An adage of traveling that always seems to hold true, especially when traveling in less developed areas, is that nothing is ever as you expect it. No matter how many pictures you see, people you talk to, or research you attempt, there are always surprises in store.
Liz and I were on the fence about checking out the Gili Islands off of the coast of Lombok (the Indonesian island directly to the east of Bali). After the strong recommendation of our friends Michelle and Shon, we decided to make a four night trip between our time in Ubud and southern Bali.
We had read that the tickets from Bali to Gili were 60 dollars per person. When we found a “travel agent” offering the journey (including a pick up at our airbnb and the one hour van ride to the port) for about 22 dollars per person, we jumped at it. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The alleged three hour journey with AC took eight hours and both the boat and van had broken AC units.
This is when we discovered that to get to our place you had to turn off the main drag, past a couple blocks of cheaper rooms and restaurants, past a couple blocks of very rudimentary local houses, and a block and a half further through what could be most generously described as undeveloped land. We immediately knew that this was going to be a harrowing journey at night sans street lamps and paved roads.
Sidebar on the Gili Islands: Sometime in the 80s, tourists discovered these three pretty Islands with great diving and zero police presence and turned the biggest island (Gili T) into a hedonistic free for all. Despite this, the local population are Muslim and you can hear the call to prayer from the Mosque speakers, five times per day. That sound is the only peaceful noise amongst the techno music and live music being blasted from every bar on the strip. The local women, even working at bars wear traditional head covering.
There is no motorized transportation on the island, you can walk, bike, or ride a basic horse and carriage. While it has tamed and become more commercialized since it’s discovery, the partying roots are still at the surface.
After a quick dip in our hotel’s pool and a much needed shower, we headed out for the night.
We grabbed good Thai food at the Thai Garden, then walked down the main street along the beach for a good vibe. We bar hopped between Sama Sama and the Irish Bar, listening to live western covers by local bands.
After midnight we made our way to Blue Marlin. Every night on the island one bar takes their turn in the rotation hosting the late night party. It was Monday, Blue Marlins night. Liz and I took to the dance floor and danced late into the night.
When we left, we attempted to get a horse and carriage to take us back to our room. After discovering their ridiculous rates, we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay, so we decided to walk, big mistake.
After passing through dimly lit, narrow dirt roads for five minutes, we decided to jog the rest of the way. Which is something we regularly do in New York when returning home drunk or sober.
Before long we started hearing the sound of heavy running behind us when we got to the undeveloped land. Frightened, we stopped, turned and shined our phone light back in the direction we had come from. There it was, ten feet in front of us, staring us down, a 400 pound wild buck.
We were horrified, after going back and forth across a fence, we took off for the last 200 feet to our room. We could hear it running near us but couldn’t see it. We made it into the property and closed the fence door behind us. We were so relieved. We took a shower and washed away our fear along with our sweat, and settled into a feeling of normalcy before falling asleep.
The next day we woke up with a mission: find a new place to stay for our last two nights. We borrowed a bike from the property we were at and did a loop around the island. The bikes were a joke and both were broken so it was a challenging bike ride to say the least. We stopped at a well reviewed Jamaican restaurant on the opposite side of the island excited for some jerk chicken and beach time. Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of chicken and the beach water was only about nine inches deep for hundreds of feet.
We did have a delicious couscous salad though. We continued our journey and after looking around settled on a new accommodation within a well lit block of all the action. We decided to return before sunset and enjoy a quiet movie night in to avoid walking through the backwoods again. We are city folk and just couldn’t handle it, go ahead and laugh at us.
The next morning we moved our bags over to our new spot and met up with our friends Danny and Kelly for a snorkeling trip. The boat was a bit overcrowded, but overall it was really nice. We toured Gili T, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. We saw lots of fish, interesting coral, and a big turtle. It included lunch and only cost 10 bucks per person. Our go pro ran out of battery so we didn’t get any photos.
After going back to relax we headed out for another night in Gili T. Before hitting the bars, we went to the nightmarket to try the fresh caught seafood off the grill sold on the street. It was delicious and cheap. We met another traveling couple from Holland who gave us excellent tips for Malaysia as well.
We played a few rounds of beer pong at a bar and called it a night.
We got to our hotel to discover that not only was the power out on our half of the island, but the generator at our property was not functioning. We were left to put up with a ridiculously hot room, loud tourists in the next room over that impressively sang for at least three hours at the top of their lungs and no staff to ask for information on the outage or to get a fan.
After an hour, the generator was repaired, our singing neighbors moved on to a nightclub and we were able to finally fall asleep.
The next morning we stayed in so I could get some work done and Liz watched her favorite movie Father of the Bride, a craving that was likely set off by all of the wedding planning we have been doing.
We attempted to go to the best restaurant on the island for lunch but learned the couple that owned it had just got married. The restaurant was closed but the couple was so sweet that I still recommend their joint, Pique Cafe.
We decided to cut our losses and ate a nice salad at the beachside Kayu Cafe.
We finally checked out the best swimming beach on the island. It was in front of Horizontal Club. We enjoyed over an hour in the water before partaking in happy hour mojitos on the club’s beach bean bag chairs.
At that moment we realized that we had not done our daily stretch routine we committed to doing every day in Indonesia. We didn’t want to lose our buzz so we bought a couple of Bintang beers and rotated sips of beers with each stretch. Try your hardest not to judge but do feel free to applied our discipline.
After getting limber we went out to get loose. We hit all of our favorite spots, the Irish Bar, the beer pong bar, and Sama Sama for live music.
Eventually the long evening of drinking caught up to us and we headed in. It was another night of no power and no AC.
The following morning we packed up our things and boarded the boat back to Bali. We spent a little extra money and sprung for a slightly nicer boat Marina SriKandi. It was still warm but at least the AC worked and it only took 3.5 hours until we arrived at our hotel in Sanur, Bali.
While we enjoyed our time in Gili T, we just couldn’t catch a break and get into sync there. By the time our four days were up, we were ready to leave.
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