After my Lombok adventures with Edy, I headed to Gili Air. This is where things started to feel like they were falling into place for me in terms of travelling.
On this gorgeous island with its laid back island vibes, cheery locals, coconut trees, clear water, white sand, exotic marine life and sunsets to die for, it’s impossible to be anything but happy.
The public boat system from Bangsal harbour in Lombok to the Gilis is certainly an interesting one. I said goodbye to Edy and got my ticket from the public boat ticket stand. “When does the boat leave?” I asked the deadpan woman behind the stand. “When it full. Needs 38 people. You will be number four,” she replied. I pressed her on how long it might take to fill up. “One hour,” she shrugged. “Maybe two. You come back in one.” So, I took myself off for an omelette and dutifully returned 50 minutes later.
‘Hello!’ I said cheerily. Still no smile from her. “How many passengers does the boat have now?” “The boat already gone. You need new ticket for new boat. Leaves in one hour. Maybe two.” Jesus fucking Christ.
And so, three and a half hours after I arrived at the port, I was finally on the boat to Gili air. The crossing over actually wasn’t too bad at all as it’s so close to Lombok and when I arrived at my hostel, any boat stresses became a distant memory.
Despite nursing a bad motorbike exhaust burn for the duration of my time there, which meant £150 in doctors fees, repeated visits to the pharmacist for supplies, not being able to swim or sunbathe for most of my time on the island, I had a really wonderful week. (FYI the burn is now healing thanks to some magical antibiotic powder my friend Jenn gave me which did a much better job than the pharmacy cream!)
Gili Air is a little slice of heaven and has a lovely, chilled vibe. It is, I understand, the perfect mid way point between its sister islands Gili Trawangan – the busier, party island – and Gili Meno – the honeymoon island.
There’s no traffic on the island as it’s motor-free, so you walk everywhere, hire a bicycle or jump on the back of a horse and cart (however I’m not entirely sure how well treated these horses are). There are enough amenities in reach but not so many you feel totally overloaded with western life.
I stayed at a beautiful hostel, ate incredible food and met a great group of people who I can best describe as my kindred travelling spirits, as well as meeting up with lovely Jenn who I hadn’t seen since Canggu.
I realised that until now, anxiety and homesickness meant I had been really searching for the good in every day, even though it was all around me and I was experiencing so many wonderful things. In Gili Air, I somehow relaxed into enjoying each day.
On one day last week, I decided to leave my phone behind (anyone who knows me well knows this is basically an extension of my arm so HUGE NEWS guys) to enjoy a day of beach hopping and snorkelling with my Captain Coconut friends. While they were still in the water, I found myself sitting alone on a quiet stretch of beach. I was covered in sand with salty sea hair, having just snorkelled up close with a turtle, gnawing at a fresh pineapple from a beach seller with its juice dripping down my chin (so sexy). In this moment, I thought to myself there is honestly nowhere on earth I would rather be in this moment. I didn’t think about the fact i hadn’t checked my whatsapp all day. I didn’t care that I was covered in dirt and salt and sticky juice and my hair was a matted mess. I just felt present and happy. Moments like those are where the true beauty of travelling and being alone makes itself crystal clear.
There’s plenty to do on Gili Air – most people come here to dive or snorkel. Rather than go on a snorkel trip we elected to pay around 30,000IDR to hire our own snorkelling gear and looked up the best places to find turtles. You can hire a bicycle for the day and cycle the whole island in 90 mins or so or, as I often did, chill on the beach or by the pool Before heading to Gili Lumbung, the best sunset spot on the island , to watch the sky turn the most unbelievable shades of pink and orange with an ice cold Bintang.
In hindsight, I do now understand why week two was so emotionally difficult for me. I think I made a really big mistake in separating from other backpackers so early on my trip and for so long.
Although I appear sociable, I am actually a very introverted person and I crave alone time a lot in London, going as far as to plan it into my diary. I love my friends and family more than life and I am at my best with them, but I enjoy nothing more than spending a day holed up in my flat drinking tea, reading books and watching Netflix or taking myself for brunch and a walk then doing life admin. It helps me cope with my busy job and my whirlwind of a social life and I am very happy and comfortable to say no to plans in favour of my own company.
Naturally, then, I assumed that, like I do at home, having experienced fairly constant company meant that a week of solitude would be good for me. There’s absolutely a place for solitude when travelling alone and actually I’m doing that now on Gili t, but I didn’t need so long so soon.
It’s a relief to start to understand what kind of travel suits me. I know now that I do thrive off staying in (nicer) hostels, being around people, hearing their stories, making genuine bonds over mutual ferry disasters, toilet tales, recent adventures and other highs and lows of travel. I have also learned that if it ever feels a bit much then the solitude I need can still be found – but this can be in the form of a morning walk alone around the island, an iced coffee by the sea, taking myself off to call my parents or email a friend or meditating (read:napping). It’s about finding a balance and that is what came to me in a Gili Air.
Let’s take a minute to pay homage to Captain Coconuts, which I fear will now ruin every other hostel experience I have on my travels. I have been lusting after their Instagram for the past six months and there was never any doubt I would stay here. It is paradise on earth and I can honestly only describe my stay as utter perfection.
To be rocked to sleep soundly every night in a (clean!!!) canopied hanging bed in an open air bamboo lodge, to eat delicious, healthy food in the cafe (more on that later), to laze away entire days by their stunning pool area drinking frozen margaritas or jamu juice (magical turmeric based drink) was such a luxury.
I paid 200,000IDR (£12ish) a night for a canopied dorm bed, so it was pricier than other dorms, but I was totally happy to pay it. I had my own corner of the dorm and was able to unpack all of my things properly. It all felt like such a treat. Breakfast is included in the room rate, which is a bargain if, unlike me, you don’t buy one of their fancy juices as well as breakfast every morning!
I ate some GREAT food in Gili Air but I’m afraid I was so excited by most of it I forgot to take photos. Breakfast at Captain Coconuts was coconut and banana pancakes with lime drizzle, apple and cinnamon soaked oats or pepper and spinach omelette with rye bread. Every morning I had a Jamu juice (orange, carrot, turmeric and ginger).
Other than that I ate really good Indonesian food at Lemongrass and Warung murani, and some really delicious western food at local hot spot Mowies, where we gravitated towards nearly every day. While I really love Indonesian food, especially Nasi goreng and beef rendang, it’s good to break it up a bit. Everything I ate at Mowies was such a treat – tuna sashimi, a hot smoked salmon sandwich, wood fired Parma ham pizza – but probably not budget friendly or diet friendly in all honesty!
I’m so pleased to say I haven’t eaten a bad meal in Bali or the surrounds yet. The food is all wonderful!
I loved Gili Air and that was largely down to the wonderful people I met so if any of you are reading this, thank you so much! I loved the time we spent together, that you called me Miss London and ridiculed my accent and that we could enjoy an unashamed affair with Mowies and laugh about bum guns together! You are all very special people 😘
On Sunday, I came to Gili Trawangan to meet up with my friend from home Emma, who is travelling Bali with some friends. We had a brilliant time at a pool party drinking, catching up and making friends and I was loving life.
Unfortunately I became severely ill overnight, had to go to a local hospital (read: makeshift clinic!) and am still recovering. I’m doing much better and have now checked into a gorgeous private bungalow with staff that have shown such kindness they’ve made me cry on several occasions. I don’t want anyone reading this to worry and I’ll explain in slightly more detail when I write my full post on Gili T. I hope that tomorrow I’ll feel up to exploring the island more as beyond the party scene there is meant to be some beautiful beaches to cycle to, a fantastic night market and some really gorgeous food here. Until then 😊