June 2024

Ballin' in Bali and Gili


Here we are in the Gili islands, a short boat ride from the island of Bali, and we’re pretty sure that if paradise exists, this is it. This morning, as we enjoyed a delicious local-grown coffee and fresh squeezed mango juice with pineapple pancakes, looking at the white sand blending to a beautiful green shallow sea, then grading to the deep blue, Kenna and I looked at each other and said, “Is there another place on the planet you can imagine being better than this?” We couldn’t. Even our previous definition of paradise, the beautiful beach of Au Tung Ne Pan Noi in Thailand (the panoramic photo in the header of the blog), we’re pretty sure it doesn’t hold a candle to this.

Awesome little restaurant on the north beach of Gili Travagan

Awesome little restaurant on the north beach of Gili Travagan

If you can forgo the lack of niceties like freshwater showers and reliable power, this place is a definite must-see. In fact, the lack of those niceties probably contributes to the feeling of an undiscovered paradise.

We began this little adventure landing in Bali’s airport, and like landing in any 3rd world country, it was immediately a shock to the system. After making it through their ridiculously inefficient visa and customs system, we had to find a cab. We had been told to go outside the airport to get a cheaper cab ($2.50 vs. $7.50), but we buddied up with our old friend Thisbe and another guy to get a cab, and crammed all 4 of us and our bags into a small compact car. I think all of us were tired of hemorrhaging money in Australia and were taking the expectation of cheap living and saving money to the extreme. Case in point – we then walked for about 45 minutes going from hotel to hotel trying to find the best rate, and balked at any hotel over $20/night. Finally, we found one at $18/night, and it had a king size bed, a balcony, swimming pool and fairly a decent ensuite bathroom. It was fairly dirty, but I figure it was about a 2-star in North America. The most hilarious thing was the towel they gave us was a beer-labeled towel “Bintang”, the national Indonesian beer I’m drinking as I write.

Kenna getting her feet cleaned by fishes

Kenna getting her feet cleaned by fishes

That night, we had some interesting experiences. First, as we went to bed, we fell asleep to the sounds of a couple of stray cats duking it out, and I’m fairly sure one of them died. In fact, we may have solved one of the mysteries of Bangkok from our 2006 trip – we had heard something that sounded halfway between a baby crying and a cat, and we thought it was some horrible deformed human baby with the Cri-du-chat syndrome. Well, having heard the same sound coming from a dying cat, I think we can now put that mystery to rest. But seriously, hearing cats fighting and then hearing it gradually dying gives a new meaning to “sounds like a dying cat”.

The next excitement was around 5 a.m., when we kept hearing a sharp hissing sound, but this time, it was coming from in our room. Having just had the cat experience, we wondered if some stray cat had managed to make it into the room. After some investigating, we found a couple of little geckos fighting to the death behind our bed-side table. I never knew geckos made a sound, let alone fought to the death. What a cruel place this Bali is.

The following day, we had one goal – book our trip to Gili islands. We walked up and down Kuta beach, the area where we were staying. The first thing we noticed were little baskets of flowers, some food (like crackers, sausages, even some wrapped candies), cigarettes, and all with some incense. The baskets were everywhere, at least one outside every little shop, and zillions outside a statue or monument. It took us a while, but we finally figured out that these little baskets were Hindu offerings. They’re beautiful and smell great (they probably improve the smell of the dirty city considerably), but after people have trampled them all day, they sure make a mess by the evening.

A Hindu temple in Kuta, Bali

A Hindu temple in Kuta, Bali

One book described Kuta as a “tourist ghetto”, and, yep, they’re bang on. Three different people we talked to told us to get the hell out of Kuta, and get to the Gilis, otherwise we never would have known about it. Kuta is lined with shop after shop selling the same fake shirts, watches and jewellery for blocks and blocks, and every hawker thinks he can rope you in. We passed one hilarious guy who was trying to sell us fake Oakleys – “Oakleys? 20,000. Ok, 10,000. Ok, 2 for 10,000”. 2 pairs for $1? Wow what a deal. Bali does have some great shopping though, kind of similar to Thailand, and if we were leaving for home right away we’d probably stock up on crap.

Being a tourist ghetto, Kuta has its fair share of westernization. You are equally likely to find a Starbucks or McDonalds somewhere along the stretch as you are a hawker’s shop. We stopped in at a massive 4-floor shopping center department store, where Kenna experienced the famous skin-eating fish massage. She said it felt like tiny little vibrating suction cups all over her skin, and afterwards she could barely walk because her legs were so jellied. But overall she enjoyed it and would do it again, and her toenails were nice and pink and clean (a stark contrast to my dirty traveller toes).

Finally, after going to about 4 different travel shops to find our ticket to the Gilis, we found a guy who was willing to bargain. We were really proud of ourselves, we managed to get the price down from 2,400,000 Rp. to 1,800,000 (about $180) for our return trip to the Gilis. But then came the surprise – he didn’t have a VISA machine to take our cash, so he had to take one of us on his motorbike back to the main shop to get payment. So off I went, leaving Kenna behind with sketchy sales guys, and we zoomed off to his shop. First, we drove on the sidewalk, the wrong way down a one-way street, then down a 2-way “street” that was about 3 feet wide, and we constantly had to throw the brakes to stop and figure out how exactly an oncoming bike was going to wiggle past us. Welcome to Bali! It turns out the guys Kenna were staying behind with were very nice, and in fact, we’ve found that, after people figure out they either will or won’t get money out of you, the people are genuinely very nice. But money definitely comes first.

The streets of Gili Travagan

The streets of Gili Travagan

The next day we departed way too early for the Gili islands, and found the boat we booked wasn’t the boat we were on, and the ride was 4 hours, not 2. We paid a handsome price for a 2-hour ride over a 10 hour “slow boat”, so we were not impressed that it was going to take 4 hours. And once we arrived, we weren’t too impressed either. The “pristine beaches”, while beautiful, were filled with garbage, and the whole island felt like it was a continuation of Kuta’s tourist ghetto. I assured Kenna that I was sure she’d start to like it.

That night, we had dinner at a sub-par beachside restaurant. Again, we weren’t impressed. But on our way back to the hotel, one of the bars was showing “Inglorious Bastards” for the price of one drink. Loving the cheap freshly squeezed fruit juices, we couldn’t pass it up. That was totally cool, and what a great movie!

The next morning it poured rain, and we hung out in a nice little cafe until it cleared up in the afternoon. We then rented bikes, and biked around the entire island, stopping at an awesome little beachside restaurant for banana pizza! The vibe was really cool, playing Bob Marley and the “waiters” in the restaurant were obviously stoned. Incidentally, for a country with a death penalty for buying or selling drugs, there sure are a lot of dealers around, and they aren’t very subtle about it.

Signs like this were typical on the streets of the Gilis

Signs like this were typical on the streets of the Gilis

Walking down the street, guys will come up to you and whisper “Marijuana?” or “Magic Mushrooms?” and some of the restaurants have signs advertising mushroom shakes. And we’ve seen more than a few guys buying. I guess it can’t be that illegal if the guys here are willing to risk it.

After the bike ride, we headed to the beach, and now the garbage was washed away, replaced with the beautiful blue-green beach we had read about. Must have been a bad current or something the day before. Kenna was much happier.

The hotel we stayed at was quite nice, but it had one drawback – it was located very close to a very loud Mosque, which insisted on blaring prayers 5 times a day over a very scratchy P.A, beginning at 5 a.m. Not the greatest way to wake up. Since these islands are part of Bali’s neighboring island Lombok, I think these islands must be Muslim, although nobody really goes out of their way to show it (in contrast Bali is mainly Hindu, hence the offerings I mentioned before).

Today we took a boat from Gili Trawagan to Gili Meno, a smaller island about a kilometer away. Here we took in some amazing snorkelling, seeing about 10 turtles, and 4 of them in the same field of view. The fish aren’t nearly as good as the Great Barrier Reef, but tomorrow we’re heading to another island, Gili Air, for a dive that promises to be spectacular. The reason they have so many turtles is because of the conservation work going on, which is much different than the work we saw in Bundaberg. They actually nurture the turtles in little fish tanks until they’re about 8 months old, and then release them into the wild, whereas Bundaberg let the hatchlings go into the sea au naturel. Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working!

Kenna doing a yoga move on the beach of Gili Travagan.

Kenna doing a yoga move on the beach of Gili Travagan.

So obviously after the initial shock of getting here, we are absolutely delighted with the Gili islands, and I think we were getting used to Kuta as well. As I mentioned, the Gilis are absolutely beautiful, and we can’t imagine a nicer place. And we’re still happy despite turning into human salt licks without any freshwater showers.

We’ll be heading back to Bali in a couple days, and then we’ll head into the real travelling experience, heading into the predominantly Muslim island of Java. Should be exciting.

5 comments to Ballin’ in Bali and Gili

  • Dad

    Kenna, your experience with the garbage dump on the beach one day and a clean beach the next is happening to various degrees on beaches and seasides around the world. Man has turned the entire ocean into a cesspool of garbage and other nasty things. Add to that the thousands of ships off loading their garbage into the water while at sea and you get the idea. Anyway I will talk to you about personal matters in the usual method.

    Love Dad

  • Hi Scott & Kenna, I think that you have hit the nail on the head with the rubbish situation on the gilis. I live in the ‘tourist getto’ and do try to get out to the gilis once in a while. The answer is education, until a few years ago all, All Indonesians were used to using banana leaves or woven baskets, when they were finished with them the just threw said leaves on the floor to bio-degrade. The speed of education into ‘new’ materials can’t keep pace with the speed of westernization.

    I am glad your trip is working out well and i hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Indo.

    If you want to check out my web site please do, there is info on everything gili islands 🙂

  • Kenna

    Psymon, I think you’re exactly right saying that education is the key. Aside from the tourists producing too much garbage to the island, We actually witnessed a local guy on the island hopping boat flick his cigarette butt into the ocean. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t turtles, of which the Gilis have in abundance, eat these and choke on them and die? Not only that, but the islands would look quite a bit nicer if all the garbage was cleaned up. Kenna went on quite a rant about it and suggested that tourists be charged a rubbish fee to go towards educating and providing the proper infrastructure to support it. Maybe as a local, this could be something you could spear head? 🙂

  • Kenna

    Dad- agreed on all fronts. The whole dumping rubbish in the ocean anywhere really gets my goat. Do send an email…sent a few to you – did you get them??

  • Cheryl

    Oh man, that banana pizza looks awesome. And I love the picture of you getting your feet cleaned by the fish!

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