Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
108Trip End Sep 08, 2012
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The Gilis have long been a popular destination for backpackers and people looking for a true island experience away from the busy resorts on Bali. To get there is relatively easy, although the journey involves an hour long drive north along Bali's east coast, followed by a fast ferry trip across the straits of Lombok. We are picked up from our hotel in Kuta beach by a driver in a private car and taken to a spot just outside Denpassar, where we suddenly stop and are crammed into a smaller car already containing two rather attractive American girls. Apparently we are running late and our first car is on the verge of a breakdown so in true Asian style a replacement vehicle is conjured up and our driver hurtles through the Balinese countryside to the ferry port
Here we wait around for a little while for our ferry to be prepared. We are able to down a couple of coffees while watching a group of men test out their fighting cocks in the dusty carpark. Then we are called and follow a wheelbarrow containing our bags down to the pier. It's a busy place with what must be close to a hundred other westerners, mostly younger ones, waiting for their ferries to the Gilis. We load onboard the small ferry, a fibreglass affair designed for speed, then off we go into the big swells that roll through the straits.
The boat ride is pretty bumpy but not at all scary unless you suffer from boat fear as Sheila does, but she handles the ride admirably and soon we are backing onto the beach at the largest of the three Gilis - Gili Trawangan (Gili T). We are a little dismayed to see how busy it is here. There are hoards of young folk unloading from ours and other fast ferries, others wandering the dusty beach frontage road and still more hanging in some of the bars and cafes nearby - each has the look of a party-fiend in their eyes. There are also dozens of local men hanging about on the beach, each jockeying for the new-comers' business - "hello mister, you want accommodation?" "You want eat in my restaurant" and the one that we want - "Mister, you want boat to Gili Meno, Gili Air?" Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islets and the furthest from the Lombok coast
There are at least two ways to get across. One, we can wait for the 4pm public ferry, and two, we can hire Private boat. There is another alternative, swim, it's less than a kilometre across but our bags wont float.After fending off a high-priced boatman for an hour or so, and me having a huge hamburger and chip lunch, we finally decide to bite the bullet and spend the money on a private boat rather than wait for another four hours for the much cheaper ferry - all we want to do now is find a bungalow, settle in and go for a swim in the crystaline turquoise waters that surround these little islands.
We have chosen a resort to stay at from the Lonely Planet list - The Sunset Gecko on Gili Meno's western shore, directly across the channel from Gili T, and it takes only 10 minutes for the narrow wooden launch with outriggers to make the crossing and deposit us on a deserted white sand beach. Directly behind the beach, set back in front of a broad dry grass and sand field is the Mahamaya Resort, a stunning building in a Mediterranean/North African style, that reeks of money
After unpacking and a long swim, we perch ourselves on a chillout deck with a couple of cold Bintangs and watch the sun sink slowly behind Gili Trawangan in a blaze of reds and purples. About 7pm we hear the call to prayer echo across the channel from a mosque on Gili T followed by the distant thump of bass and drums as the clubs start up for the night, but neither sound can disturb the peace and tranquillity of our little spot on Meno.
Our bungalow is built in a facsimile of the local native style with an arched A-frame roof covered with palm leaves
On our second day here we make a long, leisurely circumnavigation of the island on foot. There is a sandy path to follow and the only traffic to avoid is Meno's only form of land transport - horse and carts.Gili Meno is incredibly under used and the guests that we do see are all couples - this is also known as the honeymoon island. During our walk, we stop several times for a swim in the addictively clear and warm water. Local people wave, kids say "Hello Mister, hello Miss" and we are completely seduced by the palce as we come around to the east side where we have great views of Lombok Island with its towering Gunug Rinjani (3726m) volcano and green mountainous coastline. We can also see the thin sliver off palms and white sand that is Gili Air, the third island in this little archipelago.At the southern end of Gili Meno we see small, well shaped waves breaking on the reef just offshore - the presence of surfable waves here suddenly kicks this island up to number one in my best island of the trip rating, though Sheila still holds Koh Phayam in Thailand as the pinnacle of islandom
The southern and western sides are also the hottest driest parts of Meno and along this bit of the trail we come across ruined and derelict resorts, ghostly remnants of a better time in the tourist industry, the reason for their demise we never discover. A few minutes later and we have completed our lap of Meno - it has taken us a couple of hours but we did stop to swim and have a drink in one of the little sea shell bars along the way. The centre of Meno is covered in palms and light jungle, native huts and a small village, home to local fisherman.
On another day we decide to hire a boat to take us to all the best snorkelling locations. Our boatman is a cool young man named Bundy who owns a red, green and yellow boat, a wooden thing with a roof for shade and bamboo outriggers for stability. He brings us first to the reef where we saw the surf and it is here that we see what is arguably the best coral gardens of our entire trip. We also chug across the channel to Gili Air where we hand feed large tropical fish before stopping for drinks and lunch in a cafe there. Later we head to the north side of Gili Meno, about half a kilometre of shore and Sheila gets to stroke the shell of a giant sea turtle as it rises to the surface to take air - we are stoked
The kitchen at the Good Heart Bungalows doesn't produce the greatest food, though the beer is cold and coffee delicious. Next door there is a simple restaurant where the food is possibly the best we've had in Indonesia, so all in all we have zero to complain about.
As usual, we also have to plan out escape from this paradise and the boatman, Bundy, arranges it for us through his wife, who is a kind of freelance ferry ticket agent. Our plan is to take the local ferry "canoe" across the straits to Lombok and head to the south coast of the Bali-sized island. Bundy calls a friend of his to tell him we are coming and this person says that he will meet us in north Lombok and drive us to our next destination - The ferry and the private car only costs $20 each and it all seems to easy.
On our last morning we rise early, have breakfast, then catch a horse cart across Meno to the small fishing port where we meet Bundy's pretty wife and cute little kid - she is accompanying us as far as the Lombok port where the Bundy's mate, whose name I interpret is Warren, will met us and take us to Kuta Lombok. This place renowned for its surf, but, much less touristy than its Bali namesake
It is with a slightly sad heart that we leave Gili Meno, it's been a great place to chill out and recharge our batteries before we head into new territory - Lombok is the western Island in the part of Indonesia known as Nusa Tenggara, a chain of islands that extends almost all the way to Australia - we are beginning to see the light at the end of our travel tunnel, it's dim and distant and there's still an awful lot of land and water to cross before we can say "we did it."
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