After hurrying about hectic Bali for a few days, I decided to conclude my visit to Indonesia on the quiet little Gili Air island just off the coast of Lombok, the next major island past Bali. Perama runs a boat there from Perambai in Bali. There are no piers in Perambai, Lombok, or any of the three Gili islands; the tour begins by wading out to a small boat, which transfers passengers to the larger Perama boat that runs between Bali and Lombok, and calls on the Gilis as well. In China, they would call this kind of boat a junk – not very large, all wood, with a lower enclosed deck and a sun deck on top. It’s a very relaxing four-hour trip. Then a dinghi transfer to Gili Air, wading onto the beach, and I am in a tropical paradise.
Gili air is the opposite of Kuta. It’s very small, one can walk all around it in an hour and a half. There are many trees, little scattered villages, and a string of restaurants and hotels right at the southeast beach. They have little bamboo platforms, some with thatched roofs, seating (or should I say reclining) four, directly on the beach with a great view. Most of the buildings are made from bamboo and straw. Bricks, mortar, and metal are rarely used. There are no cars or motorcycles on the Gilis, and no asphalt; everything is done by bicycles and horse carts. The only sounds are the surf, cicadas, geckos (how can such a small creature make such loud calls?), roosters, and other animals.
It’s all exceedingly pastoral and unspoiled, and meets the stereotype of an ultra-relaxed tropical island exactly. Not much happens here, ever. There is an Internet cafe but it was closed because the family was preparing for a wedding. I was staying in the wonderful Coconut Cottages, generally agreed to be the best hotel on Gili Air.
I went on a snorkeling trip by boat that stops at various coral reefs around all three Gili islands. The boats here are narrow with two outriggers held by curved struts. Just sitting on the boat and watching the outriggers slice through the water is incredibly relaxing. The corals are good, but not as good as on Pulau Weh in Sumatra; large swaths have died and look like boneyards. But there is an incredible variety of fish, and we saw turtles swimming as well.
Snorkeling was best on Gili Air. The next day I went out with Lee, another backpacker I met on the way to Lombok. He was planning to continue to Komodo to see the dragons, but got into a really bad head-on truck collision so he – wisely – decided to recuperate on Gili Air. We just walked out into the water where the beach restaurants cluster, and the snorkeling was just fantastic. The corals are better there than any of the others I had seen, although still not as good as on Pulau Weh. But the number and variety of fish was much greater. I found myself in the middle of huge shoals of glittering silver and blue little fish, sometimes swimming randomly but then, as if on a signal, aligning in one direction and racing away. Others have white, black, and yellow tiger stripes, or a rainbow of hues. And we saw several turtles. They don’t mind if you dive down to watch them, but turtles can move very swiftly underwater. A few dolphins were playing at some distance from the beach.
Vendors walk down the beach with big baskets of fruit and souvenirs on their heads. We bought pineapples from one lady, who slowly set down her load, pulled out a big curved knife, and started to artfully carve the pineapples in the spiral fashion they use everywhere here to remove the skin.
The fish on the island is fantastic. They catch the fish right there and put them on display in the evening. You pick one and they’ll barbecue it for you. Delicious.
But most of the time I was busy doing nothing, sitting on the beach or in a hammock reading a book. The days blended into each other and the little attention I had been paying to things like the day of the week was fading entirely.
Eventually I had to return to Bali because the 30 days my visa allowed me to stay were expiring. I was wading out to my boat for the last time to get to Lombok, where a horse cart and then a minibus took me to Senggigi. The road winds up and down the hills at the shore, with many scenic views of sandy beaches. The west coast of Lombok is not unlike California’s Big Sur, but much nicer – much denser vegetation, large palm tree forests, curving sandy beaches, and occasional thatched bamboo huts. The road is narrow and carries very little traffic. Near Senggigi, there are a number of beach resorts. I was the only passenger on the Perama boat to Bali. (I won’t ever use Perama again though. They do a big slow loop to touch all their offices, stretching what should have been four hours to nine. It’s very easy to get onward travel on the Gilis with other outfits.)