OYOP: Paradise on the Gili Islands, Indonesia
The Gili Islands are Indonesia’s dream destination for beach lovers and underwater enthusiasts. As two freckle-covered, pale-skinned backpackers on the go, the beach life doesn’t always suit James and me. We typically spend more time putting on and reapplying sunscreen than actually lying on the beach and more time adjusting chairs and umbrellas for the perfectly shady, beach setup than using it. Still, we had to check out the 3 tiny yet famed Gili Islands, and even more so, we wanted to get our feet wet and see the surrounding ocean life.We settled on staying on Gili Air, what James called the “Goldilocks” of the 3 Gili islands. It’s not too sleepy like Gili Meno, it’s not too wild like Gili Trawagan, it’s juuuust right. You can walk around the entire island on foot in an hour or two, though many people opt to rent bicycles or ride in the colorfully decorated horse buggies, the fastest form of transportation on these car-less islands. We explored by foot, wandering around and often kicking off our sandals at a beachside open-air restaurant to lounge in a bamboo cabana for an hour or two at a time in exchange for the purchase of lunch or a beach cocktail. Travel between the islands by boat for day trips is easy and guaranteed to be an adventure. Possibilities include being stopped by a police boat along the way or floating aimlessly offshore for some time, rocking severely side to side being nearly dipped the water each time before the operator gets the engine to start. We took a day-trip to Gili Trawagan, where you can do the exact same things as on Gili Air but with louder music and alongside hundreds of young backpackers drinking beers all day and partying all night. We joined in the fun for a day at a lively beachfront spot, sipping cocktails, listening to today’s latest pop music, and sharing a comfy cabana with one of Indonesian’s many stubby tailed cats, who we fondly named Banana Pancake, after our favorite Indonesian breakfast. For me, the best part of the Gili Islands was the easy accessibility of spotting beautiful underwater life. Snorkeling can be done right off the beach or through a boat trip to various spots with diverse ocean life. For certified divers, like James, the Gili islands provides an exciting realm of dive trip possibilities. On James’ dive trip to the Meno Wall, he saw clownfish (real life “Nemos”) and cuttlefish, the incredible squid-like creature that has the ability to change colors and patterns to blend with surrounding coral, a phenomenon that he witnessed on the dive. We also celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary here. To celebrate, we embarked on an all-day snorkel trip on a glass bottom boat. We stopped at snorkeling spots around all three of the Gili islands and the nearby island of Lombok. We saw many sea turtles, neon colored fish, and large fields of brightly colored blue, yellow, and pink coral. It was the best snorkeling we’d ever seen, and at $8 per person for the all day trip, it was by far the cheapest all day trip we’d done too.
For our anniversary dinner, we ate at a warung, the name for a restaurant with local food. Like most of the warungs on the island, it was just a few bamboo tables and chairs outside underneath a tent with outdoor lights strung around. The tables were packed so we shared one with a few travelers from Germany. We ordered our favorite Indonesian specialties, for me, a coconut milk based curry with cabbage, carrots, and green beans, tofu, and tempe, another soybean product, and for James, the fried noodle dish, mie goreng. We also treated ourselves to a couple of big beers, which only cost $2 here. It’s easy to eat and drink on the cheap in Indonesia, and with so much tofu, seafood, and tempe on menus, it’s also unexpectedly a paradise for vegetarian and vegan diets. In the middle of the meal, the electricity went out, an occurrence so frequent on Gili Air that no one even moaned. But miraculously, the warung had a lovely blue backup light that turned on, we all cheered, and after a particularly delicious meal, we walked back in the sand, underneath the stars, to our guesthouse.