The Gili islands are part of Lombok, and are made up of three islands – Gili Trawangan (the ‘party’ island), Gili Meno (very quiet), and Gili Air (the closest to Lombok with a relaxed atmosphere).
We were in luck – our 2 hour boat ride over to Gili Air was smooth and pleasant considering the rough waters which we had seen over the past few days.
We arrived directly onto the beach and were greeted by the island’s main form of transport – horse and cart. There are no cars on the island, only electric scooters, bicycles, and horse and cart. The horses are used for all manner of work, from taxi service to food deliveries, and moving building materials around. They all looked in good condition, we even saw the farrier attending to some shoe work on one. These horses are the main source of income for the owners, and they’re pretty hardy animals!
We walked to our homestay along the dusty cobbled lanes, dodging horses, cyclists and chickens. The majority of the places we passed were tourist related buildings – accommodation, tourist information, restaurants and shops.
The Gili islands are a popular tourist destination – with the turquoise ocean and white sandy beaches. It is pleasant enough however as you all know by now Paul and I aren’t into ‘cooking’ on a beach all day!
We were here for just two days, and every morning we went snorkeling. It was a lovely way to spend the morning, and there was so much to see too! The coral was in a healthy condition (considering the proximity to people and boat traffic) and there was plenty of fish life to be seen. Our highlights were a Moray Eel actually out of his/her hidey hole and swimming around, a Crocodile Fish (brilliantly camouflaged and a first for us), Razorfish (these guys are fascinating to watch as they actually swim head down tail up), huge Unicorn Surgeon Fish, a juvenile Thornback Cow Fish, and two critically endangered Hawksbill Turtles. Seeing the turtles felt like a truly magical moment – both were grazing the coral in quite shallow water, and they really weren’t bothered by our presence.
We spent a good 20 minutes watching them, and I swear they sensed we were not a threat as they swam towards us and got quite close (for those of you on Facebook we shared a great video of our encounter).
It really makes us wonder why so many people have the desire to chase, touch, and ride on them (yes I know, as crazy as it sounds people do all of those things for that all important’selfie’ and Facebook photo) when just quietly watching them prolongs your turtle watching experience hugely and both parties leave happy. We actually felt very protective of the turtles we saw because at the time there were other people in the area but we were the only ones who had spotted them. Why feel protective of them you may ask? Well because we have learnt you just cannot trust people to remain sensible in situations like this. Especially after witnessing the crazy behaviour of tourists at the Perhentian Islands during our turtle conservation volunteering, where we had 20-30 people (on a good day) hounding and chasing, diving down and touching and shoving camaras in the turtle’s faces. Unfortunately our trust in people in these situations has dwindled considerably.
A young English couple approached completely unaware of what we were looking at until we told them. Fortunately they proved that not all tourists are out there for that all important’selfie’ – they watched, did not touch, and were really chuffed about seeing their first turtle! At one point the woman was getting a little too close with her hand outstretched and I got a bit nervous about that – I said that we shouldn’t touch the turtle and the guy said ‘oh no of course not’…whilst holding his girlfriends’ ankle!
We spent the afternoons cycling around the island on a couple of bikes we rented out. There isn’t alot to do on the island, your primary attraction to the Gili Islands is to either enjoy water sports or lounge on a beach all day. However it’s still a pleasant island to cycle around. The land is very flat and arrid – they need a good bit of rain as everything is so dry.
At the harbour (which is the main hub of activity on the island) we saw some locals building a boat which was pretty impressive considering they haven’t got all the fancy equipment you’d have back at home.
As always with the tourist trade there is the negative impacts to consider – this time being huge ugly hotels that do not suit the environment. One such hotel is currently being built near the harbour, and it already sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a shame that sometimes the local traditional houses and designs aren’t taken into consideration when constructing new buildings.
After two days it was time to face the next part of our adventure – our 3726 metre trek to the top of Indonesia’s second highest volcano (the highest being Mount Kerinci in Sumatra at 3805 metres). Mount Rinjani is located on the neighbouring island of Lombok, so we boarded a crammed public boat and made the short journey across the sea.