I love Indonesia. Seriously. I can never quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the people, the approach to life and the food. Man, I love Indonesian food. Consequently, when I decided it was time to continue my diving adventure, by undertaking my Instructor Development Course, I looked at people and places in Indonesia. During my searching, I found out about the fantastic Holly McLeod, based out of Trawangan Dive Center, Gili Trawangan. So, after about 18 months of emails, a few hours of flights, a humid boat trip, and lugging my 25kg suitcase of dive gear up the beach, I was on the idyllic, Gili Trawangan (Gili T).
There is so much to say about my month on Gili T that I decided to write two blogs about it. So just a heads up, this is all the above water stuff, life, food, cool things to do.. Stay tuned for the diving one soon!
There are a couple of ways to get to Gili T. I chose what I thought at the time, was to be the easier one. Unfortunately (for me), everyone else thought flying in to Denpasar airport during Australian school holidays was also a great thing to do. Consequently, after over two hours in line at the immigration office, I managed to get my gear, and was hoping that my lift was still waiting. As I went through customs, my spiky massage ball set off all sorts of alarm bells and I had to spend the next twenty minutes explaining to customs why I had a small bomb shaped item among copious amounts of camera gear. I was near certain that my driver had fled, finding something better to do than wait in the 30 degree humidity for some stupid white girl. But no, the saint of a man had waited for a full two and a half hours!!
The following day I was collected by a van, to travel to Padang Bai (South east Bali), to get on a boat. If only it were that easy… Of course, I had not quite the amount of cash I needed (further inspiring the image of stupid white girl) for the boat trip. On the back of a scooter, I jumped, to head to an ATM somewhere in the jungle of Bali (ok, not really, but my life flashed before my eyes at least once on the 2 minute trip). Cash in hand, I returned, and guiltily had to buy a plastic water bottle to get the correct change for the driver. Great, now I’m a stupid white girl who cant get the right amount of money, with a single-use plastic water bottle. So much for that $50 life straw bottle, and no waste traveling!! I worked on easing my guilt as I watched the stunning landscape of Indonesia wash past. Out past Lembongan and Bali as the fast boat cruised its way with 750 horse power transporting about 200 tourists to Lombok and the Gili Islands. About an hour and a half later, we were unceremoniously dropped on the white sandy beaches of Gili T. I dragged my heavy duty suitcase through the sand and headed off towards the dive shop.
Gili T is your post-high school, gap-year one stop shop for pretty much anything you want to try your hand at. Getting drunk at 2 am, listening to reggae, snorkelling, turtle selfies, free diving, SCUBA diving, stand-up-paddle boarding, yoga, stand-up-paddle yoga… you name it.. you can pretty much do it, all the while accompanied by the beautiful sincerity and politeness that is Indonesian hospitality. So, as I slowly wandered along the main street of Gili T, I was not so shocked to find the street was lined on one side by the beach and the other by alternating cafés, dive shops, bars and convenience stores (Gili Mart). Little did I know, however, that I had arrived a week before Ramadan, and the mosque would become both my 5am alarm clock and 10pm lullaby (and all round general theme tune).
Life very quickly settled in to a pleasant and relaxing routine. I spent a lot of time in the classroom working with my colleagues on our PADI Instructor Development Course (stay tuned for the next blog). Outside of class time we would explore the island, pet some cats, avoid being trampled by horse carts, visiting the sunset side for a quiet beer, and when I was truly motivated, getting up in time for sunrise out the front of my dive shop, Trawangan Dive Center.
Food was cheap and easy to find. My breakfast routine generally consisted of a croissant at the bakery, lunch was at a little unassuming warung that I nearly missed the first day (which I never knew the actual name of, everyone just called the owner, Nasi Lady…) The directions were apparently simple, go down the alley, and she is right at the end… unfortunately the alley looked more like a rat hole, with barely enough width for one person to walk. But the food was worth it! By the end of my stay on Gili T, I had two favorite places to eat for dinner, the night market (more specifically, one store at the night market) and a vegan resto called Pituq. I ate a lot of nasi campur, which, in essence, was an Indonesian buffet served with rice. There are plenty of delicious juices and drinks to have, just make sure you’re explicit with your “no straw please” request.
Accommodation was just as easy. I had booked one night in a private bungalow at Beach Box bungalows, two streets back from the dive shop. After I had checked in, my host offered my bungalow to me for 2 million Rupiah (approximately $200 AUD), for the whole month. It was basic, and I only had a fan, but considering the only time I spent there was to sleep, it did its job. But you don’t have to slum it. There are some incredible resorts on Gili T. After our group passed our instructor exam, we held a party at the Kelapa Villas. These incredible villas come with their own pools, and the accommodation is spacious and clean. Well worth a stay if your budget is bigger than mine! If you’re going to the island for diving, most of the bigger dive centers have accommodation and restaurants attached. Just imagine, if you really wanted, you could eat, sleep and dive without ever leaving the dive shop!! (but where is the fun in that??)
I had many people from back home ask me about the plastic pollution situation on Gili T. In short, yes, there is more plastic than somewhere like here in Tasmania. And yes, it can be quite confronting. One of the best things however, when you find it gets you down is there is something you can do about it!!! There are a lot of new initiatives around plastic waste in Indonesia and South East Asia in general! One of the very first ones I discovered was the RefillMyBottle initiative. The was a great salve to my recently dented eco-ego, with that single-use plastic bottle still weighing heavily on my mind. RefillMyBottle is a website and app where business owners can register their businesses that have bottle refill stations, and Gili T has had a fantastic uptake of this by the local businesses. The app tells you if the station is free, or if there is a small cost associated (generally around a 5-10c AUD donation). I didn’t buy a single, single-use plastic bottle again for my whole trip.
If that wasn’t enough for the eco-minded traveller, there was the Gili Eco Trust. Gili Eco Trust runs initiatives above and below the water. But best of all, they run Debris Free Fridays, where like minded people get together and participate in a 45 minute beach clean, and to add to that warm fuzzy feeling of cleaning a stretch of beach, you get a free Bintang to quench your thirst!! The Trust also run volunteer internship programs for budding eco-warriors, to help run the beach cleans, and assist with the multitude of other initiatives they support including building cages to protect turtle nests during their incubation period. Don’t forget, you don’t have to just go to a specific beach clean to pick up rubbish though.. many a Facetime I had back to Australia was spent on the beach collecting lollipop sticks or the like. Gili Eco Trust and most dive shops also sell dive debris bags, small enough for you to pack in to your dive gear, and very easy to fill on a dive! For $7.5 AUD, its a great little investment.
Finally the dive shops! It really depends what you want to do. Almost all dive shops on Gili Trawangan are a part of GIDA (Gili Indah Dive Alliance). GIDA was created almost ten years ago to create a strong, safe and environmentally responsible dive culture on Gili T. There is no price haggling between GIDA dive shops, so if you go to the shop on the island that appears to be cheaper, double check they’re a GIDA member, honestly, it is worth the extra couple of dollars. The alliance have established emergency procedures that all members are involved in. I personally dived out of Trawangan Dive Center (where Gili IDC is based) and had the best time, but as I mentioned, the standard of guiding and instruction is high across all GIDA dive shops, so check out the GIDA website before heading off on your trip to see who their members are, and which shop suits your needs the most. But above all, go to Gili Tfor diving, snorkelling, beach cleaning, and that sneaky vodka joss in jungle at 2 in the morning, you’ll have a great time.