East of Bali, and lying off the north western tip of Lombok are three small islands, colloquially known as “The Gili’s.” ‘Gili’ translates as ‘island,’ and although there are other “Gili’s” surrounding Lombok, if you mention that word, people will automatically think of this small cluster. The largest of these three is Gili Trawangan – known for its young, party atmosphere. The smallest is Gili Meno – known for its tranquility it’s a well trodden spot for honeymooners. Somewhere in the middle in terms of both size and atmosphere is Gili Air (pronounced I-err). ‘Air’ translates as ‘water,’ so I guess it’s rather imaginitvely named ‘Water Island.’
Getting to the island was an ordeal in itself. What should have been a mornings travel to the east of Bali and a short boat ride across ended up taking almost 12 hours. Half way into the boat trip, the steering rods snapped, leaving us bobbing in circles miles away from land. After 3 hours on the boat, we arrived back at our start point in Bali, confused, with a huge lack of information as to what had actually happened. It turned out we could either choose a refund or wait until repair. I waited, and so did only about 10% of passengers, and so when the boat started up again, the previously cramped boat turned into a space of luxury.
There are no roads on the island, no cars, no motorbikes, leaving a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere, no matter where you find yourself on the island. The locals offer a horse drawn carriage as a way to get around, but the horses seem badly treated, and as the island is so small, it is so easy to get around on foot. I arrived just in time to head over to the north west tip of the island to watch the sunset over Gili Trawangan and in the distance behind that, Gunung Acung, a towering volcano in the east of Bali.
There is not a whole lot to do on these islands, the picturesque white sand beaches are actually filled with sharp coral, but smooth sections can be found if you look, otherwise sun loungers and bean bags can be found in almost all bars and restaurants that fill the entire circumference of the island. It’s easy to stay on these all day and night, sharing a few beers and stargazing into the clear night sky.
Having said this, the snorkelling and scuba diving is stuff of legend. Many people come to the Gili’s to learn to dive due to the easy conditions and quick access to many dive sites, but, as the water in many areas is so shallow a lot can be seen just snorkelling. Turtles are commonly found in areas surrounding the three islands so I went out on a boat trip to see if I could find any.
The locals always seem to know where they will be, and we went out to a few sites and straight away I came face to face with a turtle. There’s just something about turtles that I find fascinating, and when one actually surfaced within touching distance I spat my snorkel out and started laughing in disbelief. I dove down to follow it when it went back under, but with a few effortless strokes it had disappeared.
I saw five turtles in total, a whole host of tropical fish and some extraordinary coral, all in perfectly clear turquoise waters. It truly was paradise. I can see why some people come to the Gili’s and don’t leave for weeks, but as always, it’s onwards and upwards (quite literally) to the next adventure.