The Gili Islands are not part of Bali. The three small islands are just a mile or two off the coast of Lombok, another large island province of Indonesia. To get to the Gilis, depart Bali on the “slow boat”, cross the Lombok Strait, swing around Lombok on the north east side, keep going a bit, and you will come to Komodo, where there be dragons. No, no don’t go that far. Just stop near Lombok, and wade ashore on the sandy, low slung Gilis. This is the tropical paradise of your dreams.
That’s Gili Trawangan, Gili Tee, in the distance as photographed from the even smaller island of Gili Meno. The hill you see on Gili Tee is the highest point in all the Gilis. When the tsunami comes, that hill will be crowded.
Yes, Gili Trawangan is like a vision from a James Michener novel, but it is also one of the strangest, and silliest, places on earth, a “gorang” of surreal ingredients that rivals the weird hash of Saigon in the 70’s, just before its fall (another story). I’ve already mentioned that there are no motor vehicles on the Gilis, but even more odd, there are no medical facilities, banks, industries (except tourism), government buildings, or, get this, no police. No police! There is no official governance at all. Gili Tee just kind of runs itself, getting along through habit and custom. I’ve heard that there is a local “head man” who will “sort things out” if necessary, and settle disputes when called upon, but I never saw any evidence of this Gili mafioso. The larger hotels and restaurants have a few sleepy security guys.
How about this? The many (many!) dive shops have formed a confederation among themselves to watch over the reefs. One day I went out on a 3–dive tour. Before the first dive, the briefing consisted of two instructions: “Number one, don’t stand on the reef. Number two, don’t touch the reef.” The dive shop operators are also involved in restocking the oceans with sea turtles. Right along the main drag, you can spend time with the turtle babies, tanks filled with turtle babies of different sizes, from little thumb-sized cuties, to their bigger brothers and sisters getting ready for graduation into the bright blue sea.
That’s cool isn’t it?
But mostly, Gili Tee is self-propelled anarchy under a tropical sky.
When road work is needed, people get together and repair the roads. Back in the states we would commission a study that costs taxpayers 2 million dollars, wait around for several years for funding, bidding, and blah blah blah. On Gili, they just get it done. During our stay, a crew of workers tore up a hundred yards of bad road, and repaved it—all by hand. Took about 4 days.
Here’s another strange ingredient, there are really two Gili Tees. Along the main drag, about two miles of shoulder to shoulder shops, eateries, and hotels, western tourism reigns. Anything goes, almost There’s no outright nudity, but barely, and I mean barely, clad young people wander around freely and without hassle. But, as you move inland, each block becomes progressively more conservative and more Muslim. By the time you have progressed a short six blocks to the center of the island, you are in another world. The women are covered in traditional Muslim garb, and the attitude toward western tourists becomes quite chilly, if not hostile. This bit of inland grafitti will give you a hint of the true Gili “heartland.”
The sweet and goofy Hindu “bhav” of Bali is four hours behind you, back across the Lombok Strait. Gili is Islam. Against the racket of techno-beat and reggae bopping forth from the clubs and bars, the muzzein calls the faithful to prayer from the mosque, just one block behind the tourist bedlam.
The rigidity of Islam stands in stark counterpoint to post-modern western decadence. How decadent? Look closely at the little chalkboard sign in this next photo.
Not obvious enough? Check out this one.
Yes, hipsters, you can get your daily shrooms in two strengths, Four-hour and For-ever, right there on the main drag, served to you in milkshakes, omelets, or on pizza. Cost? About $10. Was I tempted? Of course I was tempted! When on Gili . . . right? But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that dumping an unknown quantity of psilocybin into my cobbled-together old consciousness would certainly explode what is left of my mind into broken shards, hurtling to the far reaches of the universe like the schrapnel of a psychic hand grenade. OK, so no bloody, sexy, fresh magic shrooms for Bobby. Pooh.
Enough exposition, for crying out loud! On to the narrative!
We woke up to a sunny morning on Gili Trawangan, a smiling delight after the dark and stormy adventures of the night before. One of Gili Tee’s most pleasant charms are pristine clean streets and beaches. Every dawn a small army of bar, cafe, shop, and hotel staffers pad silently forth to sweep and rake. The main drag gets progressively disheveled during the day, but these morning spruce-ups bring a fresh sparkle to begin your day.
CJ and I are both “morning people,” so we took advantage of the pretty early hours, before the tourists emerge from their hangovers, to go for our daily run. I figured we could run all the way around Gili Tee, and I was proved correct. It took us less than an hour, partly through the near-empty streets of the tourist side, but mostly along the less-developed north, west, and south coasts.
Some folks just don’t believe how much fun we have on our runs. We get the exercise, of course, but we also get to explore new territory while we enjoy the endorphins gushing through our systems, cop a bit of that delicious “runner’s high,” know what I mean?
We ran down the tiny island roads and passed by totally deserted beaches, that is, deserted except for goats who minded their own business, as we did ours.
I found an abandoned shoe from one of the cidomo ponies. Tiny, isn’t it?
So what do you do on Gili Tee for five days besides running in the morning and not eating magic mushrooms? You can party! Gili Tee’s reputation for party is well-deserved. Several large open-air clubs along the south end of the island cooperate to stage all-night raves, every night of the week, rotating party central among the clubs. Tuesday? Party at Rubys! Yes, friends, it is wild down there after midnight. Villa Ungull, where CJ and I camped, was, happily, at the opposite end of the island, quiet and serene. We are not “party animals” ourselves, but is was fun to walk through the nightly debauch and cop a few vicarious thrills. If you like to get drunk, get stoned, get loose, and get laid, Gili Tee is your destination.
No raves, no shrooms, no innebriated revelry for us, but listening to live music, that’s the thing! We would walk along the strip in the evening, club to club, and enjoy, free, all the bands, outdoors, under the stars, waves lapping the shore, arms around each other. We made friends with a delightful Canadian, Christine Munn, who was rambling through Asia and the South Pacific, on her way to a teaching gig in Australia.
During the day we would dine at the smaller food stalls, “wayrung,” or even grab a snack from a street vendor.
We snorkled, swam in the ocean, or in our pool, read our books under awnings along the beach as attentive waiters brought us coffee and cold drinks, took naps and relaxed. Do you think you could handle that for a few days? At dusk we would make the most important decision, “where should we have dinner?” Every night we tried a new place.
One evening, just at sundown, we hiked to the top of “Mount Gili,” several hundred feet above sea level. How exciting to climb to such an extreme altitude!
I’ll leave you with this obligatory sunset photo from atop the mount, and direct your attention to the most pleasurable event of the Gili vacation, our day trip over to the smallest of the islands, Gili Meno. See you next blog!
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