While climbing Mount Rinjani I could only think of one thing: the Gili Islands. After 3726 meters of hell, this must be heaven. Three little pearls off the Lombok coast with sandy beaches and crystal clear water. The perfect place to chill and recover. Skiers have Après-ski, hikers Après-Rinjani. So after our descent to Senaru, there's no time to waste. We are driven to the Bangsal Jetty at Warp speed. The Gilis are calling. And I know exactly what I’m going to do there: nothing, nothing and nothing. And here's why.
Show me your Gili and I tell you who you are
Party animal? Gili Trawangan - Gili T pour les amis - is the biggest and busiest of the 3. Next to the harbour is a makeshift corniche, filled with beach restaurants, bars and boutiques. It's touristic and busy, but not unpleasant. More of a Turkish riviera ambiance.
Laid back? Gili Meno is the smallest and quietest island in the middle, perfect for ‘relaxati’ as the locals call it.
Schizophrenic? Gili Air lies closest to the mainland and offers the best of both worlds. It’s quiet yet lively, with many loungy bars and restaurants.
Can’t decide? No worries. At regular hours, there are public boats (40K) between the 3 islands so you can easily hop from one to another.
We quickly ruled out Gili T, flirted with Meno but finally settled for Air. We are dropped off in front of the box office at the Jetty. Tickets are advertised for 12.000 IDR but us tourists are shamelessly charged 20. Because 'of taxes’. Sure. The boat only leaves when all 40 spots are sold. It’s burning hot and they try to upsell us a private speedboat for 350M. Nice try. We join the waiting group and after a hilarious count down, we’re on our way to Gili Air.
Hear No Evil, See No Evil
It’s not just about what the Gili Islands have. It’s what they don’t have: motorised traffic. Yes, you’re hearing it right: a place in Indonesia with no scooters! There are some, but they’re electric. The only vehicles allowed are carriages with 1 PK horsepower. And bicycles powered by yourself. Heaven!
The second we arrive in the little port we are sold: little sandy roads, charming hostels, waving palm trees, no garbage, the silence only broken by the sound of hooves and bike bells. It’s a tiny island, so we decide to walk to our hotel. After 3 days of Rinjani, that should be easy, right? But we soon get lost in a labyrinth of dusty sideroads. Ahhhh.
Stay for next to nothing
In Gili Air, most resorts and hostels are on the East side, where the corals are. We booked on the quieter, ‘sunset’ side. Aza Zil (350K/night) is a series of bungalows in a quiet mango tree garden. Each one comes with a little terrace, outside shower, safe and air condition. In the middle of the garden is a little pavilion where you can enjoy free coffee or fill up your water bottles. Wifi is weak, but the service is fun and laid back. A real bed, a real shower and a real toilet. After 3 days of Mount Rinjani, we’re in heaven.
Do nothing, spend nothing
In Gili, the best things in life DO come for free. Or almost. For 30K, we rent bicycles from the hotel. I carefully inspect the brakes and gears. ‘From Holland?’ the managers asks. Even with thick tires, it’s hard to drive through the sand. Unless you are Sven Nys or Zdenek Stybar (cross country champs). Even the monstrous fat bikes are useless novelties. “But it gives you Schwarzenegger legs” an Aussie cyclist remarks.
Snorkelling? Just jump into the crystal clear waters on the east side. The reefs are hardly 10 meters away. Go before lunch, when there’s high tide, so the waves don’t smash you against the poisonous corals. My arms still look like I’ve contracted bubonic plague. Rent a mask for 30K a day. Negotiate if you’re only taking it just for a few hours. Chill at the many beach bars. Or fry in the sun.
Then continue to the sandy beaches on the Northern tip of the Island. Work your way to the west side, to enjoy the sunset. On the horizon you can see the sun hiding behind the volcanos of Bali. For dinner, you can eat fresh, barbecued fish. Bargaining is hard in Gili. Some charge 160M for a small snapper. They won’t come down. Even when their terrace is empty and their fish won’t be fresh the next day. Smart. Other serve the same fish we admired a few hours before. Parrot fish, anyone?
Nothing beats swimming with Mermaids and Turtles
We soon bump into our hiking buddies Benny & Jule. The hardship on the mountain has created a bond. Rinjani for life! Two other climbers have chartered a private boat for a snorkelling trip (1 million IDR - 75$). They are picking us up at 9u20 am sharp from - get ready for a pun! - the Gili Air Port. The first stop is right around the corner. The boat rocks heavily and I can’t wait to jump into the water. The marine life in the corals is out of this world. This is the Langkawi Aquarium, LIVE.
Next stop is Turtle Heaven. Our young boatman dives in the water like a man from Atlantis to spot giant sea turtles. At his signal, we start a wild pursuit. We have to crawl like madmen to follow the turtles, hardly moving their fins. Bucket list: check! For the final stop we swim in a stunning reef next an old shipwreck, before the boat drops us at Gili T. You can do the same trip on a ‘public’ boat for only 150K/person. Most are so overloaded, it looks like a scary boat refugee experience.
All aboard to Bali!
There are fast, direct boats to Padang Bay at 8u30 am and 11 am. We paid 275K/ticket, including minibus to Ubud (with Marina Boats, tickets next to Coffee & Thyme bar). The boat makes a short stopover at Gili T to load more passengers, then it’s just 1 hour 20 minutes to Bali. At Padang Bay, get ready for some 'order in chaos'. For some weird reason, it kinda works. We're guided to different mini busses. Ubud is another 1h30 drive.
Back to Lombok is even easier. The boats leave when they have enough passengers. The locals are changed 12K, tourists probably a little bit extra. 'Because of taxes'. Right.