The Gili islands are a mixture of western familiarity and exotic bliss. The three islands lie just a few kilometres of the coast of Lombok, and although they don’t differ too much in size or landscape, each possess their own personality.
They all share common ground of a stunning coastline, and brown dusty ground in the centre, populated mainly by tall palm trees. There are no motor vehicles on the islands, so horse-drawn cart is the primary method of transport. Being only a couple of kilometres long, the islands are still extremely walkable too. On the east coast of the islands, pale yellow sands meet the a thick reef of coral, inhabited by a diverse range of fish and calm turtles. The west coast is almost empty, but offer great sunset views with a shimmering reflection of the sun over the shallow waters.
On Gili Air, there’s a more subdued atmosphere with a bounty of honeymooners and couples on their retreats refraining from any raucous activity. Gili Trawangan is a much livelier destination, catalysed by the backpackers on a mission to find the biggest party scene in Indonesia. Most of those on the island seek a big night out, before stumbling into the sea for a swim, or finding the nearest sweetcorn roasting station (the only late night street food available, yet remains delicious). Gili Meno is the least inhabited of the three islands and looks like a perfect destination to rest in a hammock for a few days, although I’ll have to return one day to see it in person.
Unfortunately a history of dynamite fishing has left a minefield of sharp coral shards washed up near the shore, leading to a somewhat painful entry and exit from the waters. Fortunately, once you’ve pushed past the treacherous broken coral, you enter an amazing underwater realm of boulder gardens and huge swathes of coral. A large draw to the area is the local turtle inhabitants who frequent the shallower waters in search of food.
The initial shallow waters eventually drop off to deeper waters, where a different variety of marine life dwells. Using my recently acquired freediving knowledge, I was able to reach deeper waters for greater lengths of time. Most days gifted us calm waters, making it easier to float without exerting much effort. On others, choppy waves barged through, making it annoyingly easy to drift great distances through the waters without knowing.
On the second day, thanks to some local advice, I found my way to a channel of warmer water, where the turtles would arrive throughout the day. The following days I would return to capture photographs of the various turtle visitors, where time would fly by in the cool waters.
Life on the Gili islands felt similar to Bali in many respects, with local Warungs sitting in the mix of pizza restaurants, ice cream shops and irish pubs. After several days, I needed to steer myself from the hoards of tourism, which meant a short boat trip to the island of Lombok.
I immediately liked Lombok upon arrival. Generally viewed as Bali’s less daunting cousin, Lombok is a relatively small island, with a scattering of towns skirting the coast, and Mount Rinjani spectacularly peaking in the centre. My first stop, Kuta Lombok, is a popular town where tree lined roads ride over the gentle hills along the south coast. The gentle atmosphere is met with great food (and cheaper prices compared to Bali). The beaches of Lombok are legendary, with an amazing selection stretching along the coast. Similarly, waves rolling in create amazing surf conditions offshore. Whereas Bali creates large beach breaks, a boat is required to reach the incoming waves of Lombok.
The day following my arrival, I joined three enthusiastic Germans (Simon, Mischa and Fabio) from the hostel to search for a good surf spot. On our rented bikes, we sped along the picturesque roads to Gerupuk, which is a cove filled with fishing boats amongst the (mostly) calm waters. Small waves flood in from the south, before hitting the reef and growing to a large stature.
Our boat carried us to a location named Don Don. In the centre of the cove, the largest waves would break at a towering 10 – 12 ft tall. The sets of waves would arrive every five minutes or so, which meant the collective of surfers would patiently sit in the flat water and chat until the horizon started to rise with the impending waves. Still at my beginner level of surfing, any slight mistake in timing would be somewhat unfortunate, and I definitely found myself on the wrong side of crushing waves on plenty of occasions.
Good Warungs were in plentiful supply to provide food throughout the day. The evenings were spent exchanging new card games with Simon, Mischa and Fabio (I’ve built up quite a game collection over the months!) My days in Kuta Lombok continued in a similar fashion, with burning surf muscles and scorching sun. But there was no time to relax. Since arriving in Lombok, Mount Rinjani had been at the front of my mind. And so, the three Germans and I booked a guide and travel to a village at the base of the climb. Off to the mountains again.