Gili Air: Fortunate or Unfortunate Timing

The journey from Pererenan to Gili Air was a touch more involved than expected. 

It started at 6 am while traversing across the city with the first transport. This trip reminded me of last year when Jimmy and I made the same trek from Canggu to Padang Bai to snorkel. The wait in Padang Bai was two hours. One hour of waiting to access the port and around 45 min lining up at the port. Bear in mind, I’m carrying a 2.5 m surfboard bag weighing about 20 kg. We inched forward and I just let myself flow in the pedestrian traffic. Our luggage stowed atop the boat, it was time to head below deck. 

The sardine analogy fits here. Sweaty, hot and bothered with less space than economy airlines. I put on a podcast and this made the sea trip bearable. For a few others, the oscillation of the swell was too much and sickness set in. At times, the boat rocked from side to side. After nearly two hours. We arrived at Gili Trawangan. This is the first island and the changeover took nearly 30 minutes. Next was Gili Meno. We don’t dock at the island. Rather, another boat meets ours a little way out. The last stop is Gili Air. 

The arrival tax is two dollars. I whipped out my phone and used the directions to navigate to the accommodation. The first thing that you notice in Gili Air is the tambourine chorus through the streets. However, the actual sound source is the horses marching through the partly paved tracks with carts. They have horse bangles and sound like you, Mum, when you wear yours! These are the Gili Air taxis and quite charming. This din was constant throughout my week here.

I’m ten minutes into my walk and I’m sweating. Right shoulder sore from carrying the boards. I wished I had a horse and cart! Then I arrive at the pin drop Google Maps sent me to and… this isn’t it. Wrong address. I managed to find the actual address after some sleuthing and I’m still another 10 min walk away. Again, this is really becoming tiresome, and by the time I arrive at the bungalows, I’m in a bit of a mood. 

The room is very simple. The air conditioner doesn’t work so well. The internet is dial-up speed and dropping out. We’re positioned right next to a warung that’s playing loud dance music. I’m starting to second-guess my choice of coming here. But I’ve arrived and the first task is to find food and transition this start. 

After eating, I headed to a yoga session that was labelled ‘restorative’. The teacher described the session as peaceful and giving your body a hug. Just the kind of self-care I probably needed after the last 24 hours. Hilariously. Gili Air had other plans. We could hear the sound of drums banging, flutes whistling and some singing edging closer. Closer. Closer. Until the loud procession was camped right outside the studio. We could barely hear the teacher’s instructions as she called for us to welcome in these sounds we had no control over. And that’s all we could do with a grin adorning our faces. The contrast of wanting peace but getting loud chaos. Eventually, the crowd moved on into the centre of town and we could find some soothing peace.

Following yoga, I made for the west of the island to catch the sunset. It’s beautiful as you can see the other two islands and Bali’s Mt. Agung in the landscape. True to the words of my last post, I struck up a conversation with someone on the beach. The interaction was fleeting but was a step in reversing trends. Unfortunately, the remainder of the week felt pretty isolating. Working is fine and I’ve maintained if not increased my work standard, but I still find myself stuck between two worlds. Next week, I’m hopefully back surfing and the week after I’m on leave from work and attending a surf camp so I’m hopeful that will shift.

Why might this experience be different to that of a decade ago? While travelling in Europe, I wasn’t working. You would stay in hostels or with locals and you’re immediately immersed with others. While working in Amsterdam, I was there for a prolonged period not moving around so you can tap into expat networks and build longer-term connections. Sprinkle in a bit of maturing age and I guess these ingredients make this trip more socially challenging. It’s good feedback to have and if I were to plan this trip differently, I’d remain in one place for longer and make satellite trips when they crop up. 

Back in Gili Air, watching sunrises and sunsets were probably my most frequented activities and it was an easy win to find joy through the week. I asked work if I could time shift to work the Sunday since I couldn’t enter the water. They agreed. 

The rest of the week was filled with routine. Sunrise, work, brekky smoothie, work, gym and then catch the sunrise. The broadcasted mosque chanting at 4:30 am was the unsolicited daily alarm. In the future, checking the proximity of accommodation to the local mosque is essential research.

The island itself reflects the dichotomy of yin and yang. The east side, where the sun rises, is much gentler and is the place for the health and wellness scene. The west side, where the sun sets, is the party side of the island. Even one of the waiters asked me if I wanted ecstasy as I was paying for the bill. Naturally, I went back on a non-work night. Only kidding, Mum — I’ll leave that to the owls of the night. For dinner that night, I thought I’d splurge and get one of the locally caught snapper from the day. I think I’ve spoiled my taste buds with too much salt and this fish was a little bland but it was nice to eat something different. It was probably a good boost of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that I’ve lacked since being here. 

As I’m landbound, I made the call to leave Gili Air on Friday and reduce the even longer journey to Lakey Peak in Sumbawa. So I’ll stay in Mataram for one night before flying to Bima to head to the premier surf spot of this trip. The forecast looks big. Hopefully not too big. It’ll be the toughest spot to surf but I’m yearning to be back by the surf. 

Gili Air: it’s renowned for its free-diving and snorkelling both of which evaded me on this stint. From the optimist’s point of view, taking a week off surfing coincided well with being landbound. The pessimist’s view would say the timing was ordinary. The realist’s view probably acknowledges both. The stitches are out. The longest leg of the trip now awaits.