The Gilis were another one of those places that, even from the very early planning stages of the trip, we were very excited about. They're usually rated in the top 5 places in the world to dive. The small speedboat took less than 45 minutes to reach Gili Trawangan from northern Lombok.
We cruised up to the beach, the sea was glassy, the beach was white. We jumped onto the shore and we quickly realised this was not paradise. The road was lined on both sides with bars, restaurants, minimarts and travel agencies. The beachfront was pretty sleepy, the number of bars etc seemed so excessive for the number of people on the island and clearly there was still a lot of development in progress. What a shame. But still, plenty of options for a cheeky evening drink.
We found our hotel which was a peaceful walk inland. There are no motorised vehicles on the island, bicycles and horse and cart are the two choices available. The roads are made from mud and sand and are in very good condition. Walking along the quiet backstreets in the early morning sun with chickens flapping around us and the sound of pots clanging from unseen kitchens transported us a hundred miles from the dirge at the seafront.
We headed down to the beach, 10 minutes away from the harbour, the sand is empty. We picked a spot to dump our stuff and got in the water. The sea was very silty, giving it a milky appearance, but as we got further and further out it cleared, the seabed dropped away and we were suspended 10 metres above a colourful coral garden in water so clear, it was like we were flying over an alien meadow. A small shoal of squid squirted passed just ahead of us, huge parrot fish crunched on the coral, a huge grouper prowled the deeper gullies as schools of countless other species flitted in the spaces between. We were glad we came.
The ocean began to swell and Jan didn't want to go back in a second time, again the swim out was cloudy and was made a bit longer by the rising waves but once over the reef again, the sea stilled and the visibility was again perfect. Below me, munching on the plants growing from the floor was a turtle. The current must have been strong as the water surged, the creature was flipped tail over head but not once did it stop its feast. Of all times for Jan not to come in!
We booked ourselves in on a couple of dives, our expectations were high and we weren't disappointed. The visibility was exceptional at around 30 metres, on the dives we saw so many different fish. The stars were an enormous turtle possibly 5 feet long that laid at the bottom while two remoras scavenged on its back, another that cruised slowly passed us within hugging distance, a huge moray eel 30cm in diameter, a hatful of octopi, so well camouflaged that we were almost on them before we spotted that they were there, we were also privileged to see a rare sight of two octopus in courtship. Lastly, the electrifying feeling when the dive master puts a straight hand to his head to signal a shark. After a couple of seconds, a glimpse of a white tipped reef shark as it glided away in the distance. What a way to end our diving in Asia.
Aside from diving and snorkelling, tubers are few distractions during the day, but with the temperatures hitting 37 or 38 degrees, anything on land had to be done slowly. We took a walk around the island, it took around 2 hours at a slow pace, aside from the main drag, there were few other places to eat, drink or stay. The beach was often hidden behind scrub, lone mangrove trees grew in the shallows and it was a relief to see that only a small part of the island had been so severely impacted by tourism. By the time we got back round to the bars, I had had enough, the heat was too intense and though we had plenty of water, it was impossible to hydrate sufficiently. We slunk into one of the bars and took shade, foot and 'water'.
In the evening, we went to one of the traditional restaurants built on stilts over the sand. The local cats wandered through mewing for scraps. As one started, it was joined by another and another, the noise sounded like a group of whinging kids and we could see that some fellow diners were finding it a little uncomfortable. Apparently, for the thousands of cats on the island, there isn't a single dog.
We had our final few days in Bali before heading to Australia, time to relax on the beach and reflect on our Asian adventure.