Indonesia, Gili Air
It was time to move on so we headed to Padang Bai the next morning to get on the fast boat to the Gilis. The tourist boats are all tightly, almost mafia, controlled and heavily price regulated costing up to 700k ($55) per person in high season, luckily the guys in our hotel got us tickets for 250k each (which is still a lot for what is essentially an hour and a half ferry crossing). The port area was awash with young iPad, GoPro and selfie stick toting backpackers, how times have changed … when I did it all I had was a book. I was starting to feel my age, a feeling that intensified as we arrived on Gili Air where the average age was about 22.
When you’re on the road things don’t always go smoothly and as planned, you have a lot of good experiences but also a few bad ones and our hotel (Omah Gili) on the island turned out to be the latter. To cut the story (and my lengthy rant on Tripadvisor) short the woman at reception basically scammed us out of $70 on top of what we’d already paid Agoda to let the kids stay in the same room as us.
With a sour taste in mouth we tried to put it behind us and went out to explore the 2km by 1km island which instantly reminded me of Thailand’s Koh Tao twenty years ago. There are no vehicles on the Gilis so the only way of getting around the sandy paths that crisscross these tiny islands is by horse cart, bicycle or foot. The lapping of the ocean and dulcet tones of reggae are about all you’ll hear and the pace of life immediately drops to slower than slow. This is definitely dreadlock, tattoo and banana pancake territory, the new Koh Pha-ngan in Indonesia.
We spent a couple of relaxed days ambling around from beach bar to restaurant, and taking swims or snorkels on the vibrant house reef just a few meters off the shore in between meals and a few cold Bintangs. Venturing inland you really notice the contrast between the several hundred dollar a night swanky beach resorts and the shanty style shacks that the locals live in right behind them.
Fortune would have it this day that I literally bumped into an old work colleague with his family wandering down the sand strip on one of the smallest islands I’ve ever been on; it is indeed a small world, we enjoyed a few margaritas and chatted over times gone by as the sun cast a pink hue over Gili Meno to the west.
A boat trip was in order to take in the sister islands of Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan along with a few sessions of drift snorkeling over the pristine coral reefs that fringe these paradise islets. The hard coral was in very good condition, no signs of bleaching or over fishing (as in Thailand), and the fish and marine life was pretty prolific, I wanted to go for a dive but this was a family trip so had to banish all thoughts of regulators or early morning narcosis at 40 meters. To make up for it we swam with turtles on the final snorkel of the day trip which was a bargain at 400k for all four of us.
Our final evening on Gili Air was spent dining on local food, essentially spicy island curried fish and chicken, overlooking the view of Mount Rinjani as the sun slinked into the ocean behind us, tomorrow we were travelling again, the cloud shrouded peaks of Lombok to the east beckoned.