though we hear them all the time, and they are much bigger than we thought - 10 inches or more, and really colourful.

There is a sandy road which runs around the whole island.  Transport is pony and trap or bicycle or you walk - the only form of transport with a motor are the boats which come and go, dropping people off or taking out divers.  Most of the beach bars and beach restaurants, plus tourist accommodation and dive schools,  are situated on the south side of the island on either side of the sandy road.  There are no  big buildings, most are simply made of bamboo and wood, but there are one or two places that are expensive and more flash but still in keeping with the island.  Only one has fresh running water, everywhere else is salt water showers. 

All the bars and restaurants are open and airy and on the beach, and these vary in size and popularity.  On our first day we went for a drink in the Gogo bar.  We ordered beer and as I picked up my glass for a slurp, I noticed my name engraved on the glass.  It was the weirdest feeling.  Zuby was snorkeling and when he came back, I showed him (in case I was going a bit doolally) but sure enough, there was Dina written on the glass.  He took it to the barman and asked them about it and it turns out the owner's sister is also called Dina - apparently it is an Indonesian name and pretty common here, which explains why I haven't had any trouble with people saying it or spelling it like I do in England.

The rest of the outer island is pretty much left to itself.  There are a few bars and bungalows dotted around the east and west sides but nothing really on the north.  The islanders themselves, who are a very close knit lot, have their own village in the middle of the island complete with mosque, school and everything else but this doesn't seem to be advertised.  It was a few days before we found this out and we've asked if it's ok for tourists to visit the village, which it apparently is, but we haven't been yet.  We are not sure but we think the islanders here work hard to keep most of their island to themselves, and not let it become too touristy or built up - land is extortionately expensive to buy on this island (for anyone who's not from here I suspect) and this may go some way to keeping it like it is, very natural while they profit from the income tourism brings in.

It took a couple of days for me to notice, but there isn't a single dog on this island, which we assume is due to Air being hugely Muslim - many Muslims believe dogs are dirty so don't keep them.  But the attitude of the people here is extremely different to that we found in Malaysia, which was also heavily Muslim.  People here are so laid back and nothing seems to cause them a problem - a real live and let live attitude.  Everyone says hello as you walk past, and they wave at you all the time.  They drink, smoke and judging by the amount of drugs we've been offered, indulge in that vice as well as well as others they are probably not supposed to.  Most of the women don't cover their heads, they wear trendy clothes, they hold down jobs and in some cases they even own the bars and restaurants we are using.  We have been told by several of the islanders that they are all one big family and it does seem to be that way - everyone seems to know everyone else or be related to them.  Zuby reckons it's like Eastenders - everyone knows your business in no time!

The people here seem really happy - I can't say I blame them, this really is a fantastic, beautiful place.  They start singing as their day begins before 6am - things start early and finish early here, with  most bars and restaurants shut by 10.  They also like to dance and it's not unusual to see the people working the bars prancing around with trays of drinks in their hands.  There is a lot of boat building here too, which the men do at the side of the roads - big boats too.  Fishing is big time here, a main source of food, and it seems to be done in a variety of ways.  Spear fishing is very common, and when the tide is out you see men walking in the sea collecting sea urchins we thing, or pulling long nets behind them.  They also fish from the boats - we saw one guy pulling in a fish literally as soon as he put his rod in the water.  He was only using little hooks and was catching little silver fish which they then use as bait for the big fish. 

We went for a walk around the island and found out that there are big spiders in Indonesia, they hang out in gangs on Gili Air.  And I do mean big - I don't balk at spiders but these have got huge black bodies, big black legs and are at least the size of my hand.  I'm told they've also got red eyes but I can't bring myself to go near one to check this out.  So far we've only seen them hanging on webs from trees or phone wires but they seem to gather together so you tend to see loads of them rather than just one.  I have put a photo on but I don't think it does them justice - I just couldn't bring myself to get up closer.

 There are loads of dive sites around the three islands and we've done a fair few of them so far.  On one dive we saw five turtles, the biggest being the size of a chest freezer with a head as big as mine.  There are also sharks, massive batfish, beautiful coloured fish we haven't seen anywhere else before, white tip sharks, massive blue starfish, cuttlefish, sea snakes, rays and fantastic coloured coral which is in really good nick in many places - a lot of where we've dived before on this trip has been subjected to dynamite blasting.  The water is brilliantly clear all the way out from the beach, which is a mix of black and yellow sand. 

Food here is pretty good as well.  The bars bbq fish and seafood each night, you pick which one you want and away you go.  It is so fresh and there are fish I've never heard of before, like rainbow runner, which is delicious.  They are not bad at western food either, which you get a hankering for after a while.  They also make these fantastic juices from scratch in blenders which I'm completely addicted to.

We tend to use one of two bars, the Zipp bar or the Chill Out bar, for both eating and drinking.  They both have sun beds on the beach and little square wooden wall-less huts which have low tables and cushions for eating and drinking in out of the sun.  The music is also great, loads of reggae and chill out stuff, and the people who work them are really funny- there is a picture of Ruben, who runs the Zipp, who has got an answer to everything.  Most people speak english here, plus german, french and pretty much everything else which they pick up from the tourists.  We get stuff said to us all the time in their version of cockney accents.  They dance around and sing all the time, and guitar playing is big out here.  The other thing that is big our here and in Indonesia in general so far are the shoes - loads of people wear shoes which are way too big for them for some reason.  And shorts which don't fit come to think of it.  And they've all got really excellent teeth - I don't think there can be a dentist on this island, they just wouldn't get any business.

The views from the island are great.  Depending on where you are you can see Lombok, which is literally a stone's throw away, Gili Meno, Bali and it's volcano, or just the ocean.  There is a bar round the island a way called the Sunset Bar, where the views of the sun going down are fantastic as it goes down next to the volcano on Bali.  Lombok is very mountainous and gets a lot of rain.  Gili Air is usually dry for most of the year, apart from the rainy season in Jan and Feb, but we've had rain on and off for the last few days and last night a huge thunder and lightening storm.  It was the brightest and loudest I've ever gone through.

We did a day trip to Gili T to see what it was all about.  Much busier than Air - party town full of youngsters having a ball - and more expensive too, and it's not somewhere we will go back to.  The drugs side of things is much more blatant too - we were asked if we wanted all sorts of drugs by just about everyone, and loads of the bars have signs outside saying they sell 'bloody fresh mushrooms to take you to the moon'.  It was like a little Spain really, but still a pretty island with a fantastic beach.

We decided to try to extend our Indonesia visas, which only last 30 days, which has to be done at immigration on Lombok.  We were picked up by one of the dive school men's dad, Juni,  and he drove us from the dock to the local city to get it done.  The drive took us up and over a mountain which is covered with coconut and other trees, along which is a stretch called monkey forest.  The monkeys sit on the side of the road as you drive past, so on the way back we stopped to take photos.  We'd bought some oranges in Lombok which turned out to be pretty rank so as we drove off we threw them out the windows to the monkeys, which led to a mass brawl as they tried to grab what they could.  We had been warned by Juni that they were pretty viscious and judging by what we saw I have no doubt they can be - big teeth!

The visa was really easy to do and was all done in less than an hour so we will be sticking around Indonesia for at least another five weeks we think.  Today we leave Air to go on a 10 day boat trip round Komodo, Sumbawa, Flores and other islands, which should give us enough time to decide where we are going after that.  We are sorry to be leaving Air, it's the most laid back, chilled place I think I have ever been to and we both hope we come back here before too long.

 


Pictures

Rice paddies
Gunung Agung at the back of rice paddies
Gunung Agung rice paddies
Gunung Agung
 
 

4 Comments

Angie:
May 9, 2011
Just beautiful
Steph:
May 9, 2011
OMG. Its out of this world, somewhere I could very well stay, it looks so amazing.(not the spiders, I would freak out) I wonder sometimes if you can ever beat some of the places you visit, and whether you feel let down if its not as good as the last place. What a brilliant time you are having. Keep enjoying. Steph x
marilyn:
May 14, 2011
Yes you can keep those spiders - horrible! Lovely pictures though and your travels sound even more amazing better than being at Tandridge Court or Stafford Road! xx
Mark Stannett:
May 17, 2011
Not at all jealous!!!!!
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