Gili Islands – Paradise Found

To begin with: anybody going to Bali should take the chance and visit these islands since they truly are a gem. Located cca 45 mins away by a speed boat from Amed, these islands are renowned for their white sand beaches and pristine water where one can snorkel or dive and to admire varied marine life, corals, fish, and – above all – the sea turtles.

There are three three islands: Trawangan (simply called Gili T), Air and Meno. The first one is quite big and busy, renowned for its night life and a necessary transfer stop if you want to continue to Meno. While you can access Gili T and Air easily and straight by a speed boat, you need to change for a fisherman´s bark when going to Meno due to the richness of the marine life and corals spreading almost to the beaches of the island.

Prices for the fast boats vary and you´d better find a good agent to settle a nice price. Sitting on the upper deck (for better view) you will definitely pay more. For those who tend to get sea-sick the 70-seat boat will be quite a challenge. You feel every single wave. What I recommend is to sit all the way in the back in the open space. You do smell petrol there during the take off and landing and you do get all wet, but you can admire the motion of the sea and the sparkles and you are simply bound to admire that adventure and connection with water.

When you arrive to T, in order to change for Meno – like me, you need to bargain for the price of the bark that would take you to Meno. There is a hopper boat for a very good price of 35.000 Rp, but it leaves earlier then your Amed boat arrives to T. And the next one comes in another 6 hours, so unless you want to spend most of the day on the T, just bargain. You will be lucky if you make it to cca 100.000 Rp. There is also a company located near one of the Tourist Info offices, which offers a fast boat for 85.000 that will take you near the coast of Meno in just a few mins, and then you have to hop (cca 50 metres away from the shore) onto a bark which will get you all the way to the harbour of Meno. Obviously, the company that offers this funny deal has some agreement with the local fishermen and bark owners and shares the money earned with them – it is a very good business after all.

Once on Meno, you are bound to fall in love immediately. That place truly is a paradise. They call it a honeymoon island for a reason. On the islands generally, you do not find ATM machines and motorized vehicles are not allowed. The way to get around is either on horse carriages or bicycles. I rented a bike for 24 hours for 50.000 without any need to show my ID. A woman simply came out of a hut which had a BIKE RENTAL sign on it, when I called out “Hello” (since nobody was present), and handed bike to me in exchange for the required banknote. No administration was needed.

I felt like a local, having my bike with the front basket for my fins and a beach blanket, riding either in my flip flops (bought here) or barefoot, in my simple dress, with loose hair and no sunglasses or a hat on.

People come to these islands for various reasons: mostly just to chill on the white sand beaches, to dive, snorkel, and swim with the turtles. If they are also looking for night life then T is the choice. If for nightlife, yet a quitter, calmer place, then the choice is Air. My choice was Meno which is the smallest, the most romantic and the calmest of the islands with a few small holiday resorts and several cottages of the local people. You would barely find party areas here, but you do find lovely open air chill out spots with great cocktails and vibes, like The Brotherhood, owned by a man who uses recyclable materials and reused plastics and glass for the decorations of his place and who organizes clean-up events on the island via Trash Hero international organization.

Another beautiful place where live music is played every night by a six-member boy team is Saska Café. Located on the sunset-view side of the island, you can get amazing dinner here (obviously including wonderful sea food dishes – I got grilled shrimps and they were stunning), an arak (coconut wine) cocktail or a Bintang beer and just chill when the sun goes down, while listening to the great singer and his band with a reggae vibe and cool tone.

At one point, I went over to the stage and ask the singer to sing Hotel California, please, would he, perhaps I might join in the singing. He immediately invited me to the stage, the band exchanged a few sentences in Indonesian and we kicked it off to the great excitement of the people present. It did sound good and to me, it was a truly memorable moment that no camera has recorded, yet my mind and heart did forever.

I spent my day swimming and snorkelling, and I must say my best investment on the island was a 150.000 boat ride (on a fishermen bark) around the island to the most wonderful snorkelling spots. Yes, I swam with the turtles too! Both guides and drivers from the boat were amazing free divers too, sometimes they would lead our five-membered group (random people who met by chance and created a great team together) to a spot and then suddenly dive down cca 20 metres, to touch a turtle and play with it, so it would come up to the surface so even we (meaning the ones unable yet to free dive deep) could enjoy it at a touch distance.

There were some statue spots (artificial statues formed into various ornaments so one can take some cool snaps) in the waters too, amazing corals, lovely fish with varied colours and kinds. Wonderful three hours indeed!

I bought this trip via a small local IC where a Yorkshire woman was working. That moment when I stepped into the office so reminded me of Out of Africa. It felt like in movies. This British woman working in this almost forgotten place, a big relaxed smile on her face.

The vibes of the island were so good that I felt I could do just anything, being the real free-spirited me in every single respect. So, I ate street food (15.000 for a paper cone filled with rice, noodles, tempeh, tofu, boiled egg and coconut shreds), fed the local cats and cuddled with them, drove my bicycle around at night without any light, reflex light or a torch on, practised yoga at sunrise (on the sunrise art of the island, not far away from the harbour), and went swimming at sunrise!

Merely the last one was a stupid idea and now I shall know. The glowing water surface attracts jelly fish and my swimming adventure ended up after a few mins with my hands and chest covered in stings. Luckily, I did not get any in my face or genitals and the areas stung were not too large. The locals had no ointment for it (not even vinegar) in the bungalows were I was staying (very local-like simple cottages with cold water and lots of spiders, mice and even a birdie that woke me up in the middle of the night by flying into my hair somehow accidentally; no mosquitos though, surprisingly) so I used ionized silver in a spray – it did its job perfectly well and I shall now bring one with me wherever I go because this thing helped me out on Bali a few times already when treating mouse bites and mosquito bites and cut toes (yes, the corals).

On the way back to Amed, I managed to get a hopper going this time at good time for my transfer at Gili T, so I saved some money on the ride.

The island of Meno totally is on my list of top places I have visited. I shall remember. And hope to come back some day to stay longer and perhaps write one of my books there…

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