We took in the last of the rice-terraced views over breakfast at Kenari Guesthouse in Ubud before making our way to what we thought was the minivan pick up point for the Gili Islands. We were told a mini van would arrive between 11:00 and 11:30am to collect us and drop us off at the ferry terminal point in order to catch the boat to the islands. After triple checking with our lovely hosts at Kenari where we needed to station ourselves for the pick up, as the guesthouse was located on a very narrow and dead end back lane, we waited.
By 11:20am we became paranoid that perhaps we were standing in the wrong location, as it would be impossible for a large vehicle to drive up the lane, pick us up and turn around with ease. It seems directions had been lost in translation when Lawrence decided to check for the fourth time where we were meant to wait. We were in fact standing in the wrong location and legged it down to the end of the lane where the correct pick up point was.
By 12:00 noon we were getting paranoid that the bus had come and gone while we were waiting in the wrong location so called our guesthouse once again to quadruple check that we hadn’t been left behind. They must have thought we were massive worriers but we did not want to miss the last boat to the Gili Islands where paradise awaited us. We should have known, being in Indonesia and all, that prearranged transport is never on time. The Balinese like to tell you that everything is arriving/coming/leaving in 5-10 minutes whether this is accurate or not, as opposed to just telling the truth, which we would much rather hear at least to prepare ourselves for a long wait. The bus was an hour late in the end, but we didn’t care as we were the last to be collected (everyone else had probably been in the van since 9am and looked a little fed up). We were glad to be in an air-conditioned vehicle with a seat to ourselves.
We arrived at the very busy ferry terminal around lunchtime ready to catch the 2pm boat to Gili Air. After waiting in the jetty while the sun bore down on us, we were finally ushered through the gates to the boat like cattle. Our bags were faithfully handed over to the crew who jammed them below deck and then it was our turn to pile on to the boat. 70 people all eager to get a good seat swarmed towards the boat at the same time and it was a miracle no one fell in or lost a bag in the process. We took our seats at the back in the knowledge that this would theoretically be the least bumpy place on the boat. The waves were looking choppy but the boat was a substantial size and had been ferrying tourists back and forth from the islands for years and we hadn’t heard of any issues from our research.
One thing we have learnt about South East Asia is their utter disregard for health and safety. This is particularly relevant when describing Indonesian public transport and the boat from Bali to the Gili’s was no exception. Our captain crashed through the waves at full speed, aided by the extra 5 engines that had been strapped on to the back of the boat. The aggressive waves hurtled over the roof of the boat and water seeped into any opening or crack in its path. Naomi got a face full of salt water before frantically pulling close the window and shuffling closer to the aisle, which was now submerged in sea water.
Some travellers continued gulping down Bintang beers unphased by the captain’s madness, while others grappled for the provided sick bags. The merry looking crewmembers sloshed as much water as they could from below deck with buckets and back in to the sea, indicating that this is a normal occurrence. We felt quite low down in the boat so couldn’t see the horizon clearly enough to fixate on a point to keep us from feeling seasick. We had 2 hours of this torture to endure before arriving at our destination. Lawrence was feeling worse for wear about an hour in and was close to vomiting. Naomi on the other hand managed to squeeze in a half hour nap, waking up when we arrived at the islands.
There are three islands that make up the Gili’s, each known for their distinct characters. The three islands are fringed with white-sand beaches, coconut palms, turquoise waters and all forms of motorized transport have been banned, so they’re the pinnacle of idyllic. The only way to get around is on foot, by bicycle or on pony carts known as Cidomos. Many visitors stay on Gili Trawangan (everyone on our boat hopped off on Gili T except us) for the cheaper accommodation, wide range of facilities and the party atmosphere. We decided to avoid Gili Trawangan and its mob of visitors for all of the reasons above, favouring the quieter of the three islands instead.
We were literally the only ones on the 75-seater boat going to Gili Air, the closest of the three islands to Lombok, referred to as ‘the social backpacker island’. Gili Air has a well-developed community with a range of accommodation and restaurants to choose from but is still distinctly less spoilt than that of Gili T. You get the best of both worlds with Gili Air and this happy medium looked like a good place to start our week of beach relaxation.
We walked 15 minutes through the centre of Gili Air to reach our hotel. Omi was our host, a young cheeky faced local who smiled consistently, never wore a top and liked to sing Bob Marley songs with his uncle who owned the shop across the lane. Our little hut was just a five minute walk to the beach and came equipped with a semi-alfresco bathroom and fresh water shower. Omi directed us towards the best place to watch the sunset on our first night and Lawrence’s nausea was settled after a Bintang.
For dinner we found Rubys Café, located on the other side of the island but still just a 15 minute walk from where we watched sunset. We arrived 5 minutes before the mad rush, in which a queue of 10+ people developed. Ruby’s was number one on TripAdvisor so everyone wanted a taste of their BBQ Ayam and Beef Rendang. We both had chicken, rubbed in Indonesian spices and barbequed, which was delicious. It was good to eat some honest Indonesian food after all of the raw vegan nonsense sold in Bali (even though we still dream of the SOL Jars).
Omi cooked us banana pancakes every day for breakfast, served with tea or Lombok coffee (very strong), and fresh pineapple juice. It’s a great start to the day knowing you have Omi’s infectious grin, beautiful blue skies and sandy beaches to look forward to.
The east side of the island had the best beaches and snorkeling so this is where we stationed ourselves for the duration of our days sunbathing on Gili Air. A nice cool sea breeze keeps you from overheating while basking under the sunshine and the seawater is the perfect temperature for cooling off. The only criticism of the beaches is the ridges of coral that visitors must navigate in order to wade in deep enough to swim. This made water shoes an essential accessory and almost everyone wore them proudly, especially Porridge.
The snorkeling is excellent on Gili Air with crystal clear waters and a variety of sea life to keep you entertained. There was coral as well as a grassy seabed teeming with shoals of fish. The Gili Islands are known for their abundance of turtles, but we didn’t see any on Air unfortunately. For now, we were happy to just soak up the rays and enjoying feeling well again.
We quickly spotted a couple of yoga classes offered on the island and as we had missed out on the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Naomi persuaded Lawrence to come along to a 4:00pm Vinyasa flow session on the beach. This was Lawrence first ever yoga lesson: al fresco on a tropical island looking out to sea. Any other lesson he may go to will be deeply disappointing in comparison. And yes, Lawrence did declare that he would like to go to another yoga class! Naomi was delighted he enjoyed it and takes full credit for converting him. The class was very relaxing but also hard work so we definitely felt it in our muscles the following day. We had to fill up on lots of chicken, beef, goat, squid and corn on the cob satay skewers for dinner as a result.
Lawrence took a turn for the worst on our third day on Gili Air. We thought we were both over any ill health after leaving Ubud but perhaps he wasn’t quite ready for the yoga class. Lawrence had a terrible nights sleep and woke with the same symptoms Naomi had experienced earlier that week. We went to the beach regardless (although that’s probably the worst place to be when you’re feverish) and tried to stay in the shade, taking regular juice breaks.
We called it a day early and missed sunset in favour of napping in a cool dark room. The cold fresh water shower did nothing to help Lawrence’s recovery or sensations of feeling cold, in spite of his skin being on fire. He shivered his way to dinner and had a hearty chicken burger to settle him down before an early night.
Another terrible night sleep was had, by both of us this time. Lawrence was hallucinating and feeling feverish while Naomi was woken every time he thrashed around in bed or got up to go to the toilet. Adding an upset stomach to the mix of symptoms was the last thing Lawrence needed and by dawn he was empty of any chicken burger remains. There was no banana pancake for Lawrence that morning but an undeterred Omi still bounded through his service like a playful puppy.
Again, it was another chilled beach day with no snorkeling, just lazing and recuperating. We had some healthy juice at our favourite Mexican restaurant on the beach, and Lawrence downed a rehydration sachet to keep his energy levels up.
Naomi went to yoga again that afternoon while Lawrence had a nap in the room, returning to find him feeling much better after a day of fasting and resting. We have our fingers crossed that we’ll both feel fighting fit on Gili Meno so we can make the most of our time here…and hopefully see some turtles!