We took a taxi to Padang Bai, where we boarded a boat that brought us across the channel between Bali and Lombok over to the Gili Islands. Off the north west coast of Lombok lie three tiny dots of islands known for good diving, beautiful beaches and a wonderful atmosphere—the Gilis. Each of these islands is supposed to have its own ambiance, Gili Trawangan is the party island, Gili Meno is the locals island and Gili Air is the romantic quiet island. We had heard about the surf of Gili T so naturally that’s where Dave wanted to go.
The boat ride skirted the beautiful Bali coast, crossed the channel and pulled up along the equally beautiful coast of Lombok then over to Gili Air. As we pulled towards the white sands of Gili Air, a wave and a few surfers caught Dave’s eye.
“Honey look.” The swell was down so we weren’t expecting to find waves on Gili T.
“Should we get off here? Does the wave look like something you’d want to surf?”
It did, so we made the instantaneous decision to jump off the boat.
We arrived on the beautiful, hot shores to find blue horse drawn taxi carts asking us if we needed a lift. “No thank you” we responded smiling then looked at each other, where to now? We hadn’t read about Gili Air, just heard it was beautiful and quieter than Gili T. We had no idea where anything was or where we were going.
A tall middle aged man asked us if he could help us find something. We laughed, “Sure, we’re hoping to go diving and surfing and we need a place to stay.”
“Well we have a dive shop and you can stay just down the way, come inside, put down your stuff we will watch it while you go look for a bungalow that suits your fancy.”
Sweat poured freely down both our faces. This man and his words we exactly what we needed.
We walked down the path in search of the perfect bungalow.
“Do you want to look at these places?” Dave asked.
“Sure, but I don’t see anyone around.”
“Hello, room! You need room.” A group of men down the road began calling to us.
Dave’s travel instincts kicked in. “I don’t want to be heckled, let’s go find the front.” And he started into the property looking for a front desk.
“Hello, room?! Excuse me.”
Turns out the man calling to us was the front desk. The best, and perhaps most difficult thing to get used to is here, is most people just want to help you or talk to you, not sell you something or rip you off. I had heard amazing things about the people in Bali and around, but hadn’t fully imagined such genuinely sweet people. I was only going to be surprised again and again.
The man showed us the room. It was a bamboo hut with a double bed adorned by a mosquito net. A small fan sat on a rickety little table in the corner. Sweat poured down my face.
“How much?” Dave asked.
“200,000” Which is about 20 US dollars. We looked at each other. Could we do this? We were both so visibly hot, the room was so hot. The dive place said they had room for us tomorrow so it would only be one night.
“Do you have one with AC?” Dave inquired hopefully.
I smiled sweetly, “Thank you, I think we’re going to keep looking, but we might come back.”
“Ok,” the man smiled, “Next door, they have AC, very nice.”
We thanked him. See what I mean? People genuinely helping out others even if it wasn’t in his best interest that we liked next door better—which we did.
Next door was Tyrrell Cottages charging 300,000 rupiah per night or $30. Across the path (for on Gili Air there are no roads, or
cars, or motos, just bikes, horse drawn carts and dirt paths) from the ocean lies their open-air restaurant with a painting of a kangaroo. Behind the restaurant, 8 beautiful bungalows are tucked into a lovely lush garden. Each bungalow is artistically manufactured. Some with grass roofs and carved wood entrances, ours is stucco with wood doors, a clay tiled roof and rock mosaics on the wall. Inside is a queen bed, the most glorious feeling AC we’re had yet (which later proves to be a godsend) and a bathroom with a separate area for the shower and stones on the floor. I haven’t mentioned this Indonesian intricacy yet—here the bathroom is a tiled room with a sink, a toilet and a shower but there is no separation between them. If you have a big bathroom the chances of dousing your TP are reduced.
It began to rain. We ordered the Tofu Goreng for lunch. Goreng is, or we thought it was, a Indonesian dish consisting of fried ramen noodles, veggies and meat, fish, tofu or tempe topped with a fried egg. Instead we received two plates of fried tofu and a small portion of sauce on the side. I found this food mishap very funny, mostly because I could still eat it. Turns out goreng means fried. Mie Goreng is the friend noodle dish, however the menu at our previous hotel just said ‘Goreng Special’ for the noodle dish leading both us to believe that goreng was the noodles. On the plus side the coconut milkshakes were heavenly.
We signed up for a morning dive and got instructions of where to go for good snorkeling. The water never felt as miraculous as we set off in search of the reef. There was only sand below us as we swam out and reached the drop off. I was a tad disappointed but one thing I’ve learned about successful traveling is that its best of have low expectations. I was happy to be in a pretty place and the water felt wonderful even if there wasn’t anything to see.
Dave thought we might have walked past it and we should swim back along the beach we’d just walked. As we swam the sand gave was to turtle grass, green and yellow blades gently moving in the current. A school of tiny fish, perfectly colored to match the turtle grass ducked into the grass to feed then moved off to another area to duck into the grass once more. They were shaped like juvenile surgeonfish but I haven’t the slightest clue what they are—this being my first time in this part of the world, I have a lot of fish species to learn, right now they just look colorful and exotic.
I was tickled pink by the tiny feeding fish and could have stayed for along time watching them. Dave, more impetuous swam on. As we swam the fish life became more abundant. Dave found a coral outcropping with some damselfish, a small moray eel, and three lionfish—minute in their native waters compared to their invasive Caribbean counterparts which grow to be quite big.
As we swam, we came across more and more coral outcropping until the sand and turtle grass gave was to hills and valleys of various corals blanketing the sea floor. Schools of aquamarine chormis darted about feeding, damselfish, butterfly fish, wrasses, everywhere it was alive. Soft corals waved in the moving water. Various hard branching corals dominated the valleys between mounding and lettuce corals. Tiny fish took residence in all these crevices. Crinoids in more colors than I knew them to exist in poked out of the reef and fed in the slight current. Rain beat down on the ocean’s surface, something I absolutely love to watch. I laughed into my snorkel gleefully. We’re really in Indo! I thought. This was everything and more than I could have hoped for.
Dave signaled me over to show me a free swimming spotted moray. We looked up at the surface to find a rainbow over Lombok coming of the rain cloud.
“Can you believe that we’re here?”
“This is paradise!”
The more we snorkeled the more amazing the reef became, more corals, more crinoids, more fish, more color. Every time we put our heads above water the rainbow grew larger until it was a full arch stretching from the Lombok mainland over the channel to Gili Air. The next time I looked a second rainbow was forming above the full one. Dark blue gray rainclouds came down in sheets above northern Lombok while to the south the coastal mountains shown green in the sun. On shore, Gili Air was a stretch of white sand backed by greenery. It truly was paradise.
That night we walked around part of the island, past the quaint dive shops and coastal restaurants until we found one to stop at. The people were nice and the pineapple juice was the best we’d had yet.
Contrary to our normal form in the states, Dave and I have been asleep by 10 and up by 6 for the entire trip. When I awoke to pee the first night, my stomach felt off. Everytime I woke after, it felt worse. By morning, I knew I wasn’t going to make the AM dive. I hoped that whatever was making me feel queasy, would come up fast and let us dive in the afternoon, afterall this was the part of Indo I was really excited about. No such luck. Travelers diarrhea hit me hard.
Dave was my angel. He canceled the dive, fed me antibiotics and found me the closest thing he could to Gatorade and saltines: lemon water and cream crackers. I found the cream crackers foul and the lemon water good when watered down. My stomach turned and twisted and pained.
Dave would go off and do something and I would sleep. He would come check on me, and then go off and I would sleep again. I slept pretty much straight until 2, waking up in pain, rolling over and going back to sleep. Being awake was painful, my stomach felt queezy and simultaneously like it had a knife in it, my body ached and cramped, my head was hot. All I wanted to do was take a painkiller but there was no way I could muster enough food to take one without risk more stomach upset. The AC was the best decision we could have made. Repeatedly I was grateful we were not in the hot bamboo hut.
At some point during the afternoon the family we are staying with knocked on the door to deliver a local herbal medicine for me to help me get well. Again, such amazing people! If you find yourself on Gili Air–look for a room at Tyrrell!
Since Dave had a more pleasurable day than I, I will inset his story here:
“Sierra is sick and I am spared. After one night on Gili Air, a miniscule island off the northwest coast of Lombok, Sierra’s stomach started to turn and is now rejecting everything in her gastrointestinal tract. Time to play doctor. Antibiotics and a isotonic fluids being the solution, Sierra stays close to the toilet as I go explore, checking in every hour or so of course.
It takes about 90 minutes to circumnavigate Gili Air while walking along the sandy coastal trail. Our hotel is situated on the southern portion of the island, where we spied a pretty, and empty, right wave on the way to shore. The plan was to go to Gili T, the furthest west of the three Gilis, but the wave convinced us that this dab of sand and palm trees would be best. Now that Sierra is sick, the early morning dive that we have scheduled is postponed to unspecified date; That date being when Sierra feels ready to put on the wetsuit and say goodbye to the comfort of a toilet being a 10 second trip away. So I go explore our newfound paradise.
I set off to check out the surfing situation and ran into a very friendly local named Phillip. At this point I have heard that the reef is super shallow and the wave looked really small. Phillip had a bigger board for me, a 7’3” board shaped by a Jeffery’s bay sharper. I found this to be a fun coincidence given that I plan to be in J Bay in less than a month, and the perfect right point is about 7000 or more miles from where I stand. I took the board, and made the half-mile paddle out to the wave. What looked like 1-2 foot mush balls, turned into 4-6 foot racing rights, with little barrels interspersed. It reminded me a lot of Rights on the ranch, but instead of heavy cold water with some grumpy rich guys surfing, there was a group a super friendly locals, and an aquarium of crystal clear water, beautiful brain coral and countless colorful fish beneath me.
What might have been even more special than the waves, was the view. From the lineup I could see all three Gili islands and the huge imposing, lush green, mountains of the Lombok mainland. It was just outrageous. After countless perfect rights I decided to make the paddle in and return the board to Phillip.”
I could not have been more pleased than to hear that Dave had found a great place to surf. I enjoyed his accounts of his walks, the nice people he’d met, hearing about his snorkel adventure, the turtle and big fish he saw, the new part of the reef he found, the incredible sunset watched while enjoying a Bintang—the local beer—with some college kids from Lombok, and then the spectacular lightning show he watched flash over Lombok. I love lightning and ambitiously crawled from the bed to a chair on our front porch to see it light up the sky. A few minutes later I pitifully repeated back to my bed.
That night I felt good enough to eat a little. Dave ordered a jaffle and gado-gado for himself and white rice for me. Jaffles are Indonesia’s best attempt at a Panini and gado-gado is mixed cooked vegetables with peanut sauce served with rice. The smell of his jaffle, something I usually like, made me nauseas.
The family who owns the hotel we are staying in, brought me the white rice Dave had ordered and in addition they brought ride pudding and a hardboiled egg. “Good for her tummy.” They said. I think kindness is even more appreciated when you are weak and feel like hell.
I ate some of the rice and some of the rice pudding which was the consistency of normal rice pudding but not sweet. I went to bed relieved to be feeling better and hopeful for diving in the morning.
I went to bed comfortable and dreamed of being sea sick. I dreamed I was moved to another island and I didn’t want to or understand why we were moving. I was comfortable on Gili Air. I woke up to my stomach churning. It felt like hot lava bubbling slow, constant, big bubbles. I couldn’t get comfortable.
“Are you ok?” My tossing must have woken up Dave.
He reached out a kind arm to touch me. I tried to get comfortable then gave up and got up to pee. As soon as I got back to bed and under the mosquito net, I tasted it. That sickly sweet taste of stomach acid, which sent me back to the bathroom. Dismayed, my attempts to rehydrated and gain nutrients thwarted by hurling it all back up.
“Honey, you must have absorbed some nutrients.” Dave looked at his watch hoping to see the digital numbers shine back 3am or thereabouts, they disappointed him: It was 11:15pm.
Regardless, I felt much better in the morning. Thank goodness for antibiotics and lemon-water. I hungrily ate the one piece of white toast that we delivered to our room while enviously watching Dave eat eggs, tomato and toast and a banana pancake. Banana pancakes are common in indo and unlike fluffy American pancakes, here they are dense and moist and made witch sweet bananas; they are heavenly.
The short walk to go snorkeling seemed long. I was weak but happy to be out of bed. My stomach began churning but the desire to see colored fish overwhelmed my instinct to stay near indoor plumbing. The water felt grand, the reef twinkled in the sun. I relaxed in the water, happy to be half way across the world, even if it made me sick as a dog, so that I could see such wonders. Here we were in the indo-pacific, the coral triangle, hotspot of biodiversity!