The Gili islands are a set of three (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) situated on the northwest coast of Lombok. The largest and most popular one is Gili Trawangan, and that’s where we decided to go.
Back on Lombok, our Airbnb host called us a cab to get to the pier to take the public boat over to Gili T. We were told it would only cost less than a dollar to get there! Our cab driver was super friendly and chatted the entire drive over. We pulled onto a small dirt road and wound our way through the trees before stopping at what can only be described as a man sitting in a plywood hut with a few small boats on the shore.
He told us the public boat wasn’t running that day, and that we would have to pay $25 to take a fast boat over to the island. He was visibly annoyed when Charlie kept insisting that was too much money and where the hell was the public boat? The price dropped to $20. Our ever-so-friendly cab driver stopped by with a big smile and asked if everything was alright. At this point, I was hot and sweaty and was willing to pay, but being blessed with a skeptical mind, Charlie had walked off to ask about the public boat. He came back a few minutes later and said he didn’t know what was going on with the public boat, but he had met some nice ladies that would take us on their boat for around $0.50.
That was good enough for me, so we walked over to several boisterous Indonesian women and a few men lifting crappy pieces of lumber and sandbags onto a little boat. Charlie got to work helping them. All I could hear was their loud, friendly laughter filling the boat. They really got a kick out of him.
Soon we were on our way. The journey took around half an hour. To my left, a few women slept on the piles of lumber. On the right, an ancient grandma hand rolled tobacco cigarettes.
Later, we realized that the cab driver had not taken us to the pier, where the public boat runs daily every 20-30 minutes. He took us to his homies for a chance to split the profits. I’m grateful that Charlie has a keen eye for bullshit and got us on the best ride in town!
Gili T is a bustling island that didn’t quite have the authentic, natural feeling that Lombok had. I imagine it’s more similar to Bali. There are many tourists walking or cycling around, a lot of western dining options and opportunities to go diving, snorkeling or drinking. The beaches are stunning and the water is crystal clear.
We dropped off our stuff at our Airbnb and rented bikes to go check out the island. It takes approximately one hour to cycle around the entire island. As I mentioned before, the island is catered to tourists so there are several bars along the way, all playing different variations of mediocre electronic music. There are little horse drawn carts all over the island, and every once in a while you’ll hear their horns and need to get out of the way quick.
I was determined to go surfing, so we biked along until we reached the only surfing spot on the island’s east side. We rented boards and spent an hour in the water but only caught a few good waves. That being said, people have told me the surfing is fantastic in Indonesia, some of the best in the world. Gili T isn’t particularly known for it though.
Charlie was having some issues with his ear. It had become blocked somehow and he couldn’t hear out of it. We tried different ear medicines from the pharmacy and nothing worked, so we went to a little clinic on the main road. On the way we heard an American tourist saying, “There are no policemen on the entire island!” That seemed to be true, because there were literally signs all over the island for “magic mushrooms”. Sadly I can’t tell you if they were any good.
Going to a medical center on a small Indonesian island works a little differently than in America. We had to take off our shoes before walking inside. Then we had to wake up the doctor and his assistant from their nap on some mats on the floor. The doctor was still sleepily blinking at us while Charlie explained the situation. He put in some antibiotic drops, then squeezed some warm water into the troubled ear with a syringe to clear the blockage. Then he charged us whopping $35 and sent us on our way.
The next day we hopped on a boat to go snorkeling, as diving certification takes a few days and $300+. The boats are heavily advertised as “glass bottom boats” but in reality there are 3-4 small glass panels no more than 2 feet wide on the boat. We went with a large group of 40 or so people. It cost around $1 for the day and they are really lax about things. Here’s our captain.
Snorkeling was a lot of fun, and while it takes a bit of getting used to in the beginning it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Fortunately I got my first time out of the way in Hawaii so I was able to jump in and get going right away while one lady sat in the water yelling bloody murder (while decked out in a life jacket). It was pretty great.
We saw hundreds of fish, and two sea turtles made a brief appearance. The water was beautiful and the perfect temperature.
We made a brief stop on Gili Air to have lunch. It seemed that Gili A to Gili T is the same as Lombok is to Bali. What I mean is that Gili A seemed very small and quiet in comparison to busy Gili T. If I return to the Gili islands one day I’ll definitely stay on Gili A.
The next morning we took the actual public boat back to Lombok. Right before we left, a guy approached us and told us that his brother could pick us up and drive us wherever we needed to go after we returned to Lombok. Charlie thought it was a fair price for $15. The guy asked us to pay upfront, but Charlie refused. When we reached Lombok, his brother asked us to pay upfront and Charlie refused again. We reached our hotel without any trouble after an hour drive, paid the driver and settled in.
For our final night, we had booked a night at a hotel near the airport. It was in the middle of nowhere. We walked around a bit and stumbled upon a small Indonesian village of around 40 people. The village was filled with children who followed us around, smiling and laughing brightly. Some were playing jacks with seashells. These people had a few cows, big rice paddies, big smiles and that’s pretty much it. It was the perfect conclusion to the trip.
And I’ll summarize with this:
– visit Lombok & the Gili islands
– stay in Airbnbs over hostels/hotels
– rent a motorbike to explore
– go snorkeling
– hire a private car for cheap to get around
– wear sunscreen
– bargain with anyone you think is trying to scam you
– eat seafood
– trust shady taxi drivers
– pay upfront for anything
– pretend to be dead in the water and get your ears blocked (CHARLIE!)