It was sad saying goodbye to Ubud. But, after having topped-up our bags with paperbacks and some beautiful ikat
weavings, we caught a minivan to the ferry at Pandangbai and boarded the slow boat to Lombok.
One of the fantastic things about travelling in Indonesia is that it rivals South Africa in it's incredible diversity. The short hop across the channel from Java to Bali had brought with it a change in language, religion (90% Muslim in Java, 95% Hindu in Bali) and landscape (from towering volcanoes to rice paddies and forests). Now, after 5 hours sitting in the warm sea breeze on the open deck of the slow ferry, we were once again on a different island, with new places and culture to explore.
Our first stop was a tiny triplet of islands off the coast of Lombok known as the Gili Islands. Having enjoyed plenty of livilines in Bali, we chose to head for the quitest of the 3 islands, Gili Meno. We arrived on the island with the last boat for the day, and started walking down the sandy path along the beach looking for a place to stay. Another guy on the boat with us
must have thought we were in a race for the last room, because he insisted on staying ahead of us, even though his wife was calling for him to slow down as she struggled with her big bag behind us. We let him win.
We ended up walking right to the southern tip of the island without finding anything that would go easy on our budget, so just checked into the last place we came to, called Biru Meno. Despite it's price the resort itself was not great, but a local guy had erected two bamboo platforms with thatched roofs on the beach next door and we ended up enjoying two delicious bowls of curry and then spending the rest of the evening sitting by a fire he for us on the sand, nibbling braaied mielies.
In the morning we headed off for an early walk around the island. We had been told that since the bombings in Bali, tourism had taken a bit of a dive, and for the first time we were able to see evidence of this. The far side of the island was strewn with abandoned bungallows and empty concrete swimming pools that must
have been beautiful in their prime. Now the frangipani trees had begun to overgrow the sun-bleached cottages and wind-blown sand had erased the neat paths.
Gili Meno has a population of about 300 locals. The interior of the island is mostly a palm trees surrounded by grass which is kept neat by cows munching lazily in the shade. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island, all trasport is by horse-drawn carts or on foot. On the western side of the island is a mirror-smooth freshwater lake where a few fishing canoes spend the day in the sun.
At several of the cafes around the island, the owners had built small concrete pools where they kept the baby turtles that are regularly found on the sand until they were large enough to be released safely into the ocean. Next to one of these cafes, on the western side of the island, we found a place called Good Heart Bungallows. The place was far friendlier, with a line of wooden bungallows built with an upstairs room and balcony over a downstairs bathroom with a trap-door and steep staircase joining the two.
We went back to our first
with the trap-door to the bathroom downstairs
room to collect our bags, and were told (only now) that their checkout was earlier than it is anywhere else in our past month in Indonesia, and that we would now have to pay an extra 50% for late check out. After arguing enough about it, we paid the extra few dollars to avoid it getting nasty and walked away to the relaxing side of the island.
As soon as we had dropped our bags, we strung up our hammocks - to the intense fascination of some local women - and pulled out our books to watch the afternoon float by and the sun set over the neighbouring Gili Trawangan.
The next morning we woke early to go and explore some of Indonesia's underwater wildlife with a dive shop on the other side of the island. We were welcomed into the water by a turtle who dived down with us. The diving was pretty good, with quite a strong current but that incredible swimming-pool visibility that you get on good days off the islands in SE Asia. At the second dive site we swam around a wreck that had become completely encusted in corals as well as some
of the strangest creatures (colourful nudibranchs, juvenile lionfish and frogfish) that live in the sea.
After our dives we grabbed a chicken sandwich for lunch at a cafe. Cath didn't feel to good about eating the sandwich, so I finished hers, but we had barely made it back to our room when she became quite sick. The next twenty four hours were pretty rough for her. Suddenly the novelty of having a steep trapdoor staircase leading down to the bathroom seemed a rather less practical.
Fortunately it seemed to be a 24hr thing, and after drinking a lot of re-hydrate sachets in water she managed to sleep through the night and wake up strong enough to catch the boat back to Lombok in the morning.
Aside from the dodgy chicken sandwiches and the scamming people at Biru Meno, Gili Meno was still a very difficult place to leave. The relaxed pace of life and the community feeling on the island is really special. As our boat chugged back to Lombok I noticed something in my pocket, and reached in to pull out the seashell keychain from our bungallow at Biru Meno. Oops.
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