08 September 2009

Paradise on Gili Meno

Ready Set Relax, A-type personality style.

I was scared of the Gili Islands. Well, not necessarily scared, but wary and incredulous. The three microscopic islands off of the coast of Lombok, a mere 4 hours from Bali are a recent backpacker discovery, but time is relative and the four or so years that I had been hearing about them was more than enough time for some major damage to have been wreaked by tourism.

Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three, is known to basically be an extension of the sprawling, belching tourist complex that is Kuta/Legian/Seminyak – the main beach resort in Bali. I wish I could say that the amazing beaches of either Bali (or Trawangan, from what I have heard) make up for it, but I was unmoved. The sheer number of cigarette butts that you find mixed in with the greyish mica specked sand make the playa as inviting as a big mall ashtray in the eighties.

That is not to say that Bali is without charm – whimsical tinkling prayer bells soften the sounds of the traffic whizzing by and the colourful Hindu displays of devotion are magical. Ubud, away from the beaches, is an enchanting artist's retreat nestled in the mountains and terraced rice paddies, a mystical place that is somehow unblemished by it's own roaring tourist trade – the closest that I found to the enchanted island that Perry Farrell promised me. But back by the sea you could open your eyes and literally believe that you were anywhere on the planet, a generic mishmash of Irish pubs, surf shops and Pizza Huts. (Although, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf frappucino is always welcome, even at 4 CAD a pop....)

I had heard from enough travelers that Gili Trawangan was “fun, yeah – but the beaches are pretty bad and it's constant party party party” to know that I wanted to skip the place. Brandon even made the decision to stay in Ubud longer and skip Lombok entirely based on his weariness at the Aussie drinking teams making their ways through Kuta. It was with some amount of hesitation (and still some romantic hope on my part that the enraptured descriptions in old guidebooks may still somehow hold true) that S and I decided to spend 2 nights in the Gilis on our way to Lombok and then Flores.

Of the coast of Gili Air.

We booked a transfer to Gili Air, avoiding Trawangan completely, and set out on our eight hour journey (half bus, half decrepit ferry) finally arriving just after dark. I gazed at the white sand paths lit by the full moon, stared out to the dark blue ocean and looked up at S. “Does it strike you that perhaps this is exactly the island we've been looking for all this time?”

Yes, this boat's proud name is Xanadu. Not so much now, jerks!

We chose to stay on the West side, because though it had jankier beaches it is completely deserted, a half an hour walk across the island, which has no motorized vehicles (none of the three Gilis do) to the smattering of shops and restaurants in the East. Walking to and from the East we would run into only a few other tourists, and only a handful of the 1800 locals that call the island home. “The Lonely Planet was right,” I thought to myself, “for once they were correct. It is a beautiful island off of the main tourist track. Well I'll be a horse's uncle....” I kept expecting the onslaught of glowstick waving French raver-hippies (the worst kind) or North American frat dudes chugging Bintang beers but it never happened. Maybe this is in part due to the Muslim locals celebrating Ramadan and canceling parties, but I'll take it any way I can get it. It was relaxing. It was calm. It was....perfect.

To make things even dreamier we decided to book a snorkeling trip, one of our favourite activities. It was the best value we have had thus far for the same sort of trip at only 70,000 Rupiah (7 CAD) per person for the whole day in a glass bottomed boat, including mask and fins, with five snorkel sites and a stop for lunch on Gili Meno. We swam above turtle feeding sites and a massive coral garden – it was a beautiful day (not quite as good as Ko Phi Phi in Thailand but with way less urchins, of which I am irrationally terrified. Win.) I was excited to get back to Gili Air and spend the following day on the one small but lovely stretch of white sand where the tide going out doesn't mean an eyeful of slimy rocks and gooshy seaweed at 4pm.

I was excited until we alighted on Gili Meno and saw the beach here. The tiny island is ringed by a thick swath of pure white sand that stretches far out into the sea, making the water clear pale aqua, darkening gradually into sapphire blue. The slightly dodgy warungs and bars on Gili Air are replaced by clean swept outdoor cafes and pleasant bungalows. Where on Gili Air there are maybe 30 options for restaurants/accommodation, here there are about 6. We finished our lunch and I quickly talked S into it. We booked a cottage for the next night.

No really - that is all there is to do here. My Uncle Lorne would be in heaven.

Maybe because the prices are higher than Gili Air and much higher than Trawangan (but still affordable – my beachfront bungalow with a fresh water shower is about 25 bucks CAD/night – a splurge, but still within budget if we are frugal with other stuff) it keeps out the young backpackers. The “let's drink bhang lassie and vodka buckets and skinny dip in the water at midnight” crowd. The kids that read the 'Electric Kool Aid Acid Test' because of its title and thought it was a glowing endorsement for hallucinogens. The glow stick waving French raver-hippies.... None of them are here!

But in a way, it is extremely strange that the beaches are not crawling with the families, the wealthy couples and the upwardly mobile young people who feed on Bali like a bloated tick. Like the backpackers, none of those types are here either. Instead there are empty chaise lounges all over the stunning beaches. No Pizza Hut, mind you, but pretty close to paradise (and about twenty times better than anything I saw in Bali.) The only explanation I can think of for this lovely lack of development and its crowds is that the main ferry drops off on either Gili Trawangan or Gili Air and you have to spend a night and take a small local boat here the next morning. But could that really be keeping people from this jewel in the East Indies? In any case, yay me!

Even in the haze it is stunning...

I almost don't want to tell you guys where I am, for fear that you'll tell people and the next time I come here it will be overrun with Shangri-La seeking sun worshipers. Like me.

Because really, I don't think I am gonna leave. I think I am gonna sit right here until my visa runs out in 2 weeks and even then you might not be able to get my ass off of my chaise lounge. S is thinking about getting PADI certified (diving) and I might get my locks corn-rowed and work on this outrageous “Aussie-woman-in-her-fifties/Aaron Neville” cocoa tan I have been acquiring. It's that kind of place.

Now, don't tell anyone.

Fresh red snapper every night - four bucks Canadian (so like, 10 Euro cents) each


dave925 said...

It's nice to see the Gili islands get some exposure. I spent a week on Gili Trawangan last year, sandwiched between 2 weeks spent on Bali. Maybe I was lucky because it was the low (rainy) season, but there was just enough people on the island (rea: girls) to make it a wonderful experience.

Me and my new Swedish friend I met on the way over met a bunch of people who also arrived via the same decrepit ferry as us, and spent the week taking bike rides and walks around the island, lounging, eating, drinking, talking, and relaxing. It was my version of paradise.

An American couple from the same ferry spent a few nights on Gili Air or Meno, before leaving it for Trawangan. They said the mosquitoes were really bad, and even though they appreciated the quiet, it was almost too quiet and they were looking for some social interaction.

Paulina said...

amazing!!!! looks like a DREAM.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful place!
I have two questions for you (not directly related to the post):
Do you work online while you travel?
And will you still be in the area in December? I'm going to Malaysia, maybe we could meet?

Violet Dear said...

@kanmuri -
I just blog and write - no real working while traveling for me!

Also, I think I will be heading back home in November.... a bit too early to meet up! :(

Pat said...

That place looks like a little piece of heave on earth. That last photo is so gorgeous. I wouldn't have wanted to leave, either.

Sobrina Tung said...

Beautiful! I would want to stay there forever too. The water looks amazing.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Violet Dear

We will be in your paradise by late November (after a tour in Sulawesi.)

"Have fun will travel"


David hogard said...

I just visit your blog and reading your blog this is very much impressive me and such a beautiful places you mentioned in your article. thanks a lot for sharing.


Marissa Sanchez said...

hi, do you remember the name of the bungalow you stayed at? I'm planning a trip to gill meno in the next couple of weeks!!! thank you!!

Violet Dear said...

Marissa, I am so sorry, I don't remember!