As Close as it Gets to Paradise

Trip Start Jul 12, 2009
Trip End Nov 04, 2009

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Flag of Indonesia  , Nusa Tenggara Barat,
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Monday morning I took a boat from Lombok to Gili Trawangan, the largest and most popular of the three Gili islands.After jumping off the front of the small boat, flip flops in hand as I made my way through the shallow water and up the beach, I made my way down the dirt road, searching for the restaurant where Whitney and I were supposed to meet. Soon I heard my name being called and looked up to see Whitney sitting on the second story deck of a small restaurant, sitting on cushions at a low table.  She was accompanied by Joe, an American from Chicago that she had met on the boat over and had shared a hotel room with the previous two nights. She climbed down the ladder that led to the deck and told me that we were checking into a new hotel room, as the hotel that she and joe had shared had power outages constantly and was basically a dump. We headed to a cute little grouping of bungalows off the main drag and got a room for three people (just fans, no air conditioning unfortunately). Afterward, we headed back to the "tree house" as it was apparently nicknamed, in order to eat lunch. Soon Chris arrived, the German that Joe had met and climbed Mt. Rinjani with just days before I did. Next, two 20 year old blonde Swedes that Joe and Whitney had been hanging out with the two days before I came over arrived and what we came to call "The Six Pack" was first formed. After enjoying sandwiches for lunch, we headed to the beach.

The Gilis are a welcome contrast to the wild and crazy life of Kuta. The first (and most important) difference is that there are no cars or motorbikes on the Gilis, meaning that we were not constantly watching our backs and moving out of the way as motorbikes whizzed past. Instead, the only form of transportation is horse drawn carriages and bicycles. Second, the island is very small. It only takes two hours to make a loop around the entire island, although the majority of action takes place on the dirt road near the docks which comprises about about one third of the island's circumference. Indonesian culture is lacking on the island - it is very heavily geared toward accommodating the tourists - i.e. there are a lot of Western restaurants, including Mexican and Italian restaurants, although every restaurant has an Indonesian section of the menu. The ocean surrounding the Gilis is absolutely stunning. The water is turquoise due to the abundance of coral reef encompassing the ocean floor. The beaches themselves are covered in blanched shards of coral, creating a bit of an obstacle course when entering the water. Another difference is the lack of waves, excluding it from the itinerary of hardcore surfers. The consequence was a lot less Australians on the island and more couples.

Luckily, we met the fellow members of the "Six Pack" quickly and we immediately had a group of friends to explore the island with. We spent the new couple of days with them, hitting the beach daily and eating dinner together at night before heading to some of the local bars. We had a lot of interaction with the locals on the island as well, mostly with the owners and workers at the tree house but also the locals that worked at Rudys, the restaurant near our hotel that served double spirits for $1.30. Unfortunately, the Swedes (Andre and Molle) left after our second night, where we made a bonfire on the beach and laid in the sand watching the stars and chatting.  The third night, Joe, Whitney and I went to the local movie theater. The theater is a covered hut which projects movies on a wall in front of several rows of pillows. The movies are free with the purchase of food or drink. We watched a double feature, laying on the ground eating chicken satay off of our stomachs (if you sat up you would obstruct the view of the person behind you).

Joe left on my forth day, and Whitney and I negotiated with the owners of the hotel in order to get the price of the room reduced enough that we could afford it on our own (we really didn't want to move all of our stuff and we were also told that accommodation was hard to find due to the impending conclusion of Ramada - plus we were enjoying the free banana pancake and fruit breakfast every morning). We spent the day on the beach and met a group of Germans and Canadians who invited us to a house party that night at a place they were renting on the north side of the island. We showered and had dinner at Rudy's, where we met a group of pilots that worked together in the Maldives. They basically drive rich people's private planes to their resorts and subsequently eat and live at said resorts. They also enjoy one month of vacation for every three they work, which is what brought them to the Gilis. They invited us to join them at their table and had dinner and drinks with them until the entire group of us made our way to the German's house party. The house was pretty spectacular and there was a good group of both guys and girls there. By the end of the night we were all swimming in the pool and chicken fighting each other.

The next day, we woke up late and met up with the pilots (Steve, Mike and Lee) for lunch at a restaurant on the water. We spent the rest of the day walking around the island until we found this amazing point at the southern end where we posted up for a long time.The tide was very, very low, exposing at least a hundred yards of the sea floor, carpeted in white coral and a plethora of shells. The boys stayed behind and Whitney and I ran out on to the coral until we reached a section of sand where the water had almost reached. The view was spectacular - the contrast of the coral, the turquoise water, the green and brown island (Lombok), and the azure sky with the sun peaking through the clouds. It was literally one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Whitney and I spent at least an hour and a half out there talking, the ocean water finally reaching us by the end. We both agreed that we wished every person we loved could be with us at that very moment to experience what we were experiencing.

When the boys motioned for us to come back, we weren't ready to leave such a beautiful sight but regretfully followed them back to town, stopping at a beautiful new resort on the way for a drink at their beachfront restaurant. We made our way back to the main stretch of road, ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant (I will never eat sushi in SE Asia again! So not the same!) and hung out listening to music for a while before we headed to bed. The next day, Whit and I slept in, found a super cheap Indonesian place for lunch, hit up the internet cafe, and read in hammocks for a bit before making our way back to the movie theater for a double feature and dinner on our bellies again (The Hangover and Milk this time...great movies!).

Unfortunately, getting off the Gili's proved to be quite difficult, as our final days there coincided perfectly with the end of Ramadan. The slow (and cheap) boat that we took over to the island was no running, and instead we had to shell out $55 to take the fast boat (which was still four hours total travel time). Then, once we arrived in Kuta (we wanted to stay one night so that we could guarantee that we'd catch our flight the next day), all of the guesthouses were booked. We inquired at about ten places that we full until we stopped and had lunch, and then checked out about fifteen more guesthouses which were all full. In the end, we had to pay $30 each for a mediocre room with a mediocre continental breakfast. The only good thing about the room was the abundance of American television stations. Monday after we checked out we had lunch, got massages (best full body massage of my life for $6!) and headed to the airport. Our plane was delayed two hours and to make up for it, Air Asia provided us with McDonalds hamburgers and soda (odd considering they don't even give out free drinks on board). We flew to Kuala Lumpur that night and arrived at our hostel at 3 a.m. (we left for the airport in Kuta at 6 p.m.!). Luckily, we stayed at the same place that I stayed the last time I was in Kuala Lumpur, so we knew exactly where to go when we arrived. The next day, we walked to the towers, saw a movie, explored China Town and ate Subway and Mexican food.

We leave Kuala Lumpur today (the reason I keep coming back is that Air Asia is based out of Kuala Lumpur and so we basically have to come here every time we want to fly between non-central cities) and head to Phuket. We plan to stay in Thailand for an entire month, then head to Laos for a week and a half. I booked my flight home while were were in the Gilis - I arrive in Los Angeles on November 4. I can't believe I only have six weeks left!!!
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