The Gili Islands
My adventure in the Gili Islands began at 6am with an Indonesian man peeking over my top bunk in Kuta.
“Excuse me, miss. Miss, your van to Gili is here.”
Somehow I had misunderstood the pickup time and rushed to pack all of my things, brush my teeth, and pay for my room in record time. By 6:10am, we were off.
Getting to the Gilis from Bali is fairly easy, as you can book a shared van through most hostels to take you to Padang Bai port. The drive from Kuta to Padang Bai was about two hours, and upon arriving to Padang Bai, we had time to grab some food before our fastboat to Gili departed.
The journey on the boat took about 2 hours through rough currents. Most of the travelers got off at Gili Trawangan, while the remaining travelers got off at Gili Air and Lombok.
The Gili Islands
Located to the northwest of Lombok, the Gili Islands are a well-known diving destination. Gili Trawangan, the largest and most popular of the three, has the best night life. Gili Meno is much more isolated, inhabited mostly by locals, and Gili Air is a mixture of the two. I decided to spend three days in Gili Air diving and relaxing on the beach.
The Gilis are unique because they don’t have any motor vehicles on the island, so the only way to get around is by foot or bike (or by horse, but that isn’t recommended). They also don’t have any law enforcement on the islands, so the locals have their own system of punishing thieves by shaming them ala Cersei Lannister in Kings Landing (thieves have to walk around the island holding signs reading, “I am a thief.”), and signs advertising “Special Mushroom Shakes” are scattered abounds. Incidentally, the rate of crime remains incredibly low, making the Gilis a very safe spot to vacation.
Staying in Gili Air
Gili Air had a nice mixture of backpacker hostels and resorts. I stayed at Fantastic Gili Hostel by the pier. Each bungalow housed about 6 beds, which was a really cool way to experience island life.
My plan was to take it easy and spend one day diving, one day lounging on the beach, and one day in Lombok.
I botched the diving plans on my first day and ended up going to Lombok, but by the second day I was back on track. I went diving with Gili Pilih, a shop that specialized in certified dives. There are a ton of dive shops on the island, and most of them don’t require certification, so I went with Gili Pilih, just because I wanted to make sure we went on good dives.
We went to Halik Reef and Shark Point, which were located off of Gili T. During our dives, we saw several sharks and turtles and other cool fish.
The ocean water was crystal clear and full of marine life. You’re almost guaranteed to see turtles while snorkeling or diving around the Gilis (we saw around seven).
A popular trip from the Gilis is a liveaboard to Komodo and Flores. You spend 7 to 10 days living on board a ship, stopping on different islands and diving spots. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time nor did I have the advanced diving certification required for diving at most sites in Flores, but it’s definitely a trip I want to do in the future.
After diving, I took a quick shower and then decided to walk around the entire perimeter of the island (because, why not?).
I started at the southern most point by the pier and walked east, planning to eventually arrive to the western part of the island for sunset.
One of my favorite things about Gili Air is how friendly the locals are and their laid back attitude. I ended up stopping several times to talk to the tour guides and bartenders hanging out in their hammocks (it was off-season for tourism, so things were quite slow). As I approached the western part of the island (six hours later), two guys at a dive shop said hello and asked if I had time to talk. At first I thought they were going to try and talk me into diving with their shop, but they turned out to just be bored.
Talking to them ended up being the highlight of my evening so I actually ended up coming back the next afternoon to dive with them, and I’m glad I did because that dive was my favorite so far. We dived in Secret Garden off of Gili Air, and I had never seen so many different types of fish before in my life! Since diving with them was a last minute decision, I didn’t bring my camera, so you’ll just have to take my word on it being awesome. The current was pretty strong that afternoon, so we ended up being carried pretty far down the reef. But that dive pretty much solidified my love for diving and the water.
The divemaster invited me out for drinks later that night (it was the first day of Ramadan, so they had to fast until sunset). I was definitely the dumb western tourist asking stupid questions about Ramadan and being Muslim, and he pretty much summed it up for me in this way:
“We’re all human. Like every other person in the world, it depends on the individual how strictly they follow their religion. Some Muslims don’t drink at all, because technically, it’s a dry religion. Some don’t drink during Ramadan. I don’t care. I’ll fast during the day, and I’ll drink at night.”
The best thing about traveling has hands down been the people I’ve met along the way. Back in the U.S., we’re afraid to ask certain questions or say certain things so as not to offend each other. But while traveling, we have nothing but our curiosity. So many people have asked me if, as a U.S. citizen, I’m afraid of being shot when I walk down the street at home. Yes, Chicago is known to internationals as either being the murder capital or for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. (Also, guess what? No one wants to go to America. It’s expensive, and it’s hard to get around. Sorry, guys.)
My biggest regret so far has been the fact that I haven’t been taking many pictures of the people I’ve met on this journey. The friends from Port Barton, Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta, Mt. Bromo, Bali, Gili Air. Most I’ll never see or talk to again, some I’ve already met up with. I need to do a better job with taking those types of pictures.
Gili Air was the perfect place to end my journey in Indonesia, a country that I know I’ll visit again some day.