Living the life on Gili Air

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December 6th 2010
Published: December 6th 2010
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Apologies first of all. I had intended to include photos of this wonderful tropical paradise that I’ve called home for the last week. But alas, the internet connection here is operating at pre-1990 levels and the potential for uploading photos, despite my perserverence for the last few hours, seems futile…

Anyway, I am sitting here now on the bamboo verandah of my very own little bungalow, looking out at the beach as the dark clouds of the daily monsoonal storm roll in, accompanied by the constant low rumblings of thunder and the continuous flashes of lightning..Gili Air, literally and I guess appropriately meaning ‘water island’, is a tiny fleck of land just off the northwestern coast of Lombok. Stretching almost one whole, entire kilometre from top to bottom and about the same across, it is home to a local village, a few bungalows and restaurants, some rather nice coconut groves, and obviously as it is an island, one long, circular beach.

To say that life here is slow is massively understating the fact. There are no cars, motorbikes or even scooters here, the main modes of transport being horse-drawn carriage, by bicycle and general perambulation at some pace between languidly ambling and standing still. And via the current 20m offshore that allows you to be carried over the intensely beautiful corals and thousands upon thousands of multicoloured fishies right into the bustling heart of ‘downtown’. Approximate travel time of fifteen minutes or so.

The locals are a mix of the Sasak and Bugis peoples and who are wonderfully friendly and jovial, always smiling and saying hello. They are also eager to engage in conversation, just to find out how your day on the gili is treating you. Their approach to making money is somewhat more haphazard and indeed quite bewildering for those who’ve traveled through Asia and become used to haggling and bargaining. They really just can’t be bothered. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll happily take your money if you can conduct much of the purchasing process yourself. They just won’t go out of their way to do so. Apparently the high season was quite a good one and everyone has made their dosh and they’re just not that fussed about making any more this year. Not altogether a bad thing and they’re probably onto something in regards to work-life balance. And I suppose that if I lived here permanently, considering how I’m feeling after a week, I doubt I’d be motivated to do much more than lie around all day and maybe do the odd spot of fishing either. They are nominally Muslim, with dashes of Hinduism and traditional animist practices thrown in, and although most might pray five times a day, I have noticed their considered tastes for more than the odd bottle of Bintang and their predilection towards arak, tuak and the harder stuff. I’ve come to believe, that like the island itself, their approach to religion is slightly more relaxed.

Thus, amidst this frantic hive of activity and can-do attitude it is perhaps unsurprising that I have done very little besides wandering around the island a couple of times, snorkeling, reading numerous books in my hammock whilst gazing at the towering volcano of Rinjani in Lombok and, well, actually that’s pretty well it. I’ve hooked up with a Canadian guy called Michael who, lucky fella that he is, has spent the last three and a half years on the road and we’ve rolled into a vague sort of routine, as much as one is able to have a routine at a place like this. Wake slowly. Lounge in hammock for half an hour or so. Meet on the beach for strong Lombok coffee. Look vaguely at ocean. More strong Lombok coffee. Snorkel for a few hours. Plate of mee goreng for lunch. Snorkel some more. Read and/or snooze in hammock. Freshly barbecued seafood and ice-cold Bintangs at sunset. Sleep.

The one thing the local lads do seem to put a great deal of their energy into is the daily football match. Nestled in amongst the coconut groves with small bamboo goals and a minefield of potential career-wreckers including not-quite-visible holes, fire areas that had been rained on (oh, so slippery) and of course, as it’s in the middle of a coconut grove, falling coconuts. Fret not Jane and FC Pop, the dodgy ankles have held up. We were welcomed with open arms into the game with much handshaking and backslapping and welcoming noises. And then I realised that we were a sort of secondary entertainment for their own amusement, as a swarm of slippery, skillful and fiercely exuberant local boys continued to use these two hairy foreigners for fun, dodging, twisting, and yes, nutmegging us out of the game. Admittedly the high 30s temperature and insanely oppressive humidity that hovers around 98% didn’t help much. But no excuses and I genuflected back to the days with Ron and FC Bule in Bukit Lawang. And in retrospect, I feel honoured to have displayed my not-so-considerable footballing talents at yet another wonderful football pitch in the middle of nowhere.

Needless to say, the snorkeling here is absolutely superb and the teeming corals play host to thousands of flouresecent fish, dinner-plate sized neon starfish, eels, reef sharks and turtles. We’ve spotted a dozen or so of the latter, including some massive old ones that have to have been frolicking around for many a year now, and have just followed along slowly as they lazily float the currents.

Of course, Jane is now back in Melbourne and alas, back at work, and it does feel rather strange to be travelling solo after our lovely honeymoon in Ubud. Indeed, I’ve managed to garner a fair few shocked expressions and incredulous looks when I mention that I’ve packed the wife off home to work while I continue galavanting around various tropical paradises. My heartfelt apologies again Jane.

For those who haven’t spoken to Jane, we did a wonderful time of doing very little besides swimming, eating, wandering around, with the occasional day trip thrown in. Thus I had had a fortnight of intensive practice at doing nothing before arriving on this island, so I haven’t suffered overly from the culture shock. But after four or five months of finishing my Masters, teaching and looking for work (while Jane did actually work), renovating a house and organising a wedding, it was blissful to do nothing at all and just allow ourselves time off and together. We began our stay in a wonderful wooden house all to ourselves, perched on the edge of the Sayan Valley and looking out to the teeming jungle below. It was truly magical, waking each morning to a cacophony of birds, frogs and insects as the jungle slowly awoke and the infinity pools looking out over the valley did greatly assist in the transition from our hectic lives to this ah-all-is-very-very-bagus-indeed-here-in-Ubud mode. And thus a big cheers to all of you who chipped in for that wonderful experience and it was really such an amazing way to start our Festival of Jane and Simon.

After Sayan, we moved on to a two story house perched in the rice paddies near the village of Penestanan for a few nights and spent the next few days exploring little bits of Bali – Hindu temples perched on lakes and sides of volcanoes and hidden away in the jungle and generally soaking up the beautiful countryside of undulating mountains, dominating volcanoes and terrace upon terrace of paddies wherever there was space. Needless to say, the Balinese were the wonderfully beautiful and friendly people that we had been told and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the interactions that normal daily life in Bali entails.

We chose to finish our time together at the rather luxurious Maya Ubud resort for our final two nights. It was truly spectacular and one of those places where the vast numbers of staff outnumber the guests considerably. Small armies of men in camouflage green tended meticulously to the gardens, endlessly sweeping the grass of leaves and the like. And the guys decked out like ball-boys in their brighter than bright shorts and polo shirts who were ever present as you emerged from the pool to hand you a glass of cold water and a fresh face towel. Indeed we lived it up, having again been upgraded due to it being our honeymoon and we spent our final days just relaxing and drinking a number of ridiculously oversized cocktails as the sun set. And where Jane received opulent massages and treatments in gorgeous tents alongside the river while I floundered away in the absolutely stunning infinity pools and pondered life’s deeper mysteries. Like why I can’t convince Jane that is indeed possible for us to build a nice big infinity pool in the backyard. Maybe overlooking the frog pond. Or the chook shed.

And thus here I am now, still pondering the potential of building that infinity pool as some sort of ‘little project’ to keep me occupied until school starts. That is when my brain actually manages to find second gear and I am able to ponder much at all. Indeed, I’m quite proud of the fact that I read over 100 pages of my book today. A major accomplishment here. However fear not, I am currently considering the proposition of organising some sort of deep consideration about actually living the island and venturing to Lombok proper. Probably soon.

Cheers to you all and be in touch.

Salamat malam...



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