#13: Gili Gila (Island Crazy) – Indonesia – Yes, We Have No Banana …


Gili Gila (Island Crazy)

Well, I thought we’d spend two nights on Gili Trawangan, the largest
of three islands (Air, Meno, and Trawangan) off the northwest coast of
Lombok. Shows how much I know: we ended up spending a month there.
Maybe we stayed so long because getting there was such a pain, involving
a long, hot, sooty ride on the upper deck of the ferry from Padangbai,
Bali (the lower decks smelled like a urine factory), a knee-smashing bus
journey to Sengigi, a lovely but vertigo-inducing songthaew ride up the
coast, a blessedly brief horsecart trip (like so many of us, they’re
better-looking at a distance), and a ferry from Bangsal (on the return
trip, leave your suede loafers in the backpack, as the child
entrepreneurs will try to “wash” your feet for you). We’d planned to
travel from Lombok to Flores and possibly Sumba, but we must’ve gotten
soft after a month of being pampered by my folks in Bali, because we
found ourselves completely unwilling to leave the comforts and charms of
Gili Trawangan until our expiring visas made it imperative.

Trawangan is the most populated of the three islands, but it wasn’t
too developed, even for quiet types like us. There are no cars,
motorbikes, or barking dogs, and though there is a string of over-loud
bars at one end of the main strip, they didn’t bother us too much. We
took advantage of many of the island’s Western comforts and
entertainments: burritos at Dive Indonesia, fresh-water pool at Manta
Dive, personal DVD bungalows at the Irish bar Tir Na Nog, and – my
favorite – nightly screenings of Sex and the City at Frenchie’s.

Nightlife aside, there’s also amazing marine life nearby. One day
we took a boat trip, stopping off of each island for a snorkel. We saw
tons of bright fish, huge electric blue starfish, and giant, calm sea
turtles. But the boat trip wasn’t even necessary, as there’s excellent
snorkeling just a few meters from the beach. For several days, the tides
obliged us by being very low just before sunset, so we could poke around
the tidepools discovering strange creatures like The Weird Silly String
Thing, The Slimy Sea Cucumber, The Flowery Slug, and The Aquatic
Snowflake. I found a really gorgeous cowrie shell and was sorely tempted
to take it home with me, but conservationists will be glad to know that I
respected the prior claims of the hermit crab who’d already called dibs
on it. Dozens of local kids – many of them quite tiny – explored the
tidepools too, flipping over rocks and frantically trying to catch
whatever jumped out. Somehow in all the excitement they managed to avoid
impaling their bare feet on the brutal sea urchin spines.

Another favorite activity was gasing, a competitive top game.
The hand-carved wooden tops (in sizes that seemed to correspond to the
ages of the participants, with adults having pomelo-sized tops) were
wound with four feet or so of string and expertly flicked onto the
ground, where another competitor would try to knock the first top
off-balance with his own. Apparently this game is played for big money
on Lombok, but we just saw friendly neighborhood games on Gili Trawangan.

And what a friendly neighborhood it was. For most of the month, we
stayed at Losmen Eky on what a hand-painted sign identified as Brooklyn
Street (“Is it true that everyone in America carries a gun?”), run by the
dreamy Lukman and his wife Sri. Lukita, their little daughter, was
pretty shy, but occasionally she’d shout out, “Hello! Hello!” from across
the yard, usually hours after we’d first greeted her. We’d sit on our
porch eating Dua Kelinci (Two Rabbits) brand peanuts, drinking coffee,
and watching the boys play gasing in the dusty street.

When we got tired of sitting around our own place, we’d head for the
pool, the beach, or for one of the local restaurants, whose menus always
make for interesting reading. We were especially intrigued by the
offerings at The Living Room, which has a whole section called “Mexican
Testy and Mr. Baked” and something called a Jeanne Fred Freeka (“this
famous sandwich”). We’d decided on the “Exotic Chicken Beast, comes with
chicken and fruit,” but apparently it was either sold out or extremely
self-effacing, as our waiter came back to the table and said, “Oh,
apologize me, the chicken is nothing.”

We also made friends with a great couple, Liz and Bob, and their
housemates Chin, Chan, Yandi, and baby David. They’re building a house
and opening a small guesthouse at the quieter end of the island, and
after so many months on the road, it was really relaxing to hang out at
their place and get a taste of home life again, doing a little yardwork
and eating a delicious home-cooked meal. We also enjoyed “English
lessons” on their bruga (open-air porch) with a few of the local
girls, and Erica got lots of artwork done, including some great signs for
the business that she made with the kids’ help. You’ve got to love a
country where the word for pink (merah mudah) is “young red.”

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