Gila for Gili
I used to get beach calendars every Christmas under the tree and as a child and I often wondered where all the beautiful places with clear blue water and white sand beaches were in this world. Turns out, Indonesia has its fair share.
Gila means crazy in Indonesian (one of my favorite word combos is bugil, bule (foreigner) + gila = bugil, meaning crazy foreigner). And after a long weekend trip to the Gili Islands off of Lombok, or Bali depending on how you see it, I was gila for the Gilis. Gili actually means small island in Sasak and three islands, Air, Meno and Trawangan, make up this paradise.
My friend Sam and I spent two nights on Gili Trawangan, which has a reputation as a party and drug island. As the biggest island, there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and even ATMs on Trawangan. If you are looking for a party, you can find it on Trawangan, but you can also just as easily get some peace and quiet. Even in April, Trawangan was full of tourists. Sam and I both agreed that we hadn’t seen this many foreigners in one place in Indonesia before. And some of those foreigners are loud, scantily clad (this is still a Muslim majority island) and ready to party, “Let’s get shrooms after snorkeling,” said in Aussie accent. This creates an interesting dynamic with the locals. All of the Indonesians we encountered on the island were very sweet and most likely because we were speaking and bargaining in Indonesian, they were helpful and would lower prices — Rp 30,000 for a coconut(!) I couldn’t help but laugh. This dog was a smart one drinking coconut water:
One of the best parts of this mini-break from Jakarta was taking a glass bottom boat for a snorkeling trip. The boat left Trawangan at 10 a.m. and stopped at three snorkeling spots and on Gili Air for lunch (not included in the Rp 100,000 cost). There are advertisements all over the island for different trips, so pick one that suits your needs. The water is the perfect temperature — making for an afternoon well spent. I swam very close to a sea turtle for a few minutes, it’s good to commune with nature.
The main stretch on Trawangan is filled with bars and restaurants that most tourists flock to and some probably never leave. But, one of my favorite parts of the trip was walking through the interior of the island, away from it all.
In the interior, cows and goats graze in open fields and people bicycle around this car-free island. The Gilis became a popular tourist destination in the 1990s as backpackers began venturing off Bali, so many parts of the islands are still undeveloped, and I hope they stay this way.
If you want to get anywhere fast, a horse drawn carriage, cidomo, is a popular option.
Many people crowd to bars on the side of the island to watch the sun set, and it’s worth it. Sam and I sat with Bintangs (Indonesian beer) and watched the sky turn dark as clouds swirled and the tide receded revealing small tidal pools inhabited by long, black sea stars scrunching and contorting their bodies in an effort to get into deeper water.
On Sunday night it was ladies night at Tir Na Nog, the Irish bar (although besides the name, I have no idea why it’s considered an Irish pub), so after another delicious dinner of grilled red snapper, we decided to try the famous mojitos. A few drinks later, Sam and I were chatting in English and Indonesian with the bar tenders and one tried to convince us that peanuts are referred to as durian on the island. They were funny guys.
On Monday we returned to Lombok and spent a few hours on Kuta Beach. It was nearly deserted, so we sat, ate, dozed, and read some books. After several hours we hopped on some motorcycles and rode past green rice fields and dark blue mountains that jutted into the light blue sky. Our destination: the airport. All good things must end at some point.
Getting There: We flew on Lion Air to the Lombok International airport, Praya. You can also take boats from Bali out to the Gilis. If you fly into Lombok, a cab from Praya runs Rp 200,000 to Bangsal port. At Bangsal a public boat runs to the islands from morning to about 5. You can also charter your own boat for more, or buy package deals (that’s how we got to Kuta on Lombok the next day).
Accommodations: We stayed at Pondok Sederhana (+62 813 3953 6047). This small place was located in the “village,” a little further back from everything so it was nice and quiet. A room that sleeps three goes for Rp 150,000 a night ($16). There is no hot water and rooms have fans, not A/C. I would recommend staying here and ordering the banana pancakes, that are included in the rent, for breakfast.
Anyone have a recipe for these? I’m would love to make some for brunch.