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.
One of our first glimpses of the place. Not a bad start.
Me & Audrey ready for the beach.
No paved roads = no scooters. Nice.
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.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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.
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.)
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?
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.
Us at a breathtaking Gili T sunset bar. A view like this – and everyone was looking at their phones.
Up next – postcard from our home away from home: Sanur.