First and foremost, Gili Trawangan is a beautiful, chilled out place. Generally, the order of the day would be to wake up to breakfast on the porch of your bungalow, where the reggae music will already be playing and to head to one of the beach bars where you can chill out on the loungers on the beach while they serve drinks and food to your spot. You have to take a dip every now and again to cool off and chat to other travellers in the sea, and maybe head out on a snorkelling trip out to one of the other islands, Gili Air and Gili Meno. Later on, you can grab dinner at one of hundreds of restaurants overlooking the sunset behind Lombok where you sit on the floor and smoke some fruity shisha.
Secondly, Gili Trawangan is a great party scene, and it manages it without being seedy (mostly). Generally, the order of the night would be to get to the Irish Bar (oh yes!), Tir Na Nog for 6ish to catch the end of the sundowners happy hour, after a few hours (and a few Bintangs!) when you’ve made enough friends at the bar and it’s worthwhile heading off, head down to the Sama Sama reggae bar where they have a great live band each night who will play the reggae classics as well as Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones covers in reggae style! 3 nights a week there are also big parties at Rudys, Blue Marlin and the Irish bar which tend to go on until the last person leaves. These parties are full of travellers and locals alike. Although it seems the locals stick to the magic mushroom shakes rather than the Bintang which, for most, is against their religion (crazy, huh!?).
The magic mushrooms are everywhere here. The lack of a police force on the island (or maybe something to do with bribes and corruption) there appears to be no rules whatsoever. Walking down the street in a country which punishes drug smuggling with execution and feeling like you’re in the dodgiest parts of Camden is a strange feeling. The phrase of choice for the locals who are offering mushrooms or weed is generally “something else?” and you’re bombarded with it whether you’ve been offered a ‘something’ yet or not. The whole time though, the island manages to remain completely unintimidating. The lack of control seems to send people into dizzy friendliness rather than violence and theft, but maybe that’s the mushrooms. The beach front road (I say road, there are no cars or motorbikes on any of the Gili islands, only here drawn carts) is surrounded by signed saying things like “fresh, sexy mushrooms here” and “super strong shroom shakes” and the menus in these places are ridiculous. You can get mushroom shakes, mushroom pizza, mushroom sandwich, mushroom macaroni, mushroom pie, and the list goes on… Some people drink them like other people drink Bintang!
My favourite local on the island was a guy called Bas, who we renamed The Boss. He ran a shop by the port and late at night he would sit outside with his guitar strumming away and apparently waiting for some drunken tourists to sit down with him and sing along, which of course we did. He was a 50 something guy with a penchant for singing a good few octaves above his comfort level. After rattling through ‘Redemption Song’, ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ he asked if we had heard of 4 Non Blondes… “Of course!” The following few minutes were spectacular!
I met some great fellow travellers too. Two Canadian rugby players, Scott and Jonah, (from Bamf, who said that it was nice to be in Bali where there were fewer Australians than at home!) who I met on the boat over and shared a room with. Kiwi Tim and Shane (actual name Tony, not sure why) and Canadian Brad, who were fly-in-fly-out workers in Western Australia and Papua on their 1 month off before going back to work, were the guys I spent most of my time with, “6 o’clock in the Irish bar” becoming the catchphrase of the week! And also Englishmen James, Eden and “Beast”, who play for Westcliff RFC, who I believe will probably be playing against Tabard next season. I also strangely met a girl from St Albans, who’s name escapes me but she went to STAGs.
I’m heading back to Bali now for 1 more day on the beach, and I’ve booked a flight back to Kuala Lumpur for Thursday 7 Feb to return to some sanity and to stop spending so much money on beer! From KL, I might meet back up with Corbin, Jake and Mitch (who I met in Tanah Rata) who are volunteering building a guesthouse somewhere or may head north to Penang. I need to start heading north soon though as I have 7 weeks until I fly to Mumbai from Bangkok and I want to see Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia before then!
Goodbye Indonesia. It’s been expensive.
Kuta Beach is mad.
The main road along the front, the beach itself and the two ‘gangs’, Poppies Lane I & II, that lead from it are crawling with Australian holiday-makers and expats and with locals trying to sell you drinks, surf lessons, sunglasses, vests, magic mushrooms and massages. You can’t escape it. I learnt early on that a response is enough for them to follow you down the street shaking your hand and doing their favourite English impressions (“luv-lee-jub-lee” “sees-ya-late-uh-al-uh-gate-uh” “you-want-boh-ul-wah-uh-mate?”) and they don’t forget it when you say “maybe tomorrow”… The only way to deal with them is to try to ignore them, but they’re all such good characters it’s a biter a shame sometimes. On a couple of occasions, after a few Bintangs (we’ll get on to that!) we sat down in one of the stalls where the guy was playing guitar and had a bit of a sing-song with him. We also became good friends with, Edy, one of the drink guys on the beach who looked after our bags for us when we were in the sea and let us sit in his chairs under his umbrella the rest of the time, in exchange for a few drinks of course! We, by the way, was me and Dan, a guy I met on the first night whilst watching the Aussie open semi-final, who was 4 weeks into a 2 month stay in Bali for the surfing.
One thing you notice as soon as you arrive in Bali is the excessive number of ‘Bintang’ logos everywhere. It’s quite a challenge to find a vest on Poppies Lanes that isn’t emblazoned with it. I am in fact the proud owner of a Bintang towel! Just like a local, sort of. Bintang is the local Pilsener lager that is sold across Indonesia and brewed in Jakarta. It’s served icy cold and in an insulating sleeve to make sure it stays that way during the day. There’s is nothing more refreshing than a chilled Bintang on the beach at sunset after a day of surfing!
My plan in Bali was to chill out, learn to surf and generally try not to spend too much money after the hole in my pocket left by Mt Kinabalu. However, after a couple of surf lessons, board hire, purchasing a rash vest (which was unsuccessful in preventing a rash), hiring a scooter (I mean push bike, mum) on a couple of days to check out some of the rest of the island, and 5 or 6 Bintangs (average) per night, I was spending more in Bali than I was in Malaysia, where drinking is so expensive that most travellers don’t bother! So, that was a failure, but Bali was good fun just the same.
On the days we rented scooters we went up into the highlands to the art culture heavy Ubud and Candikuning’s volcanic lake; both quite impressive but ruined slightly by heavy rain – not good on a scooter! Ubud is full of art galleries and I was surprised at how contemporary Indonesian art can be. Candikuning I’m sure is beautiful when you can see the sky – a lake surrounded by jungle and mountains – but when overcast, it’s a brown lake with trees around it. Not too impressive! There is a beautiful temple, we were told, but the only way to see that was a boat trip across the lake… In the rain!
It must seem like it rains constantly from the way I write about it. Don’t worry, it doesn’t. I just don’t talk about it when it’s hot because its what I expect. When I’m in India in May I’ll be telling you how hot it is. Don’t worry about that!
Next stop, on 1 Feb, is (the Amy Russell recommended) Gili Trawangan. An island close to Lombok with no police where recently an Australian died from ethanol poisoning. Wish me luck!!
P.S. Just noticed the excess of exclamation marks above. Must try harder.
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