Gili Islands

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May 29th 2018
Published: May 30th 2018
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Today Issy, Taylah and I have booked a full day snorkelling tour of the Gili Islands, which are off the north-west coast of Lombok, about twenty kilometres north of our resort. We learn that Gili is the Indonesian word for island, so I guess that makes today’s destination the Island Islands.

Our guide for the day introduces himself as Rudy, and our transport is a traditional outrigger canoe. Surfs up again, so we have to scramble up onto the canoe from the beach between waves, while Rudy tries very hard to stop it from either running aground or getting sucked out to sea.

We get our first view of Mount Rinjani, which is Lombok’s highest peak. This is a serious mountain at 3,676 metres above sea level, which makes it the second highest of Indonesia’s 129 active volcanoes. It last erupted in 2015. Rudy tells us that thousands of people make the three day and two night trek to the top each year. He says there is a large crater lake at the summit, where you can catch fish and then eat them while you admire the views. He says that it's extremely cold up there. I don’t think that it would be cold for too long if the mountain decided to erupt while you were climbing it.

The boat suddenly stops. Rudy tells us not to worry. He says that some rubbish just got caught in the propeller. Another boat goes past and checks that we are alright, but Rudy waves it away. The skipper manages to clear the rubbish and get the engine started again, but a few minutes later the same thing happens. This time there are no other boats anywhere near us. It is quite rough and we are a long way off shore. This time the skipper seems to be really struggling to get the motor going again. Issy looks very concerned, and I sense that it mightn’t be a good time to make some smart comment about it being a long swim. Eventually the engine chugs into life and Issy starts breathing again.

There are three small islands in the Gili group of coral atolls, and our first stop is at the largest of these, Gili Trawangan. We climb down off the boat into crystal clear water and walk up onto a brilliant white sand beach. This is in stark contrast to the dark and sometimes black volcanic sand beaches of Lombok. The beach is wall to wall people, and we sense that this is very much party central. Not that I’ve taken all that much notice, but I sense that there couldn’t be too many girls in their late teens and early twenties left in Scandinavia at the moment; I think they’re all here. There are apparently no motorised vehicles allowed on any of the Gili islands, but this is more than compensated for by the constant stream of horse drawn carriages along the narrow strip of concrete behind the beach. In the middle of all this chaos is a turtle sanctuary. Most of the turtles in the sanctuary are only a few weeks old, and the attendant tells us that they release them back into the sea when they reach six months. He says that even with all the work that is being done to protect them, only about one percent will survive to maturity. We stop for a drink at a restaurant on the beach, and are as usual descended upon by an endless stream of vendors trying to hawk us their wares. Taylah is convinced to buy a speaker in the shape of a Bintang beer can.

We get back into our not so trusty canoe, stop for a quick snorkel off the north end of the smallest of the Gili islands, Gili Meno, and then pull into the beach for lunch. Rudy tells us that Gili Meno is a much quieter island than Gili Trawangan, and is apparently a well known destination for honeymooners. There's no sand on the beach here, just large chunks of coral, and wading up through them onto solid ground proves to be a bit of a struggle. The accommodation all looks very rustic to say the least. I’m not all that convinced that carting your new bride all the way here, shredding her feet on chunks of coral, and then parking her in a tiny shed-like room for a week would be a great first step on the journey to wedded bliss, but it must work for some people; at least I assume it must work for some people.

We stop for another quick snorkel off the east side of the third island, Gili Air. Rudy gives us a plastic bottle filled with bread so that we can feed the fish, and they appear from nowhere by the hundreds. There’s a bit of coral here, but the most notable submarine feature is thousands of broken concrete pipes. Issy wonders whether they might have been placed here deliberately to give the coral something to grow on. I can’t think of a better explanation.

We get back to Lombok, and catch up with Brian again at Molly’s bar and restaurant, which we were at a couple of days ago. We’re running short of cash, so I traipse back to the resort to get our last remaining Rupiah out of the safe. By the time I get back to Molly’s, Issy and Brian are nowhere to be seen. I ask the owner if he knows where they went, and he says that he thinks that they might have gone towards Senggigi.

I am not happy. I remember some vague discussion about going to the White Elephant restaurant for dinner, but I can’t remember which of the many resorts along this strip of beach it’s attached to. I wander into a restaurant at one of the resorts and ask a waiter if this is the White Elephant. He says that it is until 11pm. I briefly contemplate asking him what it turns into after that, but I’m sensing that English isn’t his strong suit, so I leave to continue my search.

An hour, half a dozen resorts and lots of tripping around in the dark later I discover Issy and Brian well into their third round of drinks, and about to launch into main courses having already demolished their entrees. They seem oblivious to my unhappiness. The waiter looks a bit confused by the sudden and very late intrusion of a slightly agitated third party, and I get the impression he’s sincerely hoping that I’m not a jealous and violent ex-husband. I tend to get a bit restless during the night if I overdo the cheese for dinner. I have vivid dreams about being attacked by gangs of violent criminals or playing in the World Cup Final, and have occasionally been known to lash out in my sleep at my unsuspecting bride. I tell Issy that I'm going to punish her for trying to lose me by ordering nachos with extra cheese for both entree and main course, and if she should feel the need to sleep on the daybed on the deck outside our room tonight then she’s only got herself to blame.

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