Travelogue Indonesia 2: Gili Trawangan

GILI TRAWANGAN
8-10 June 2015

After a decadently long and delicious slumber, we finally arose with half an hour to pick-up time (the transfer to the port for the fast boat to Gili T). Fortunately, both dressing and packing were lighting-quick jobs, so we were out the door minutes later.

It had literally just started to rain as we were locking up our suite so, grateful for our ultralight beach holiday packing, we grabbed our suitcases and made a mad dash across the pool terrace. Sopping from the sprint in the tropical squall, we sat down to peruse the breakfast menu… as the rain stopped. We’d managed to get caught end-to-end in the only-a-minute-long downpour. That has to be lucky, like rain on your wedding day!

Breakfast was a simple offering of melons (that I didn’t eat, thanks Nordic Ice), egg toastie (very welcome) and black tea for me (will try and get used to that) and coffee for Christian  (the type that leaves a black slick down the cup and a silt layer on the bottom, but he seemed to like it).

We were ready and waiting in the reception at 10, as instructed, and when the transfer driver hadn’t arrived by 10.15 we asked the reception to call them. The receptionist seemed puzzled by our request and kept pointing at the wall clock… which had stopped… and showed 9.45. It took some convincing to get them to call, and the verdict was “on their way”. Obviously Bali Time works the same as ours back home.

Minutes later our transfer arrived.

An ancient wrinkly man on a Vespa.

For the 2 of us and our suitcases.

He tried to gesture that he’d take us one at a time (with a suitcase)… but we showed him the Yellow Pages, communicating that we would rather walk. The compromise was that we would hoof it and he would take the bags.

So, with that, we walked from our hotel at the end of the beach, along the harbour, all the way to the other far end of town: 300 metres and 5 minutes later, were at the Ticket Office collecting our boarding passes, still well in time for our 10.30 boarding (for the fast boat that ended up being 20 minutes late. Bali Time strikes again!)

We had bought the full Padangbai – Gili T – Lembongan – Sanur ticket all in one go, so were relieved when the boat ride was comfortable (and quick) enough. We sat on the flat rooftop to enjoy the view in the pleasant cool of the overcast morning, eavesdropping on the coversations around us for entertainment.

On arrival in Trawangan, we were surprised to see a porter awaiting our arrival, welcome sign ‘n all. Who knows how long he’d been waiting there seeing as I’d not told the hotel where we’d be coming from for them even to hedge their bets on multiple boat arrival times per origin.

He led us across (what we were to discover is) the main road (that runs along the beachfront all the way around the island) and down a side street. A short 45 metres (according to the signage) later, we arrived at Secret Garden 2. Our accommodation was quite true to the pictures online – roomy wooden A-frame bungalow, decorated to within an inch of its life with mammoth four-poster bed with draped mosquito netting taking up most of it, and elaborate framed painting of Buddha on the black and white speckled feature wall and enormous mural of the caricature-ish Indian dancers with gold spot-colour accents and a heavy wooden frame above the full length of the head of the bed, that would surely kill – or at least maim – us in our sleep should it choose to fall.

Our bathroom was interesting, accessed from the main room through a clear glass sliding door, exposing it to have a shoulder height wall and open air in the triangle of the A-frame. I’d booked us upstairs hoping that we’d be able to see the sea from our entrance balcony… but that was a fail since we’re facing away from the sea, ao have a lovely view of the homestays below and behind, and a construction site for another building of condos directly opposite. The flatscreen TV bragged about in the ad must’ve been taken really close up as it’s the tiniest cutest TV you ever have seen! The screen is only just bigger than Christian’s tablet (but with it all the way across the room, it’s a challenge for even the eagle-eyed!) A nice touch to include not only a DVD player but a sleeve of DVDs (movies and series) as well.

We didn’t come to Gili T to watch TV though, so we set about our adventuring post haste. My One Thing I wanted for our stay here was to circumnavigate the island (estimated at 8km from what we’d read), so we started with that. Back to the main road and taking a left. The main town section had almost a double lane (unmarked, with no clear indication from travellers as to whether there was a right or wrong side in either direction); the rest was all a single lane shared, at times quite noisily, by its users.

There are no cars or motorbikes (thankfully, because Padangbai was quite “busy” with its 2-wheel mavericks), just lots of horse-drawn carriages (all with jingling bells; the reason why the holiday song snippet stuck in my head was “… lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!”) and tourists on bicycles (who clearly don’t ride at home, so wobble and panic about the place), sharing the path with lots of barefooted, barechested and often barely aware pedestrians, so it’s chaos.

We managed the full island lap in what would have been just under 2 hours if we hadn’t stopped at The Exile: a most excellent beachfront pub and restaurant, where we sampled bone-chillingly cold Bintangs (served in an enormous bottle somewhere between a quart and a litre, but unmarked so it’s a mystery) and marvelled at the beautiful water that graded from turquoise at the shoreline to deep navy blue on the horizon, broken only by the tourists lounging on the hammocks and sitting on the swings installed in the shallower waters for their amusement.

On our way back into town we spotted a sign for a “hidden pool bar” which was an irresistible allure (completely overshadowing the same-size “residents only” sign beneath it). The pool was gorgeous: crystal clear, warm as a bath with a swim-up sunken bar with submerged cocktail seats… and half-price cocktails to boot! With that we frittered away the sunset hours in complete bliss. Longest I’ve swum in can’t remember how long!

Celebrating our little find, we vowed to return in the morning for the aqua-biking (underwater exercise bikes) workout session, thinking that exercise in this environment could only be a pleasure and, at 9am, surely easily possible.

We celebrated our great decision-making with a post-sundowner at Tir Na Nog, “the biggest Irish bar on the smallest island in the world”, where we had a Guinness (in a bottle, unusual for us) and an invite to quiz night (1 million Rupiah bar tab up for grabs!) the following evening. Game on!

Delighted at how the day had turned out, we were blind-sided by an Indian restaurant that cast aside all good intentions to eat only local food. It was a good call with a very satisfying lamb vindaloo and butter chicken to share, served with 2 types of rice and peculiar round crispy naan bread. Very nice.

Last mission was to source a snorkelling trip for the following day, which we did with ease since everything was still open and the tour guides still pedalling a fine trade well into the night from the tourists spilling out from all the restaurants and bars. R100 each for a 10-3, 3 island snorkelling excursion? Bargain!

I woke up (with holiday hair so exhuberant that it may preclude me from further holiday pics) at 9.15, so we’d completely missed our Hidden Pool workout (phew!)

… and we set off for breakfast.

The hotel gave us vouchers for a beachside restaurant called Egoiste. A lot more lush than we were expecting from a free breakfast, thrown in with such economy accommodation, we were treated to 2 eggs on 2 toasts with a delicious pineapple smoothie, served in a large parfait glass with a bendy straw. Delicious – and a good refuel for the day’s adventure.

It’s great that town is one main road, as we simply walked back in the direction we’d come  from the previous night until things started looking familiar and then hunted the tour office from the name on the booking stub. Easy peasy and we were soon equipped with fins, masks and snorkels and off to the boat, the Coral Voice.

The boat trip was a great decision! The Gili collection of islands consists of ours – the biggest, Gili Trawangan, the farthest from Lombok (the “mainland” island; we’re not in Bali anymore) – then Gili Meno in the middle and Gili Air closest to Lombok. The islands get more chilled as you get closer to Lombok. You can see Gili Meno from Gili T, but it obscures Gili Air, that in turn obscures Lombok, with its lovely hilly coastal facade. It is cool that each island has a horizon view of its neighbours.

Our boat trip took us first down the coastline of our own Gili T, where we were deposited in a serene azure patch of ocean with visibility easily 30-40 metres. I don’t know anything about fish, but the schools were plentiful, colourful and energetically weaving in and around the coral bed so there was plenty to watch!

After half an hour we were called back to the boat to transfer to Gili Meno where the skipper jumped into the water and took us on a guided snorkel, pointing out things of interest and guiding us to where turtles swam beneath and jellyfish-looking things swam between us.

We were then off to Gili Air, where we were again given a half hour to paddle about and admire the under- and above-water sights. The boat moored on the shore so we could grab some lunch at one of the beachside eateries. We delved into local cuisine with a capcay (sweet and sour veg with seafood) and ayam pelecing (spicy chicken), both served with rice and both very tasty.

The food was served very quickly, so we still had some time to spare on our lunch break to have a wander down the main road on Gili Air. Much quieter and more laid back; far less people, narrower road, no horsecarts… but still loads of restaurants and bars, so hardly remote in the strict sense of the word.

By the time we got home to our own Gili it was after 3pm. That was an incredible excursion for 100 SA Ronds each!

Having been told there is only one boat a day from Gili T to Lembongan  (our next stop), we did the wise thing and took our tickets to the boat company office to do pre- check-in and secure our places for the next day. Reassuringly, they already had our names on the list so it was a 2 minute process.

Sight-seeing and admin done for the day, we retired to our Hidden Pool at Villa Ombak for sundowners.

As nice as all our wallowing in the sea and pool had been, a shower was very welcome after the long day. As the central part of our open plan, open air bathroom, the outsized showerhead could sadly only be described as a “rain shower” if it were actually raining! Really dismal water pressure! Fortunately, we were in no hurry, so showering became as laidback and leisurely as an excursion all in itself.

The plan for the evening was the quiz night at Tir Na Nog, leaving an hour and a half for dinner. We’d become quite accustomed to the layout of town by now… and done considerable deliberation on our back and forths as to where to sample an authentic Indonesian meal. It had taken quite a bit of willpower not to participate in the Irish Pub’s Mexican Fiesta buffet (R90, including a Bintang).

We ended up back at Egoiste, where we’d had breakfast, at a stunning table on the beachfront. We had a Mie Goreng (like Nasi Goreng, but noodles instead of rice) and Rendang (lightly spiced beef stew). Both devine – worth another order for sure!

The quiz night was well-supported, held across the road from the beach front bar in a big open-air hall structure extension to the restaurant. We did very well initially, being in tie for 1st place at halftime. Sadly though, Round 4 was all about Indonesia… a subject which we (very apparently) know nothing about. With a 0/8 for that section, we slid to 4th place. We managed to gain some ground back on the last round and ended in a very respectable tie for 2nd place. So, we didn’t walk away with the 1 million Rupiah bar tab first place prize – thankfully!!

We’d have had no trouble finding a welcoming recipient for our spoils had we won the tab and wanted to cede it to someone. The pub, like the whole street, was buzzing. Lots of pubs had live music and there were more than enough party-people to ensure that no band went lonely. It’s a great hair-down, shoes-off town – and we were definitely among the oldest people!

It’s been equally weird not seeing a single Saffa here and seeing so many young (twenty-something, mostly Australian, but healthy portions of American and Brit) tourists staying in the flash resorts, normally full to bursting with aged Germans. Illustrates the combination of rustic, party appeal with cheap island lifestyle for the world’s stronger currencies. Drinking here is more expensive than at home, but with eating considerably cheaper and transport and excursions dirt cheap, what is a reasonably priced holiday for us must be a steal for them! Especially thr Australians since Indonesia is on their doorstep so am sure they benefit from Asian budget airline prices too.

We had good intentions for our last morning – circumnavigating the island  (*again*) on bicycle.

I must admit that we may very well have overslept and missed it, had it not been for the Muslims. Mosques are the Dachshund puppies of places of worship. While a church might rouse you momentarily with clangs or chimes, mosques are relentless with all that wailing! Our luck, our bungalow was spitting distance from a very punctual, very enthusiastic mosque.

We were told that the cycle would take an hour and a half, we budgeted an hour and only took 45 minutes… even with Christian’s wobbly seat and puncture 10 minutes in. It was a far less white-knuckle ride than the one in Amsterdam last year but, then again, it was emptier (9am is very early for the late night culture) and flatter (literally at sea level, obviously)… and not to say that it wasn’t hair-raising for every one of the oncoming pedestrians caught deer in my headlights and for me with every oncoming horsecart (with their cheerful jingling sounding quite macabre).

Worked up quite a hunger for brekkie, which made the Egoiste’s already-excellent eggs on toast most appreciated. I have also discovered that I might be a fruit-drinker, after being a vocally averse fruit-eater my whole life. The fresh blended banana juice was every bit as yummy – and every bit as “nothing but fruit” – as the pineapple one had been the previous day, neither of which I would ever have ordered under normal circumstances.

Motivated by the restart of the James Blunt CD on repeat, we took a last walk along the beach, back to Secret Garden 2 for a last jump in the shower(room) and off to the jetty for the next installment of Bali Adventure 2015.