The Gili Islands: Upgrading to a more Perfect Paradise
We staggered like refugees onto the beach at Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three tiny islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok. Dogs and motorised vehicles are banned on the islands and the infrastucture is nascent, making them peaceful idylls for sunseeking travellers. The lack of dogs might also contribute to the prevalence of cats, patrolling the beaches and eateries, brushing and scratching bare legs to beg for scraps of freshly barbequed fish. The main strip is a small village of bars and tourist accomodation, its traffic a trickle of flip-flopped walkers, bicycles and jingling ponies pulling small traps. We found a fish market full of barbeque smoke and flourescent light, selling Red, Black and White Snapper, huge shrimps and squid, Baracuda, Parrot Fish and many others. We picked a particularly beautiful “Sweet Lips” fish, with narrow yellow and blue stripes on its sides and leopard print fins.
We had missed the last ferry to our planned destination, Gili Air, so we spent the night there in Gili “T”, in a cosy place run by a lovely young guy called Deb. The next morning we made the short, comfortable crossing on an open-sided wooden boat. Landing to find a new island that was even more of a postcard paradise than the last one, similar in features but quieter still, and surrounded by a reef populated by fecund marine fauna.
The Gili Islands, just as the postcards promised
In spite of our short stay of only two days, we created a routine for ourselves. After breakfast at another lovely set of bungalows, owned by another lovely guy called Ming, we would amble along the coast through the slightly more populated east side. Lunch at some bar, snorkeling on the reef amidst thousands of brighly coloured fish we couldn’t start to name, then dinner at another bar, walking the whole circcumference of the island with ease, before watching sunset back at our place. And what sunsets they were, with Lombok jutting skywards across one half of the horizon, and the sea on the other side, broken by the thin green and yellow strips of the other two Gili Isands. As the sun reddened over the water, it backlit the perfect volcanic triangle of what I guess is Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest peak, wearing the clouds around its base like a blood-soaked skirt.
Sunset back over Gili Trawangan, with Gunung Agung (in Bali) in the distance
After the sun vanished each night the stars illuminaated like beacons, run through by the foggy veil of the Milky Way. Each night we retired to the beach to stargaze from deckchairs, as shooting stars raced over us. We were joined on the second evening by our neighbours, a Colombian filmmaker named Rodrigo and his Chinese partner, an animator called something like Cheng Nyan. They prepared a tea ceremony for us, with a rare tea pronounced “pua”. They told us the history of the tea, how it had been crushed in the cargo of a group travelling from Yunnan province to see the emperor. They feared for their lives at having ruined the fine tea but the emperor proclaimed it as the best he had ever tasted. We shared a smoke together on the beach before bed and, as we lay there beneath that vibrant canopy, Rodrigo said, “this is a perfect moment”.