Gili Trawangan, the tropical island with a split personality. On the one hand, it’s a stunning peaceful paradise surrounded by gorgeous oceans filled with life including turtles. On the other hand, it is the mecca for sin away from the strict hand of the Indonesian government.
This trip began straight from the hotel on Lombok, where the handy man who’d arranged my Mount Rinjani climb also arranged transfers to Gili T. Despite every second building in Senggigi offering transfers all over Lombok, I felt obligated to the handy man, being such a charming smooth-talking swindler.
“The boat to Gili T included in the price” After a brief pause of consideration
“For you my friend, ok!” The shuttle bus dropped me and others at this café
“Your boat ticket?”
“My guy told me that it was included in the price” followed by a bitterly awkward financial silence…
“Okay my friend I give you boat ticket free” problem solved. This one bit of luck was followed by a string of unfortunate events.
Firstly, they had prices for travel from Gili T onward, one of which was Bali. The price they offered was extremely good, 250,000 rupiah (£12), at least half of what I’d seen offered anywhere else. One downfall, I’d have to travel BACK to Lombok, across the whole island and THEN over to Bali. Still, a small price to pay for the savings I’d make. Once on Gili T I found a boat direct to Bali for the exact same price…and as described later, a big mistake.
Secondly, straight after being swindled, it happened again. Where the last was deceptive and sneaky, this was blatant, he might as well of taken the money out of my pocket himself. I was handed a ticket to take to the harbour office “down the road”. Carrying 20kg+ in the soaring heat and the road appearing endless, I found salvation in a man and his faithful horse & cart. Why not? Authentic and all, spare the long walk. Thinking I’d learnt not to be scammed by now, I tried to set a price early, bartered down to 30,000 rupiah (£1). I handed him the smallest note I had, a 50,000
“ahh thank you my friend”
As he caressed the note between his greasy fingers directly in front of my face “ahh thank you, for horse yes my friend”
Just to rub salt in the wound, it’s a good thing he decided to end negotiations early, as the bastard ride had already finished, all of 100 meters to the harbour which I just paid a night in a hostel worth to the swindling little shit.
One could indulge the inner child and splash out on a speedboat to the islands, or like myself, travel on public boats. This particular boat also apparently served as a delivery vehicle as the centre of the boat was filled to capacity with all manner of fruit and veg, some of which I couldn’t recognise. Once again I found myself the only white man sat in a boat packed from one end to the other with locals and Asian tourists. I was kindly taken care of by a Malaysian family who took a shine to me, handing me packets of tempe for the short 20 minute journey.
Forget your fancy stepping off onto the glamorous yacht riddled docks, this is not a sophisticated disembarkation. Hours of Mario show their use in timing the jump between the movement of the tide and the boat, almost certainly resulting in a pair of soaking wet converse upon my first step on “paradise”.
At this point, a disclaimer is required for the island of Gili T. The yin-yang culture of Gili T is clear. If you want a relaxing paradise, laying in hammocks under a palm tree on a secluded beach and spa resort hotels, you can have that. However, there is a darker underside to the islands which many go there to find.
Indonesia has no tolerance whatsoever for drugs. As hard as it is to believe when walking through the streets of Bali, with every seedy character offering you something. Despite that, to this day drug smugglers and the like are executed. However, it would seem that Gili T is the grey area of Indonesia, like Amsterdam is to the Netherlands. Drugs aren’t strictly legal, and deals aren’t done blatantly out in the streets. Do not be mistaken though, they are everywhere, and certain cafés even advertise them! On my very first day, in my very first bar on Gili T, I talked to a man resembling an Indonesian Eazy E. Within an hour he’d offered me everything from weed and mushrooms to speed and crystal meth. I can neither confirm nor deny my involvement in such matters.
So anyway… arriving at the island, I decided I wanted a private bungalow. Sounds fancy but essentially they’re single rooms in a building with maybe 8-10 others. A little more expensive than a dorm, but I considered this to be my holiday from my holiday. For 100,000 rupiah a night, it wasn’t too bad anyway.
I wish I could say I was much more productive those first 3 days, seeing the sites, exploring. However, I’d forgotten the joy of complete privacy and a double bed all to myself. Apart from befriending a half German, half Sri Lankan girl next door, I hadn’t interacted with anyone. That’s when my appreciation for hostels really sank in. As nice as it was to have privacy and a bit of luxury, it suddenly became incredibly boring and lonely. So after 3 nights I left my Apocalypse Now room, and started my search for a hostel dorm, quick.
I used maps.me and hostelworld to navigate the endless backstreets. It’s really tricky, only the few random signposts. It took me an hour walking with my heavy bags (bare in mind you can walk around the entire island in 45 minutes). Eventually I stumbled on a hostel I recognised, “Good For Ya Knee”. I cannot begin to sing the praises of this hostel enough, by far the best hostel I’d stayed in throughout my entire trip without a doubt. That’s undoubtedly down to the staff, who made the experience for me.
I walked into the small courtyard with a concrete semi-circle bench aligned with pillows and a centre brick table with a man and woman sat round, who I mistakenly took for guests. The female co-owner showed me the dorm
“Its 35,000 a night” that’s about a pound…almost half the price of any other hostel on the island…what?! The owner invited me to sit with them round the table and we discussed how “Weed is all good here my friend”. These two were a married couple, an English girl and an Indonesian guy who lived, worked and run the hostel. Not only that but making each and every person feel welcome, which made socialising with the guests incredibly easy.
My very first night, everyone in the hostel (those not too rough) sat round the centre circle, drank from the bar and went out. When predictably I lost the group, I stumbled back to the hostel to find Wan and Charlie at the bar, and quickly invited me to join, giving me my first vodka joss (vodka plus some sort of sherbet energy thing) on the house.
However, the best proof for these people’s generosity was shown on my last day there. Waan had promised to organise a trip for him, Charlie and any willing hostel guests to go to the Tiu Kelep waterfalls on Lombok for about 100,000 rupiah (£12). I was so enticed I extended my stay just to go. So an Australian, an Algerian, a German, Waan the Indonesian, Charlie an Englishwoman and a Welshman boarded the public boat back to Lombok.
A car was waiting for us so Waan could hammer it down the dodgy Indonesian country roads, which was aided by a new fruit to me, rumbutan. Waan drove us to the water falls and dropped us off to an awaiting guide, and departed to a local hotel. As usual, the rain was coming hard, almost heightened the experience. Trekking through the jungle, knee deep in river water hearing the deep rumble of thunder rattling through the tree’s. Particularly chilling when approaching a monstrous waterfall that’s so powerful that it’s heard hundreds of meters before seeing it. The rain made it particularly difficult to capture its beauty, however did inspire godly poses.
Despite cold temperatures and the torrential rain, me, the Australian and the Algerian couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to swim beneath the waterfall. The bitterly freezing waters was exhilarating, feeling the crashing waves ripple underneath the water. We were warned not to stand too close to the waterfall itself, and be aware of raising water levels due to the high rainfall. We pushed it as far as we could.
The tour also included travelling through the water system that ran through the mountains. We were plunged into total darkness in knee high water following a narrow tunnel occasionally illuminated by holes forged by nature.
Upon our return, Waan and Charlie were waiting for us in a near-by hotel, home to some of the most spectacular views on Lombok. The restaurant within overlooked the rainforest with Mount Rinjani in the near distance. In front of the restaurant sat a drop-off swimming pool which overlooked the very same view. The hotel also attracted the attention of the local monkeys which ran and surveyed from atop the roof. We ate the finest prepared food in luxury for once.
We then entered an episode of Miami Vice. We missed the last public boat. A highspeed rush down a pitch black back road up to the coast ended up at a group of Indonesian men and a speed boat waiting in the middle of nowhere. We boarded and rode full pelt through the darkness in the stripped out speed boat illuminated only by a faint blue cabin light all the way to Gili T. This concluded the spectacular day all thanks to Waan and Charlie.
Outside the dark nightlife of Gili T, there’s also the tourist backpacker aspect to the island. A turtle conservation on the island provides an easy spot for some. However, the extent of my time in the sea’s surrounding Gili T consisted of being knee deep while boarding or exiting a boat. I’d also paid to go on a boat party, one of the “must-do” things on the island. On my first day sat at a bar seeing the group that would go that day, I changed my mind. It seemed a bit too Magaluf for me, and as much as I could indulge in that, it wasn’t what I was looking for.
Another must do was renting a bike and cycling around the whole island, which could be done in half an hour. That I also backed out on. Partly because the variation in prices 60,000-35,000 seemed too much hassle to find the cheapest, especially when I could just walk, and a beautiful walk it is.
The island is helpfully divided to suit your particular needs. On the South-Eastern side, that’s where you find the bars, the hostels, the dock, the main hub of the island. On the North-Western side, that’s your peaceful tropical paradise. Boutique spa hotels widely spread across a pristine beach lined up with beautifully crafted decks and the like. Here also are the infamous swings which have to be the number one photo opportunity on the island.
A special treat for me was found on this walk. Up a short yet steep 15 minutes trek, I found the remains of an old World War 2 Japanese bunker. Only 2 relatively small sections of the bunker remained, you wouldn’t have known unless someone told you. However, I found it incredibly chilling and an unbelievable experience, having a fond interest in war history, being standing and touching what Japanese WWII soldiers once did.
There is a shady underbelly to the island, there is no denying that. Men will appear from back alleys
“Hey my friend mushrooms?”. At the first bar, I was sat with the drug peddling Eazy E, in my 2 hours or so there I witnessed a total of 3 tourists to come up and complain about something, and they even at one point got into a brawl with a few of them! The second bar that I sat in, I befriended the young guy behind the bar who was my age, and discussed life on the island, what it was like to live and work in where he simply called “paradise”. This happened to be a bar which served what was known as a “Shroom shake”, I’m told.
I stayed a total of 8 days on the island, way longer than anticipated. My visa was running out in a couple of days and I needed an extension. I stayed simply because of the amazing time I had at the hostel and the people I met. Early the next morning, without a chance to say goodbye I boarded the public boat back to LOMBOK…not Bali…