Posts Tagged With: Gili Trawangan

Gili T and Me

The second half of our first week in Indonesia began with a one-hour jaunt via fast boat to a remote island off the northwest coast of Lombok called Gili Trawangan – the largest of a trio of islands that includes Gili Meno and Gili Air (they’re collectively referred to simply as The Gilis). It’s an idyllic place of white sand and turquoise water, sunsets and incredible off-shore snorkelling. Just what we ordered.

The first step’s a doozy
The fun started before we even got there. We rose early (which wasn’t a problem, as our local rooster would typically start crowing around 3:30 AM anyway), and met our driver at Bintang Market near Ubud. We then set off on the 1.5 hour journey to Padangbai harbour to catch the fast boat to the Gili Islands. We get there, and as is typical in Indonesia, there’s a lot of waiting around and then suddenly a burst of activity. Sure enough, right at 9 AM, without a word the boat guys started walking down to the jetty. Wiley travellers that we are, followed. Turns out it was one of those deals where you get on a boat through the cabin of another boat. We do that and find ourselves on the foredeck of our boat.

However, we quickly realized that we have to walk the entire length of the boat on a very narrow edge to enter the cabin at the back. We’re talking about a 3-inch toehold here. A Dutch woman in front of us almost fainted when presented with this marine circus act and implored us to go ahead of her (old Dutch saying: “Send the Canadians in first”). So, laden down with heavy backpacks and snorkelling gear we inched our way along, desperately hanging on to the slippery overhead rails, trying to save several thousand dollars worth of electronics from having to swim for it. We finally made it to the aft deck and laughed giddily, hoping we wouldn’t have to do that again when we docked. Of course we did.

Entrance to the ‘harbour’ on Gili T.

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One of our first glimpses of the place. Not a bad start.

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Me & Audrey ready for the beach.

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No paved roads = no scooters. Nice.

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There’s no motorized traffic on Gili T. Which means you walk, ride a bike, or hop on a cidomo (pronounced “CHI-domo”) – which is basically a horse-drawn rickshaw. Now that’s fun.

View from inside the cidomo on the crowded main street of Gili T.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Times have really changed on Gili T. Yet despite the influx of tourists and commercialism, the island still retains its laid-back, old-world style. Take for instance, our residence for three days: a lovely villa with plunge pool and lots of privacy (in spite of the ubiquitous full/dark/half-moon parties). We stayed in Villa Emas (house of gold). ‘Nuff said.

Flash-back to 18 years ago. Ko-ko-mo, or any resort for that matter, simply didn’t exist. Yet Sunset Bungalows, the place Cam stayed when he first landed there, lives on. No website for these guys.

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It’s still in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cracked twigs, lots of garbage, and a few emaciated kucings, all thriving, thanks to the relentless, blazing sun. Oh, and the toilet is still outdoors. Yet with a front row seat to a world-class sunset, at the time Cam thought he was in heaven (until he got massively burned snorkelling one day and tried to sleep… with no air conditioning… but plenty of mozzies.)

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Local kucing. It may look cranky, but it was really very sweet – weighed about a pound with a meow 10 times as big as its body.

Braving mud pies for pizza
One night after torrential afternoon rains and an epic nap, Cam insisted we try a highly recommended restaurant by TripAdvisor called Il Pirata. “OK,” I said, “Where is it?” He’s all, “Down one of the side streets.” Great! There’s only about a million of those. Should be no problem to find.

Off we go, trudging through the muddy and puddle-ridden main street of Gili T (there’s no drainage system… other than gravity). We walked to where we thought the turn off was. It looked dubious. We walked back. Then we walked forward again. I’m getting pretty irritated at this point, mainly because I just had to fetch my flip-flop from a huge mud (or something?) pile and now it’s squashing between my toes. Then Cam comes up with an idea: Google Maps! No way that’s gonna work, we thought. But we pulled it up on my iPhone and it worked. After we entered the name Il Pirata, The Google tells us the correct turn – which we passed like five times.

However, we’re still faced with a long, very dark alleyway of sorts, complete with a huge puddle spanning the entire width of the lane. Great! We brave it anyway, clinging onto the side fence and various branches that line the ‘road’, stepping tentatively on sand bags lining the submerged ‘sidewalk’. All the while I’m thinking This better be worth it. Just when we’re about to give up, Google Maps announces: “You have arrived at your destination.” I was amazed. This place was indeed the definition of a hole in the wall, hidden yet glorious – at least the pizzas were. Was it worth it? Hells yeah.

Sorry… what time does the boat leave?

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On our last day we had plenty of time to catch our fast boat at noon. Or so we thought. So, we leisurely packed, had breakfast and checked out. We made our way to the lobby to talk to Usman, our fave Ko-ko-mo guy. We were in no hurry because we only needed to be down at the harbour by 11:45. Usman called us a cidomo at half-past, which, after 15 minutes, still hadn’t shown up. By that time I’m getting antsy, so Usman calls the boat company and we discover that the boat is leaving basically right that minute. Ahhhh! I try to stay calm, all the while hopping from foot to foot as our cidomo finally arrives. We threw our baggage and ourselves in the cart and frantically waved goodbye to the amazing Ko-ko-mo staff.

Chickens, kucings, and Shar’s temper: oh my!
Off we went at an alarming gallop, and then are suddenly faced with construction, blocking the street from anything bigger than a bike or a pedestrian. The driver started to make a turn for the detour when we shouted, “No! Stop!” We’re not doing that again – it’ll only add another 10 minutes of sheer anxiety. Instead, we jumped out of the cidomo, Cam threw the driver some rupiah and off we go running through the mud-soaked street to the harbour, splashing and laughing, dodging kucings (a couple of which stopped so suddenly they looked as if they were prostrating to a deity), chickens, bikes, and annoying tourists. Actually, I had to yell “Move it!” once because the tourists were just standing there gaping at the scene. (Cam, who was behind me, later said the guy I shouted at had a seriously shocked expression on his face.)

We stumbled onto the beach, just barely making the boat. Then we proceeded to do the entrance-from-water, inch-along-side-of-boat deal once again. I was more than happy to oblige.

Our good friend Usman from Ko-ko-mo, who helpfully informed us we were about to miss our boat back to Bali. 

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Thanks, Usman!

Us at a breathtaking Gili T sunset bar. A view like this – and everyone was looking at their phones.

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Up next – postcard from our home away from home: Sanur.

– S

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Categories: Adventure, Beach, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Baliance: The Beginning

Well, we’re back in… you’ll never guess… Bali. Yup, it’s tradition that every two years we just have to get on a plane, fly biz or first for basically an entire day, and skip a day crossing the international dateline while we’re at it. The whole production is a tiring hassle, but it’s always worth taking a bit of pain for the ultimate Bali gain.

We started this Balinese adventure in an area near Ubud proper called Penestanan. If you want to tuck yourself away in the jungle and rice fields, this is the place to do it. Here are a few vignettes from our time there…

Please tell me we didn’t just do what I think we did

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Once upon a time there was a grand villa in the middle of the Balinese jungle. And it had many rooms. And with those many rooms came many doors and keys and locks in both analog and digital flavours. There were two main doors – one for the front gate that led to the road to other villas, spas, and restaurants admist the jungle – and the other for the back that led to the walking path to the main street.

And so it is our first night, which after travelling for 20+ hours left us weary and a bit slow-witted. We decide to go to the market to get susu (milk) for coffee, Bir Bintang and other vacation necessities. We walk out the back gate, and I firmly shut it, only to discover shortly after that it is now locked, and whatever keys we have can’t open it. It’s starting to get dark, there’s no lights and we can’t see any way around the house other than to take a long alternative route… which we don’t really have a grip on yet. I look at Cam and say, deliriously, you mean we’ve been here for five minutes and we’ve already locked ourselves out of the villa?!?

I thought I was going to cry. But, ever the problem-solver, Cam MacGyvered the situation using a temporary bank card to finesse the lock bolt. It opened in about two seconds. And we never fully closed that door again.

After all that, we forgot the susu. But my first taste of kopi Bali the next morning was nothing less than heavenly, milk or no.

Ol’ Growly on the path (no, not Cam)
That’s our place in the background of the picture below.

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You could say it was a wee bit big for us, but it was damn private, which was the principle goal. This place was so remote that we had to walk down a winding, partly hilly, cracked and narrow concrete path, complete with very steep steps from the main road. No motorized vehicles allowed. Thus, after making a few wrong twists and turns – the best being pitch black and sans torch, we would arrive at our palace.

One day we headed out on said path to get provisions at the Bintang Market, only to find a ‘guard’ dog waiting in the middle of the path, looking super-scruffy and growly (upon closer inspection, he was just old and cranky and didn’t want to move). Of course as soon as we got close, he started barking and growling. Cam, born to face fear it seems, just kept on walking and reluctantly Ol’ Growly moved out of the way. We made friends later when I threw him and a canine friend doggy treats out the villa window.

Have stick, will herd 

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While up on the rooftop terrace of Rumah Cahaya, Cam spotted this ~4-foot tall ibu (Indonesian for mother or elder female) herding ducks through the rice fields, with the intention (we think) of getting them to eat all of the bugs. Small or no, ibu could surely wield a mean stick.

More Ibu – from field to market
Cam’s been taking some serious language lessons, and enjoys practicing with the locals. One time while on a provisional trip to the Bintang Market for Bir Bintang – naturally – he was in the checkout line behind an elderly ibu who seemed to regard his bottles of beer with some disapproval. That is until Cam said to her “untuk makan malam” (“for dinner”). Ol’ ibu went from seriously serious to highly amused. She thought it so funny that she repeated it to her husband beside her. It really is the small victories.

Martinis but no Internet? Perfect.
There’s a restaurant in Penestanan which happens to have the best martinis – by my opinion – in all of Bali. And we’ve been to a lot of swanky places. So, naturally, we happened to find ourselves there. It’s called Element and it’s waaaay tucked away in a small side street. The martinis come in two ways: strong or really strong. This place is so good that we’re actually thinking about making the one-hour trek back up there from Sanur. Plus, you’re forced to talk to your companions after 5 pm. Seriously?

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It’s a small world, after all
Before we even arrived, we quickly learned how small of a town Ubud is. Turns out that the house manager for Rumah Cahaya, Juli, is none other than the brother of the ibu whose family manages the other house we stayed in – Rumah Cinta – two years ago. In fact, we went to this cat’s wedding in 2012 – pictured below with me and bride Koming.

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Note the before and after pics of Juli – quite a difference! (No makeup for instance…)

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Pictured above: Bapak (Indonesian for father – also used for an elder male) – who carried my 50 lb suitcase on his bony shoulder all along the path and down aforementioned wicked steps – Juli and me the morning we left Penestanan. BTW, that’s Ol’ Growly in the background.

One of the coolest house features… EVER
The whole time we stayed at Rumah Cahaya, we were wondering how to access the basement suite. We could see the door from the outside, but had no idea how to get to it from inside. That is, until the owner Bruce showed us a secret door behind the bookshelf, which led to a whole other room, bathroom, bar, and theatre.

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The space between the shelves is the opening to the secret room below. Spooky!

Apparently this is where Bruce lived when the rest of the place was being built. I was super-impressed. How English gothic is that? Noted for our future mansion.

Stay tuned for my next post – a remote island called Gili Trawangan off the east coast of Bali.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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