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  • Writer's pictureBil

The Gilis

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Now we will start working our way eastwards as we have a dive trip in the Komodo Islands booked later in September, so the plan is to get back to Amed and catch a boat over to the Gili Islands. This time we will try to use a public bus instead of hiring a driver & private car, to save some money and see what it is like.

Just trying to find out where and when the bus runs is a challenge. There is no schedule or bus terminal to be found online. Everyone we ask says to just stand out by the road and the white bus will stop. What time? Between 9 and 2pm! (must be run by the local cable company) Does it go to Amed? Maybe. The general consensus seems to be 10 or 11 am.

05/09/19 – Thursday – Up early and packing. Sorry to leave this gorgeous place but off we go. Our plan is to eat breakfast at 9:30 at a nice bakery next to the road; one of us can eat while the other stands out by the road with our bags. The some what dilapidated looking White Bus shows up exactly at 11:00. Through the window Susie asks the driver if they go to Amed and he shakes his head no. She tries to get an explanation but he doesn’t speak English well and gets out, the better to gesticulate while talking in Balinese. Finally he says ya, ya and throws our bags into the front and points us towards the rear door.

Inside vaguely reminds me of some of the worst school buses I rode in Missouri. It is a Mitsubishi (Colt?) with about 20 “bucket” seats and a bench seat across the back. There are a few empty seats and many shopping bags and tied-up cardboard boxes in the aisle. All locals but us – young, old and a couple of young kids.

Inside is pretty warm but not unbearable, and the smokers only light up a few times. The bus stops about 6 times during the 4 hour journey to let folks on and off. Some of the younger men get up if an older man or woman boards.

My nerd friends are familiar with JIT programming (JIT = Just In Time). Well everyone over here practices JIT driving! Which basically means it's ok to pass anyone, anytime, as long as you avoid a headon Just In Time - no matter who is in what lane! It is not quite so nerve wracking in the bus as it is bigger than most other traffic!

We are dropped off at the crossroads to Amed, which is another 5km down a side road, so we flag down a Bemo driver to complete the day. Arriving at the homestay we used a couple of weeks ago we are surprised they are full, and end up at another place nearby – not quite as nice but fine for one night. The owner arranges tickets for the Fast Boat that leaves at 9:30 am to the Gilis tomorrow. $45 for both of us.

Friday we are up and standing at the road by 8:30 as instructed for the Freebird Express van to pick us up. By 9 we have seen several of their vans go by – all of them full as they head towards the harbor. We are starting to get a bit nervous and start waving at the next couple. One driver holds up his arms like “I’m full – what?” Finally one does stop and in we go, and down to the harbor.

This is the same area I did my certification dives a few weeks ago and it is still the same “organized chaos”. We stand on line with many other to get our tickets stamped and wait to board while the old local women carry the big luggage out to the boat on their heads, where the young guys on the boat are joking and stowing the bags away.

These Fast Boats are slightly smaller than the others we rode on, and they have pulled in bow first to the shore, and dropped ladders over the front for boarding. We head directly to the back seats (smoothest ride) and Susie finds a spot outside the cabin near the engines. Off we go – pretty much due east. It doesn’t take long to clear the eastern tip of Bali and the southerly swell is hitting our starboard side. I join Susie out side but the only space is farther to starboard, so it doesn’t take long before I am pretty wet from salt spray. Oh well – c’est la vie.

By the time we reach Gili Trawangan (Gili T) another 5 or 6 passengers have joined us outside. Maybe they were feeling a bit queasy. Many got off here and then we made the short trip to Gili Air where we disembarked.

The Gili Islands are 3 tiny islands (Gili means Island in Indonesian) off the NW coast of Lombok, known for sandy beaches and coral reefs. They only became a popular tourist destination towards the end of the 20th century but the diving and surfing has attracted a younger crowd that is increasing. Several large earthquakes last summer emanating from nearby Lombok caused considerable damage to infrastructure and coral reefs.

Gili T is the largest island and has a reputation for being loud with all night parties where anything goes. Gili Meno is the smallest & quietest, situated between the other two, and called the “honeymooners island”. Gili Air is closest to Lombok and is the one we chose to experience first.

There is actually a pier that the boat pulls up to and secures with the dock lines. We say goodbye to the boat guys we have been chatting with and roll up the pier with our stuff. There appears to be about 150 people standing on the walkway waiting to catch boats to somewhere.

The “main drag” is paved – somewhat – and we walk a ways before finding our current abode: Gili Malibu Homestay. There are no gas engines allowed in the Gilis, so the main mode of transport is bicycles. A few locals have electric bikes. Another method is the cidomos – horse drawn carts. Some are gaily decorated for carrying tourists while others haul lumber & supplies. Many groups are trying to stop or modify this practice claiming the horses are treated horribly and worked literally to death. We walked or rode bikes.

These islands are part of Lombok, which is mostly Muslim like almost all Indonesia. Our hostesses all wore long robes and headscarves. We can easily hear the adhan, the formal call to prayer 5 times a day. The muezzin used to stand up in the minaret tower to call the adhan, but most places we have been they use amplified speakers, and sometimes a recording. (On Gili T as I’m writing this the muezzin sounds like he has turned on some reverb or echo!)

Gili Malibu is a small homestay with 7 rooms and a small reception/dining area where the included-breakfast is served. Our room is pretty nice but the WiFi is sloooow. There is a wide range of very cheap homestay rooms to luxury resorts on the beach. We’re trying to stay near the low end while maintainngi some level of cleanliness and conveniences.

This island is maybe 1km x 1km so doesn’t take too long to get around. We rent bikes and set off to circumnavigate the island, which goes well the first paved 100m or so but bogs down into sand soon, so we are reduced to pushing our bikes much of the way.

The beaches here are some of the nicest we have seen in Indonesia, with fine, white sand in some places. When the tide is low the coral extends right up to the waterline, making wading in the water a bit hazardous with bare feet. In several areas on the south side there is a decent surf break quite a ways out.

Many bars and restaurants line the beach, with a variety of tables, chairs, beach chairs and beanbags for patrons to relax with a drink while gazing over the beach & surf. All the places on the west side fill up late afternoon with people hanging out for the sunset around 6pm.

Sunday we ride over to the beach on the SE side and rent masks & fins. The tide is low so it is difficult to get out to deep enough water to swim, so we try to duck walk together with our fins on as we have seen plenty of sea urchins in these waters. Finally the water is deep enough that we can float with a few inches of clearance and swim to deeper water. There are many other people around swimming and snorkeling, and many boats anchored as well. The coral is pretty nice and there are lots of tropical fish everywhere, and we see two small schools of squid about a foot long. Many sea urchins, and some different colored ones besides black.

Monday I go out with Manta Divers for a morning dive on Shark Point off of Gily T, with a young German guy finishing up his Open Water certification and instructor Sab. Seas were calm and there was little current and good visibility. Much of the bottom is broken bits of bleached-white coral – a combined result of many years of cyanide fishing, global warming and earthquakes.

There are still large clumps of healthy coral and these have many fish living around them. You have to be pretty sharp eyed to spot a lot of the smaller creatures and we are fortunate to see two types of octopus, a lionfish & scorpionfish. A large moray eel swims from one coral head to another and we see a large white tipped reef shark lying on the bottom with a remora on its head. And 3 or 4 large green sea turtles. I think I better get a camera!

That afternoon we ride our bikes to a small Montessori school Susie had found. They had 2 teachers and 7 students in a 4 room building. All but 1 child were ex-pats, as most locals cannot afford any money for school. Their larger building was destroyed in the earthquake last year. The lead teacher was very pleased to speak with Susie about their operation.

Now it’s about time to head to Mowies for sunset. They have a great view and decent wine at a good price!

On Wednesday we take a boat for the short hop over to Gili Trawangan to see what it is like for a few days. The waterfront is very similar but the interior roads seem to be a bit dirtier, with more run down shacks and yards and not as many nice homestays and warungs.

Locating the place we had booked we inspect the room and it is def a step down from the last. Funny smell, beat up furniture, leaky sink. Next day we move to next room over which is better. The shower has a tankless heater hooked to a small propane tank, and I notice the gauge reads 0! One of the young guys here takes it to fill and brings back a full tank.

The shower consists of a spray head on a long hose, in a small room with the toilet and sink. I try the shower and can hear the flame kick on in the heater overhead. The water coming out goes from luke warm to scalding in short order. There is a digital readout on the heater and it climbs to 54 – then stops there. So about 129 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit much for me, so I locate the temp control and dial it wat back. The good news is we have a hot for a long time – until the propane runs out!

Oh – and the WiFi screams here! I have downloaded an app on my phone called WiFiSweetspot that can measure and record instantaneous and average speeds of the network it is logged into. Our last place averaged 2 to Mbs – this one is 30 – 40 Mbs. Fastest so far I think.

The guests on these islands are mostly young singles and couples from Europe – especially France, Germany and Holland. A few older couples and a few with kids, but mostly young adults. Plenty of tats and thongs. And the vibe on Gili T really is more party time. Loud rap, dance and rock pervades the air along the beach instead of reggae and mellow trance music.

Riding through the back Jalans and alleys is more of a challenge here, as they are darker and in poor condition. It is necessary to keep a firm grip on the handlebars so a pothole or loose brick does not cause a head first crash in the dark. We still have not had any feelings of being unsafe due to crime and are thankful for that.

Tomorrow we are catching another boat over to Lombok, the next big island east of Bali. Can’t wait to see what awaits us around the next bend!

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Carol Farrand
Carol Farrand
Sep 13, 2019

I hope you are keeping a diary and publishing it when you return. Question? Have you discovered something you don't have that you wish you did

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