The Gili’s are three islands in Indonesia off the coast of Lombok. Rachel, my travel buddy, and I take a speed boat to Gili Air, about an hour and a half from Bali. True to fairytale form, a dolphin impressively jumps clear out of the water as if to greet us, everyone on the boat cheering.
Upon arrival, I can tell Gili Air is much different from the rest of the places I’ve been so far in Bali. It’s obviously small; the circumference can be walked around in about an hour and a half. The “port” is nothing more than the beach, so disembarking the boat means hopping into shallow water and the crew passing our luggage onto the sand. There are no cars, scooters, or dogs, rather, miniature horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and cats (everywhere).
A cat joins us for sunset
Rachel and I find a place to stay right by the ocean, and we quickly discover we’ve landed in Neverland. Our spot is run by Indonesian guys, all in their early-to-mid-twenties, always laughing, joking, showing us tricks and playing loud music. The Lost Boys. When I ask one of them, Suparman (his name is real; I checked his ID), if he likes living on Gili Air, he responds “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” And, yes, it seems most of the locals here are very happy. The sarong salesman comes up to us everyday, despite already having purchased from him, and when we say we don’t need any more sarongs, he just smiles widely, sing-songingly-saying, “Okay, don’t worry be happy!”
Suparman smiling as usual
It’s definitely a paradise here, and a little rough around the edges. Our bungalow is sweet-looking with big princess-like, mosquito-net-canopied beds, yet when we settle in we find the too-small sheets ripped and stained and later discover bed bugs! We are quickly moved to another room and they do all of our laundry for us, yet, my skin is crawling from psychological paranoia. The bathroom is—shall we say—rustic with fragile plumbing, so we must scoop water from a nearby basin into the toilet to flush. And somehow the floor is always wet and becomes muddy from our sandy feet. I guess when you ask for remote island life, you get everything that comes with it!
And, yet, it turns out island life does not, however, include fast or reliable wifi. Despite having declared wanting to totally disconnect from technology, I desperately spend hours trying to unlock my iPhone so I can use a local SIM card with its own, faster wifi. I hit a technical glitch in my attempts, rendering my phone totally unusable, as if the island is telling me—even forcing me—to stop. I must be addicted. I even contemplate leaving the island to find better internet back in Bali but catch a nasty cold suddenly, as if the island is—again—telling me to cut. it. out. So I rest. And read. And drink ginger tea prescribed by the boys and sweetly delivered to my room.
I also dive. As much as I love the water, I’m somewhat terrified of it (i.e. sharks), so I force myself to do it. The Gili’s are known for incredible diving with clear water and beautiful reef. I do a beginner lesson and then we go out to Secret Garden—there can’t possibly be sharks in a place with that name…right?!—where we see huge turtles, colorful fish (we find Nemo), and no sharks. So I make friends with the fish, yet still feel like a fish out of water—or, rather, a human in water—finding my usual yogic nose breathing absolutely useless for scuba diving and mouth breathing totally awkward.
Komodo Dragons wrestling, photo captured by Rachel!
And we explore. One day we return to a pond known for its Komodo Dragon inhabitants. We are delighted to see several dragons prowling the area and move closer, as the local man tells us they’re friendly, although he also tells us to be careful and carries a large stick, so I’m not sure what the limit of friendliness is. We soon see two Komodo Dragons begin to wrestle, and we, obviously, move closer to about ten feet away, watching them fight for 10-15 minutes before one gets tired and gives up, running away. We ask the local if they were fighting over a lady dragon, and he says, “No, they’re just really hungry.” Turns out even Komodo Dragons get grumpy with low blood sugar. It’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve witnessed, and, now I’m convinced I’m living in a fairytale.
The island keeps reminding me everything is okay (relax!)
I start to get the hang of this place, finding the best, cheapest warungs and the Lost Boys feeling like family now. I realize I’m not ready to leave Indonesia, so I must extend my visa. I do have to leave Gili Air to do this, however, and a couple of the boys take me in their fishing boat to Lombok where I can visit Immigration and the adventures are to be continued…