As I flew into Bali, I still didn’t have any real plans as to what I was going to do for my month back in Indonesia. There was a general plan to meet up with my friend Fiona, who was currently in Thailand but was also making her way back to Indonesia but we had yet to work out where. She and I corresponded back and forth once I landed, and eventually agreed that we would aim for the western coast of Sumbawa. But her husband was also flying in from France, so that left me with just over a week to kill somewhere while waiting for them. Preferably somewhere out of the touristy confines of Bali.
After a bit of dithering around, I decided that I would make my way to a small island, Gili Gede, (Gili means small island, Gede is pronounced Gidday) off the south west coast of Lombok. I hadn’t been here before and didn’t really know what to expect, but I was hopeful of at least getting in some snorkelling.
I could have decided to take the public ferry from Bali to Lombok but that would have taken a good 4-5 hours on an old car ferry and about 3 hours by bus and/or taxi with probably another 2 hours of waiting around time. Or I could book a cheap flight for about $30 and be there within 2 hours. It wasn’t a hard choice – the flight was booked and I was off.
The flight over Lombok was stunning with plenty of lush green rice fields. I tend to normally arrive in Indonesia between September and November which is the end of the dry season and when the landscape is brown and barren. What a nice change to see Bali and Lombok at the end of the rainy season when it is at its best.
From the Lombok airport, I chartered a taxi for the one hour ride to the small village of Tembowong, from where I chartered a small wooden boat for the 20minute journey to Via Vacare, the first of two guesthouses where I would stay Gili Gede.
Gili Gede is a very small island with limited access to fresh water, and no electricity. Villages and guesthouses rely on generators for a few hours in the evenings. So whilst I didn’t suffer hardship, it’s not exactly an island of luxury either!
My beachfront bungalow was surprisingly spacious and well furnished with tables and chairs both inside and outside the bungalow. The bathroom was semi-outdoors but had no running water.
The staff filled up a large urn in the bathroom and you just used a scoop to pour water over yourself – Indonesian style. Of course the water was cold – but at least it was ‘sweet’ water – ie fresh water either collected from rain, or brought over from mainland Lombok. (Other places get water from underground reservoirs but it’s somewhat salty).
When I arrived, I was surprised to find that I was the only guest staying here and that there was no one else booked to come for a few weeks. Hmm… 5 days on my own here? I had lots of reading to do – but I just might get a bit lonely on my own for that long. Luckily, 3 Dutch girls showed up unexpectedly the next day – and turned out to be good company. We chartered a boat for a snorkel trip to Gili Layer, an even smaller outlaying island where I swam with a big ole’ granddaddy turtle.
It was an incredibly peaceful part of the island, with no sounds at night other than insects flying around and the occasional wildlife scurrying around in the bushes next to my bungalow.
There are several fishing villages on Gili Gede so I wandered through a few of these, always stopping to talk to the locals (“Where are you going?”) and taking photos of kids by request.
After 5 days at Via Vacare, I needed to move on as they were closing down the guesthouse for a few weeks due to it being low season. I had the choice of making my way to Mataram, the big smoke of Lombok island a few days early, or move to guesthouse on Gili Gede for another 3 nights. Again, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
On the other side of Gili Gede is a new-ish French-owned guesthouse called Madak Belo which became my home for the next 3 nights. Again, I had a nice, spacious bungalow made of bamboo and thatch with fantastic views looking back towards Lombok, with the volcano Mt Rinjani in the distance. My days here were spent doing the same as at the previous place: read, swim, eat, read.
The one drawback of this place was its close proximity to the mainland of Lombok. Or to be more precise, the close proximity of at least two mosques on the mainland plus one at the nearby village. When you only hear the call to prayer from one mosque, in the distance, it sounds exotic. When you hear 3 competing mosques with tinny loudspeakers at 4.00am, it no longer sounds exotic and becomes an assault on my ear drums. It’s a pity they couldn’t at least synchronise.
Each night that I have been here, I’ve enjoyed some pretty solid sleeps, in spite of the mosques. Except for the one night where the Gods (Allah?) were determined that wouldn’t be the case. First, there was a herd of goats that came on to the property and were milling around outside my bungalow for quite some time. I knew this because at least one was wearing a wooden bell around its neck that clanked endlessly. I think the owner eventually got up and shooed them away, but they returned.
I just get back to sleep the second time, when I hear a bit of rustling in my bungalow. I turn on my torch and had a brief look around, but determined that it was either birds or geckos on the roof. I was woken again by the same noise, and this time, when I turned my torch on , a large rat was scurrying up the wall. Turns out that he discovered a small pack of cookies that I had squirreled away in my day pack. The little bugger actually chewed through the top of my zipped up day pack and through a plastic ziploc bag to get to the sealed pack. I tossed them outside in the hopes that would keep the rat out, and somewhat grumpily went back to bed. I did this knowing that in only another hour, the mosques would start up again at 4.00am. Sigh.. it wasn’t one of my better nights.
Back to the big smoke
After 8 days of island bliss, I headed to Mataram to meet up with Fiona and her husband. Arriving in the busy, noisy city is never fun after the relative peaceful island life.
Our plan after this is to set out to explore the west coast region of Sumbawa – the next island along after Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara group of islands. Stay tuned!
Ofr course, my blog post wouldn’t be complete without another sunset photo. Only problem is I couldn’t decide which night had the best sunset – so you get 3 from the price of one! Each sunset was consistently amazing on Gili Gede – some of the best I’ve seen for awhile.