Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Gili Air and Denpasar. I’ve had a very eventful past three weeks, which is why I didn’t update this blog in such a long time. I haven’t sat still for a single day, but one. But writing with a hangover is a definite no-go.
So Andy, Fabian, Simon, Rachel and I arrived at Gili T on Wednesday the 13th. On the boat we met an English guy named Matt, who joined our rather large group as well. The more, the merrier, right? No matter the high amount of testosterone. Bitches be trippin’ anyway.
The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, just off the northwest coast of Lombok. The islands are a popular destination for tourists looking for a remote island experience. Each island has several small resorts, usually consisting of a collection of huts for tourists, a small pool and restaurant. Automobiles and motorised traffic is prohibited on the islands by local ordinance, so the preferred method of transportation is by foot and bicycle or the horse-drawn carriage called a cidomo, which has the most annoying honk ever to get people to move sideways. I nearly went all apeshit on them honkers, the last day. Just thinking about it makes me cringe again.
With its three kilometer length and two kilometer width, Gili T is the largest of the Lombok’s Gili Islands. And it’s a proper party island. It’s had a reputation since the 1980s as a location where drugs are freely available. Magic mushrooms are openly advertised on the island, and a range of harder drugs have been known to be in circulation. Though police presence is low, Indonesian drug laws are extremely harsh and thus strictly speaking drug possession and use is prohibited and carries potentially grave risk (up to and including the death penalty). In recent years, locally made spirits have caused casualties and even some fatalities among tourists and locals, due to methanol poisoning. Methanol is sometimes used by locals as a cheap way of topping up their stock. The most recent case of this was on New Year’s Eve 2012, where a young man was served a cocktail at Rudy’s bar that had been infused with methanol. Following misdiagnoses in Indonesia and repatriation, he died 5 days later. Imagine having to call this guy’s parents to inform them. It’s sad.
It’s difficult to write in proper sentences about what I’ve been doing at Gili T, since there’s so much to talk about. Therefore, I’m just gonna enlist some random things I’ve done and seen. And I’m gonna start with a strong one;
- Whilst on the beach in the middle of the night, a guy and girl my age ran by, screaming. A few seconds later, we saw two Indonesian fellas chasing them with machetes. Not sure why. Maybe they were all very excited to go cut coconuts out of trees. Or maybe they were role-playing. Whatever it was, I felt like it was time for bed.
- I saw both sunrise and sunset with a beer in my hands. Magical that was.
- I drove around the island with a bike numerous times, which is really not that exciting or even worth mentioning.
- I ran to the view point, overlooking the other two islands, but I’m not even gonna post pictures about that. It was hardly worth my infinite effort.
- I saw phosphorescent water! This was definitely one of the highlights. Bioluminescence in the waves is the product of marine microbes called phytoplankton. There’s a chemical explanation for this, but that’s just plain boring. Instead, let’s just look at a picture! (Internet helped me out here, since my camera wasn’t good enough. But this is exactly what it looked like. No exaggeration!)
- I got chased by three street dogs at night, who get a lot more aggressive than the sweethearts they pretend to be by day.
- I took a boat to Lombok. And with boat I mean some wooden planks poorly put together, carrying twenty people. I thought I was gonna die. My mommy wouldn’t have liked that.
If you want to escape the constant tourism flow that is Bali, Lombok is a nice getaway. There’s still travelers galore, but much less spread out over the island. In Lombok you can drive with a scooter for hours, without seeing anyone whiter than chocolate milk. And that was my main purpose of going there.
Our German friends had left Indonesia for Vietnam and Andy had a friend come over to Bali, meaning I got to discover Lombok with Rachel and Matt, the two Bri’ish peeps. Now, let me give you two pros of spending time with just English people;
- Your English improves incredibly. Not just your vocabulary, but also expressions and different local slang, since Rachel was from Yorkshire (the very north) and Matt from Brighton (the very south).
- No one bats an eye if you open up a beer in the morning.
Our idea of getting the most out of Lombok, was renting some scooters and do the entire outline of the island. We take our time everywhere and stop for everything that looks fun. And by the time it’s starting to get dark, we look for accommodation. Simple as that.
We got off the boat bringing us from Gili T to Lombok. Here’s a tip for y’all; if you ever decide on going to Lombok, make sure you carry your own bag off the boat, because they took off our bags and aggressively asked for money. Eventually more locals gather if you say no and it’s not a pleasant experience. I got away with it. Matt did not. And then began the hassle for getting a drive to Senggigi, where we’d find the first hostel or homestay, half an hour away from our current location at the time. We were the only tourists, so everyone was trying to get us in their car. We were extremely hot, scared of being mugged and no idea where to go or what to do. These situations make you happy not to be on your own.
Eventually we got a drive to Senggigi for Rp150,000 (€10) and I couldn’t be happier after having arrived in a comfy hotel, with a swimming pool and cold beers. They actually extended happy hour, just for us. Some people just get me.
The next day we took off, with very little preparation. Thus, making it all the more exciting. I rented a scooter for Rp40,000/day (€2,65) and Matt an actual motorcycle for Rp50,000/day (€3,35). No need to show our passport or driving license. Just fill out a paper with your name and let’s hope you’re not lying. Mental.
To not go into too many details, I think pictures and few words are the best way to show what our road trip was like, so here we go;
Just like a kine of cows and bulls, it’s not uncommon to see a herd of sheep stroll down the road. And without a shepherd. They just find their own way to a new location or so. At night this brings a whole new set of complications, because they never have their lights on. One evening I almost killed my own steak.
England on a bike.
By the time it was starting to get dark we had reached the Secret Gili Islands at the southwest of Lombok. And guess what, no place to stay anywhere. The nearest village was another half hour on the scooter, without the certainty of having accommodation. This is what you get when you do a spontaneous trip on a non-touristic island.
We decided to look for people to bring us on a boat to the Secret Gili Islands, for we were sure there’s accommodation for the few tourists they get every week, if not month. And we had Rachel. Let me tell you this; in my entire life have I not once seen anyone who’s even nearly as good at bargaining as she is. She knows no shame. Ruthless, is what she is. Every price she gets, she gets half for sure. Accommodation, food, tattoos, you name it. It’s embarrassing at times, but in the end, she’s a lifesaver.
Anyway, we couldn’t get our bikes on the boat to Gili Gede, and since we didn’t want to risk theft, we decided not to do it. And if worst comes to worst, we’d sleep under the stars with enough insect repellent. I was secretly excited about this idea. But no need to. Eventually we found a homestay and it was probably the best one we could possibly come across. Look at this view from our room with a suite for 240,000 (€16) in total. Thank you, Rachel.
And an early morning dip in the Indian Ocean.
On the second day we were driving over a majestic piece of coastal road. Full tank, sun, shirtless and crystal blue water to our side. Can you see how we were enjoying ourselves?Water like this just asks for a quick swim.
We headed more west, thinking we could go around, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We ended at Desert Point. All we could do was head back, but not without checking out the most western part of the island. Filled with dozens of kids that had not once seen someone white. (Or like, tanned, for that matter. Like, really tanned. I mean, it doesn’t matter. But, I’m just sayin’. It’s really pretty.) They were very intrigued and interacted with us in every way possible. I taught one of them a fistbump with an explosion and they all started doing it non-stop. You know, something like this;
All these kids come running to you and they’re super happy. People of all ages wave at you and smile. Everywhere you go, people become happy, which makes you happy as well. Quite some random people asked to get a picture with us. A guy even stopped me to ask if his mother could get a picture with me, because she was so grateful for tourists visiting her village. It’s like being famous everywhere you go. But imagine asking a black guy in Europe to get a picture with him? Boy. Ho ho. Sued for racism.
And after this it was nothing but pretty roads and hidden gems.
I also concluded everyone in Indonesia is poor because all the money goes into the building of new mosques on every street corner. It’s ridiculous how luxurious they make them look, while everyone can barely survive.
That night we arrived in Kuta, the south of Lombok. And just like in Kuta, Bali, this one is the most touristic place as well. Western people everywhere, even though it’s rather small. We found a homestay easily, went for dinner and then partied on the beach. Here I met two guys from Belgium, living no further than seven minutes from where I live, and I had never even seen them. This is the second time this happens while traveling through Asia. It’s a small world, isn’t it?
To start the day we went to a bat cave. And it is what it sounds like. It’s a giant cave, with literally thousands of bats flying around. There’s a few rock python snakes as well, you can see catching and swallowing bats, if you’re lucky. But we couldn’t even find the cute little bastards. However, I had hundreds of bats shitting on me, so I’m pretty sure I lived the experience to the fullest. Pictures would be useless, since the WordPress resolution won’t be high enough to see the thousand pairs of murder eyes, looking my way. Having had girlfriends, I’m used to no more than one pair, so that was new too.
When we got out of the bat cave (and after Rachel stopped whining about all the shit on her shirt) we met two French-speaking girls. One from Belgium, one from Canada. I was proud to find another Belgian, since they’re so rare, but that was until she lifted her arms.
To all the girls out there, I understand it’s not always necessary to shave your legs or whatever. Especially when you’re traveling, it’s definitely not easy to keep up. But no man would complain. However,.. PLEASE DO NOT GO FULL BUSH! GODDAMN HIPPIES. IT’S DISGUSTING AND YOU’RE NOT A REAL WOMAN AND YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF! They both hadn’t shaved their armpits nor their legs for at least a month. A+ for sex prevention.
In Sade you can visit Sasak Village. A typical well-maintained village of what life was years ago, with people still living that same life in said village. But what’s more exciting, is the supermarket next to it selling green bread!
Aaaaaand some more rice fields.
After a long day we decided to look for a place close to a pink beach. Yes, you read that right. There’s a beach in Lombok that’s pink! However, it was dark and we coudn’t find a place to stay anywhere near. We talked to some locals, but it was getting very sketchy. Suddenly the vibe had changed drastically. The neighborhood we were driving through looked shady as fuck and our skin colors weren’t exactly helping our case. We decided to keep driving, but it had become pitch dark and mosquitoes were flying in our faces until a point it started to hurt really badly. And if all that wasn’t enough, there were two scooters with two to three kids on each of them, driving without lights and following us. They overtook us and then slowed down, until we decided to just stand still and wait for a few minutes before going again. After finding a store, we asked for directions and then when we got on the scooter again, suddenly those kids were there again. Well fuck. Now what?
We drove back to the supermarket, where Rachel would stay with the women sitting outside, so Matt and I could get on one bike, looking for a homestay, hoping those damn kids wouldn’t recognize us. And we did find a place, but you had to pay per hour. Great. We ended up in a whorehouse and were offered drugs straight away. We went to look at a room and you could smell gonnorhea dripping down the walls. “No thanks.”
We were on our way back to Rachel and oh look, THOSE EXACT SAME KIDS STANDING NEXT TO THE ROAD. We explained Rachel we’d drive further and pick her up the moment we’d had found something. At least she was safe and we could speed up. Eventually we found a “hotel” and went back to pick up the female presence in our midst. And guess what she was offered..
A baby. Yes. A frickin’ baby! Our dear friend was offered to buy one of the family’s babies to bring back to England, because they needed some extra money. So what, just rock up at the airport saying this is legitimately yours? Holy crap. East Lombok is definitely not my favorite spot.
Since we had head out too far from the pink beach and had no intention on driving back there, we went up north again. There was a big mountain called Mount Rinjani, with an active volcano inside. If you pay quite the price you can walk all the way up there and back in three days. But England being pussies as they are, were in no mood to do so. I should have said there was cheap beer at the top. However, we drove up as high as possible over a phenomenally beautiful road and that gave us some stunning views, so alas, I was satisfied. Especially with wild monkeys sitting (al)on(gside of) the road all the way up. And when we stopped to eat our picnic, they were sitting three meters away, waiting for us to leave and feast on our leftovers. They obviously hadn’t met me yet. Kristiaan never leaves food just lying around. Silly monkeys.
After this marvelous ride, we decided to make bed near the mountain. We found a homestay early this time, and went for some beers, because obviously there’s nothing to do at night. Especially where no tourist has ever gone. But our enthusiasm was only for a brief period.
“I’m sorry sir, the government doesn’t allow us to sell beer here.”
– “WHAT?! YOU SAY THAT TO MY FACE, ONE MORE TIME!”
Turns out there’s this law where only so much beer can be sold by one or two shops for the entire village. So everyone just.. smokes, or digs holes with a stick, or whatever the fuck they do to keep entertained. Funny enough, this was reason for us to cancel our homestay and continue driving to the next village. What do you mean, alcoholic?
Eventually we got ourselves in the same situation, yet another time. Sun went under and we had no place to stay. And where we were it didn’t look like we were gonna find anything anytime soon. We asked a local who could not speak a word of English, but he wanted us to follow him. Following an Indonesian guy on a motorbike after dark, is absolutely exciting, because you don’t know what’s gonna happen, and whether it’s safe or not, but it’s really all you can do at certain times. And guess what, he dropped us at the most beautiful place I have seen in Lombok. Rinjani Mountain Garden. A homestay that looked more like a resort, owned by a German couple. A pool overlooking the terraced rice fields all the way to the ocean, a perfect location for sunset and in the middle of nowhere. We had an amazing bungalow on their terrain, where animals walked around freely. A dog, few cats, some nasty turkeys, two horses, a weird big bird and a pet monkey. This was so exciting. And altogether we paid Rp120,000/night. (€8) This included breakfast buffet and a welcome drink, called rice wine! And that shit makes you drunk faster than a thirteen-year old having tequila injected with a needle. What an amazing night after such an eventful few days. I think our bad luck has turned..
.. Or has it.
That night, the responsible me went to bed on a timely manner. However, a few hours later I got woken up by Rachel, saying she and Matt had had a motorcycle accident. Arms, knees, feet.. Messed up. And the motorcycle? Fucked.
Figuring out what to do and how to get this mess sorted.
Conclude there’s nothing we can do and drive back home.
But not before I’ve seen my damn waterfalls, which was literally the whole reason I wanted to do this road trip! A two and a half hour hike, but it was well worth it.
Eventually we came across a little shop, where they wrapped over the scratched parts of the motorcycle. We found some new parts for almost no money also, and the bike was as good as new. The owner didn’t even look twice.
On the last day of an exhausting week, we decided to go to Gili Air for one night. Gili A is the closest island to the mainland Lombok, making it popular with honeymoon couples and travelers seeking a quiet retreat. In case I hadn’t made it clear yet, we’re no honeymooners, so we went for some well-deserved relaxing time.
Gili Air is definitely my favorite Gili Island. Sure, partying at Gili T was amazing, but I felt much more comfortable being here, letting time pass by slowly. Preferably next to the pool of our private Rp300,000 (€20) room, with an ice cold beer.
In the morning I felt sporty and decided to go for a run literally around the island. My condition’s quite alright, so five kilometers shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Wrong. Five kilometers should indeed not be a problem, however, I was running in loose sand, with a 35-degrees sun burning into my skin. Halfway I threw in the towel and walked the remaining distance back to our homestay. But not without being rewarded with another refreshing swim. I always forget how much I love the laid-back life.
At dinner somewhere on the island, I met a Belgian couple (from Limburg) with a three-year old kid, who at some point two years ago, decided to sell all their belongings and come live on this island. They had had it with Belgium. Big step, but they had no regrets whatsoever. Follow your dreams, right?
Matt, Rachel and I went back to Bali, where we met up with Andy again. And he looked like shit. Not the normal shit we’re used from him but even worse. He’s had a scooter accident and his arms, knees and feet were demolished. No trip to Bali is complete without a traffic accident, now is it?
We finished our time in Indonesia doing what we do best. Partying. And that, you obviously do in Kuta. This one night in Skygarden, two random girls walk up to me and go like this;
“Are you that Belgian guy?”
– “Eh.. Yeh.”
“Didn’t we meet in Australia?”
– “We did?”
“Yeah, there was a party in your dorm room. We definitely talked.”
And again, proof that I’m shit with faces. But truth be told, after they mentioned having met me, I still didn’t have the slightest clue. But when you meet at least ten different people per day, I wouldn’t say that’s too abnormal.
And I found a new place besides Skygarden. Alleycats. Get in, ask for a ‘double-double’ and enjoy a very strong vodka RedBull for no more than Rp20,000. (€1,3) You might also wanna order eleven. And if you’re a bit shy, this is definitely your place. I couldn’t stand near the bar for a minute, without anyone starting a conversation with me. Men, women, ladyboys, you name it. It doesn’t get easier than this, boys and girls.
I mentioned it before, but if you go to Denpasar after coming from the airport, stay at Gandhi hostel. I stayed here again, before taking my plane. These guys take you in as their family and will make sure every single one of your needs will be fit. Especially ask for Rama or Aris. These motherfuckers will be your best friends during your stay in Gandhi. I promise you.
Andy and I looked into where we wanted to go next, since our visa was about to expire. And again, with very little background information or basic knowledge about the country at all, we booked a ticket to Singapore. I always thought saying “I once went to Singapore” felt like an awesome something. And I was completely right. I’m here for a couple of days, before going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However, it was a close call. Apparently we overstayed our visa in Indonesia with one day, even though we were so certain we weren’t. We got fined straight away. No discussion. We paid Rp300,000 (€20) each and we were off the hook. It’s such a waste of money, but altogether, I was happy not to be deported back to Belgium.
I’ve had my ups and downs in Indonesia, but I definitely gained more experience about a culture that’s so different from ours. It was eye-opening to see what life could be like, if you’re unlucky. There’s a lot of people here that are more intelligent than a lot of us Europeans. Harder workers than a lot of us, especially. But yet, every day for them is about survival. Struggling to come by, while we walk around spending our money on luxury items we probably don’t need. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, don’t get me wrong. Hell, I’m as goddamn guilty as you are. But seeing the other side of the medal, really makes you think and re-evaluate various aspects of life. But only little you can do as an individual.
On the plus side, because people don’t have much, they appreciate what they do have a whole lot more than we do. It’s still a very appealing country to wake up in, with food that’s unquestionably luscious. I loved my stay here, but it was time to say my goodbyes to the people I started caring for.
Off to a next chapter in my never-ending book of travels.
Take care, y’allz.