Tourism, trash, and paradise. How does this fit together? Maybe on three different islands?
“Gili” means Island but when tourists speak about “The Gilis”, they usually mean the three beautiful neighboring small islands, with white beaches and turquoise water in the north west of Lombok. All of them have no petrol based transportation at all. A welcome change from the loud and stinky scooters all over Bali.
After more than one week in Ubud, we wanted to spend some time on the Gilis, but which one is the best for us?
First, there is Gili Trawangan (Gili T.) the biggest, dirtiest and loudest Island. Its also called the Party Island. We are too old for this.
Next, you have Gili Air. The sandwich island. Not the smallest and not the biggest one. Not too many party tourist, but still some.
Finally, the smallest of the three Gilis: Gili Meno. Small, quiet and also sometimes called honeymoon island.
We like calm and quiet. So we decided to rent a small bungalow on Gili Meno. After having booked our accommodation, we found out that there is no direct boat from Bali to Gili Meno – bummer. There are only public boats or expensive, chartered speedboats from Gili T or Gili Air.
So, our travel plan was as follows: drive to Pangdanbai in the morning, get on a Speedboat (with terrible music – not planned) to Gili T. and then figure out how to best get to Gili Meno without getting ripped off more than usual. So far so good.
We arrived at Gili T. Despite the beautiful turquoise water, the harbor and the island were terrible. First of all, it wasn’t a real harbor. They just dropped us off at the beach – nothing wrong with that. However, it was too hot, too many tourists with trolleys, too many Cidomo (horse carriages), the smell of horse poo, everywhere garbage and a lot of people trying to sell us private boat trips to the other islands.
No problem, we were prepared for that – all part of the plan. We asked for the public boat and learned it is supposed to leave at 16:00 and we can’t buy a ticket yet (no idea why not). So we made our way through the busy harbor to a small back alley and walked a bit away from the crowded beach. We found an ok-ish place with wifi and few tourists. Our plan was to wait there for the departure time of the public boat. Just 5h to go. After one coffee, Mo was getting impatient and decided that we should check out the speedboat. He felt like we are wasting our time here in a back alley of Gili T.
10 minutes later we were sitting in a speedboat to Gili Meno that costs little more than double of the public boat. And after another 10 minutes (and one middle-of-the-see-boat-transfer), we finally arrived at Gili Meno. (In hindsight, to pay a bit more was a very good decision, because there was a thunderstorm around 16:00 and the boats don’t really look that sturdy.)
Again, beautiful beaches with turquoise water, but far fewer horse carriages and guides. After about ten “No, thank you”-s we made our way to our bungalow closer to the middle of that small island.
We had booked a basic bungalow but it was worth the money. The bathroom was outside and we had fresh water in the shower.
Open-air bathroom sounds very romantic and being able to shower while seeing the stars is a nice concept – except in rain season when it reliably rained every night. Showering in the rain is a weird sensation.
All in all, the bungalow was better than we expected. And also the breakfast was made with love every morning for us. We enjoyed the place and the island so much, we decided to extend our stay on Gili Meno, so that we spend in total five nights there. Luckily, it is off season and we could just stay in the exact same bungalow without even moving our backpacks.
My lovely younger sister asked me once, “what do we do the whole day on such a small island?” Good question!
We had many things to do and time was flying by like nothing. The only thing we couldn’t really do was planning. The weather made that impossible. The rain came sudden and strong, usually covering the whole island in huge and deep puddles of more or less dirty water. So we were just drifting around, living in the moment.
Gili Meno is so small, you can just walk around in approximately 90mins. We never made a whole round in one go, though. Either it was too hot or too rainy to continue – sometimes both. So we stopped frequently in small warungs (restaurants) next to the beach for a fresh juice or coconut – or just some rain cover.
Usually, the locals wouldn’t mind if you don’t buy anything and were quite happy to have a small, friendly chat with us. Many seemed bored since there were very few customers on the island.
Luckily, our homestay offered us more or less fitting snorkeling equipment for free. So that we were able to go snorkeling whenever we felt like it. We did this on the first day and it was the first time for both of us. I was joking around, that my father (he is a very experienced scuba diving instructor for years) told me that he got the most painful sunburn on a snorkeling trip on Palau and that we should be careful with the sun. Guess what happened. We went out for our first snorkeling adventure and we both burned our whole backside. Not the smartest move. Especially, since we are both more “the white bread” without any tendency to get brown skin. Usually, we go from white directly to red. From that point on we were a bit more careful and wore a long-sleeve on subsequent snorkeling trips.
Because of the tides, it was sometimes really hard to get into the water. The beaches around Gili Meno are quite shallow and the corals are pointy and sharp. Therefore we decided to book a boat to get faster and easier to the nice snorkeling spots. That was so much fun and a must do! Not too long ago, some artists drowned a few statues close to the beach that make for great snorkeling and revived the riff a bit. And we were also lucky enough to see some wild turtles cruise by.
Sadly, the locals used to go fishing with dynamite (it is forbidden now and effectively enforced). There are still many places, bearing evidence of this destructive practice. But to our untrained eyes – it appears to recover slowly.
We also checked out the small warungs at the beach and more in the center of the island to find out where to get the best Gado-Gado, the cheapest coconut or eat some fresh caught fish BBQ on the beach during sunset.
However, since it is rain season, we were only gifted with one beautiful sunset on the beach. Additionally, we got a lot of refreshingly wet and rainy walks home the other evenings.
Mo and I we are both passionate about sport. Mo wants to work on his flex and I want to work on my strength – we both need each others help for this. On this trip, we had the plan to practice yoga every day, even if it is only a short sun salutation (good for flex). Sometimes we skip the Yoga and do some more strength oriented things, like natural movement or use the rings. After a few days, we found the perfect workout area for us.
Directly at the beach with sunset view, space for our yoga mats and the possibility to install the rings. To workout there was so rewarding.
Gili Meno, with the beautiful quiet beaches, local food, our host and homestay, no electricity for one day and slow wifi, was the perfect place for us. To just relax, unwind and realize how much luck we have in our lives was great. It was hard to leave that place behind us and move on towards Lombok.
To be honest though, it is not all paradise on the Gilis. All of them do have a serious problem with garbage (similar to the rest of Bali and Lombok). It’s too much and it doesn’t get better with all the tourists. Especially on Gili T., the locals seem to have no idea what to do about it. The usual practice in this part of the world is to either burn the trash or throw it in the next river. This might work with few people and organic waste like palm leaves and coconut husks. But if you add plastic to the mix, those are terrible options!
I’m glad to see some awareness of the problem. Some hotels do “offer” beach cleanups where everyone is invited to help along. Another thing you can do is to just refill your water bottle instead of buying a new one every time. Its cheaper and you don’t produce that much waste. If you ever plan to go to the Gilis, try to not be a part of the problem! And in general, just try to avoid unnecessary plastic waste wherever possible.