Paradise Lost

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August 13th 2010
Published: July 28th 2017
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Geo: -8.35032, 116.043

The alarm sounded shrilly, jolting us into a semi-alert state of realisation. It was G-day. Gili Day. The day we had been waiting for since March. Let the relaxation commence, we thought! After a brief outdoor bathroom experience (I kid you not, there was an actual tree growing out of the side of the bath...), we were met by our driver who transferred us speedily to the boat dock at Benoa harbour. Our pick up time was 7am, with the boat due to depart at 8am, getting us to the Gili Islands at 11am. Everything sounded perfect!

Arriving at the boat dock 15 minutes after our pick-up and finding the ticket office closed was the first teeny little dark cloud on the perfect azure horizon. 45 minutes sleep was lost to this one tiny administrative error. Never mind, UNO cards were at hand to pass the time before the ticket office opened, our money was paid and we made our way to the "ferry". 16 seats on a speedboat does not a ferry make, but it heightened our anticipation for an isolated haven awaiting us.

3 hours on a bumpy boat does not a healthy tummy make either. Fortunately, after my stomach had performed what I worriedly realised would be its final dry somersault, we arrived in Lombok to pick up more passengers. Of which there were none. Aaaah, how I love a fruitless 20 minute detour to an already nauseating journey! However, the bonus was the view that we were afforded as the boat turned in the dock and pointed towards our ultimate destination. Across the short stretch of shimmering water, 3 tiny white islands broke the surface, the sun beaming down on the gently swaying palm trees lining the shores. "The Gili Islands," I breathed reverently, never before had a destination been so anticipated for so long!

As the boat dropped anchor, the white sand was so close we could almost touch it. Gili T, the larger of the 3 islands was to be our home for the next three nights, and from our vantage point it looked like the paradise we had been waiting for. Perhaps our vantage point is where we should have remained...

Coming ashore, we realised that perhaps this secluded island has has its day as a tranquil retreat and has now gone the way of Koh Pha Ngan et al. Half-naked, lobster-red tourists wandered up and down the grubby main street, showing no regard for its Muslim inhabitants. Straining horses, foaming at the mouth, pulled over-burdened carriages, prompted by their owners whipping. Bars advertised shots, shots and more shots and party party party time. We quickly renamed Gili Trawangan, "Gili Trashy". However, for those people not seeking a romantic and peaceful retreat (ie me at 21!) I'm sure it was a paradise. Yes, the sea was crystal clear and a wonderful shade of blue, yes the palm trees gave shelter from the beating sun, yes the sand was a gorgeous shade of white; I just can't help thinking that we got here just too late. The innocence of the island seems to have been tainted somewhat. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of coral, broken and sun-bleached have been washed up on the shores - testament to the lack of regard shown by boat operators desperate to bring to the tourist-dollar in. The coral actually prevented us from getting into the sea, its sharp jagged edges seeming to guard its former home.

However, What Gili T did was provide us with a pool, sunshine and a chance to recharge our batteries. It also enabled me to partake in my favourite activity - SCUUUUUBBBAAAAA! The islands have become a mecca for novice divers looking for a cheap and safe place to earn their PADI stripes. Numerous dive-sites surround all three islands, promising a kaleidoscope of coral, a myriad of fish and the ubiquitous turtles. I chose "Shark Point" as my dive site, having asked the ridiculous question, "which of the sites am I most likely to see a Shark at?"

After the briefing, we headed out onto the boat. Did I need a refresher dive? pondered the dive-master, No, I'd be just fine, I am a truly confident diver. Hang on... I need a bit of assistance fixing the BCD to the tank. And the regulator. And turning on the air supply. A backward roll entry into the water? Can I do it? Erm. Not really! Not a giant stride here then? No. Ah. Perhaps the refresher dive would have been a good idea after all! However, once I was in the water, everything came flooding back to me, and I descended to 28 metres with no problems, my bouyancy 50 times better than when I was learning all those years ago!

After swimming for just 10 metres the dive-master made the universal sign for Shark (you can probably guess it!) and pointed to the right, and there it was. A White-tipped reef shark prowling the coral beds like, well, a shark really. It hung around for what seemed slightly longer than necessary and I was a teeny bit reluctant to turn my back on it, but off we swam (well, let the current take us on an easy drift-dive) in search of further natual under-water treasures. Lagoon rays, clown fish, nudibranches, lobsters, cuttlefish, thousands of smaller fish and 2 wonderful turtles were just some of the wide variety of marine life present during the 48 minutes underwater. The dive was truly beautiful, and hopefully the reef-tax paid by every diver to the Gilis will protect the waters surrounding the islands. The money is being put to use creating an electronically stimulated coral growth, to replenish the coral that has been lost and damaged since the islands became so renowned.

Even snorkelling in the Gilis is spectacular; from a depth of just 2 metres, I saw a barracuda, 2 banded sea snakes, clown fish, cuttlefish and most other fish seen on my dive at much greater depths. All of this was from the shore and in one 30 minute snorkelling session. Had I gone out on one of the boat trips to the less disturbed coral reefs, I'm sure the snorkelling would have been even better.

It was with high hopes that we left Gili Trawangan for what we assumed would be the quieter, more secluded island of Gili Meno. Fortunately the diving and snorkelling, coupled with 2 great meals in beach-side restaurants, had made up for the island's trashy interior and put it back up into a positive holiday memory for us. However, Gili Meno looked to be the highlight of an already incredible trip, packed with numerous highlights!

An early night called, ready for the local boat to Gili Meno tomorrow. xxx


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