Gilli Air – A tiny tropical paradise

Catching a “fast boat” from Bali to Gilli Air was easy. At the cost of only $25(USD) per ticket – which included the taxi to the small port town of Padangbai – we were sorted. We even managed to purchase tickets from our AirBnB host, saving us the hassle of having to ‘shop around’.

We departed Denpasar early (waking around 6am) and made it to Padangbai within 2 hours – a wee maritime town which in itself was a pretty cute little spot, with a small selection of food and coffee vendors and the crow of roosters filling the early morning air. And having arrived early, we sat beneath a tree for an hour or so with some snacks (sweet potato chips, peanut flavoured biscuits, fresh bananas) that we purchased from a cheeky little old lady called Mama San and watched the port come alive around us.

And soon there were tourists crowding the pier-side as our boat pulled in. So we were shuffled along with the crowd, lugged our bags through the tiny doorway of a reasonably sized speed boat and leapt into seats at the hurried instruction of crew members still awaking from a morning haze. And from the outset it was clear that these crew members, despite rushing all of the oncoming guests to seats, were super friendly and up-beat. And they even treated us to un-improvised song and dance as they threw the larger bags about the boat. Bringing immediate colour and flare into our day.

A smooth ride and less than an hour later we pulled into Gilli T – the largest and most touristic of the Gilli Islands. Which I’m proud to say was not our stop. Some guests jumped off, some guest jumped on, and then we continued on to Gilli Air. And here, we did disembark. To our little island paradise for the next 2 days.

It is possible, we found out, to walk from one side of Gilli A to the other in about 30 minutes. All the while along sand and gravel roads, to the sound of the ringing carriage bells of the horse drawn transport there.

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We spent our first day meandering about beneath tropical fauna, indulging in a quick snorkeling dip, lying at a beach-front bar with beer and milkshakes and beautiful food. Relaxing. Chatting with the oh-so-friendly island locals. Sussing out a snorkeling trip for tomorrow. Dozing.

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Gilli Air is beautiful. The locals are some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. And despite its small size and general lack of activities, I am so, so glad we stayed there.

But on our second day we did pick up the pace a little – we headed out for a day long snorkeling trip. Awaking at our leisure we ate a light breakfast and then met the long boat which would take us snorkeling on the beach front at around 10am. We were supplied with snorkels and masks and fins (which we all later rejected) and sailed off into the open ocean.

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For only 100,000 Rupiah (about $10AUD) we were taken to four different snorkeling spots around the Gilli Islands – starting just off the beach of Gilli T and spending most of the day closer to Gilli M. And we decided that Gilli M (Gilli Meno) had the best waters – gracing us with turtles, hoards of fish and even some multi-coloured coral. The latter of which was sadly omitted from the oceans surrounding the Gilli Islands due to chronic bleaching.. A fact which deeply depressed and also fascinated me during our swims. To find so much life and also so much death coexisting in these waters set mixed emotions swirling in my mind. I know too little about the death and bleaching of coral in international waters. But what I do know is devastating. And to think too long about it, as with any great issue facing humanity today (because there are so many), would have been to ruin an otherwise brilliant day.. So I swam on.. Noting in my mind another injustice done by the human species to the very earth that allows us life.. aware so starkly of how my physical motion of swimming past the destruction so matter of factly metaphored rather perfectly humanities continued negligence towards the earth..

Why is it that the world over I find tragedy?

… None the less.. the snorkeling trip was great. Definitely I would recommend it to any visitors to the Gilli Islands. The sheer variety and number of fish life found in the clear waters here was dazzling. Every colour of the rainbow could be found, if not in the coral, then in the multitude of alien fish forms hiding beneath the surface of the sea.

And by the time our long day was over and our short two days in the tropical Gilli Islands were done, we were taken. Collectively in love with the slow pace and gentle nature of the place. As always it was with reluctance that we departed. Heading onwards, again by boat, to the much larger neighbouring island of Lombok.

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The touristic side of Bali

On our fourth day in Bali, joined by a fourth member of our group, we once again hired a private driver for a day to take us about central Bali and see some sights. This time we paid a bargain price of $45USD for our driver for the day. And choosing to hold off on breakfast until later, we departed Denpasar early – set first for a return visit to a near by waterfall called Tegenungan.

As our first visit to Tegenungan had been at dusk we had had only a few minutes to swim under the falls before the “lifeguard” blew his whistle and expected everyone to get out, and there had been only a small handful of other tourists there with us. But arriving in the early afternoon on this day gave us a different experience. For one, this time we were able to swim beneath the powerful falls with leisure. With no lifeguard enforcing a curfew we were able to attempt again and again to reach and bathe beneath the falling water of the falls – swimming hard against the powerful currents, desperately attempting to find foot-holds in the rough sand and push forward into a downpour that came with such force, that our very aim – to bathe beneath the masses of falling water- was questionable. Failing and re-attempting. Laughing and screaming. Flailing our limbs in ecstasy. Loving every moment in the cool water on a hot day.
Secondly, this trip differed in that we were joined by a much larger group of tourists than on our dusk visit. But none the less not enough to ruin the lure of the place. We enjoyed our return to the falls greatly.

Tenungun Falls.jpg

And we even took the time to stop for lunch here at a beautiful hilltop restaurant, where we sat out on a large balcony overlooking the falls below. We enjoyed another Indonesian meal of noodles and rice at prices that took advantage of the view but which none the less were extraordinarily affordable – ranging between $4 – $5(AUD) per plate. And we sampled charcoaled corn on the cob before returning to our van and heading off to the next spot –  Goa Gajah (The Elephant Cave).

Goa Gajah was a complex that was beautiful more for its gardens than for the cave which it seems to be renowned for – which despite featuring a beautifully carved exterior (or mouth), was plain and short on the inside and was filled with such thick, hot air that staying inside for any extended period of time became quite gruelling.. The gardens on the other hand were filled with fresh air, they were extensive, lush, wild looking and full of hidden water features and wide-trunked trees. And we enjoyed strolling through them over the course of an hour or so, taking in their rainforest-like beauty.

Elephant cave gardens.jpg

And only after a refreshing coke and a bottle of water (sold at even the remotest of destinations in Bali by random individuals at make-shift stalls with giant chilli bins) it was on to the Tegalalanga rice fields.

And it is here where the number of tourists present in Bali really became clear to us. Upon arriving at Tegalalanga the tourist masses were immediately evident. Swarming through the paddies, posing at every opportunity for selfies, chattering incessantly and crowding the streets with traffic. I know now how crazy it must sound to say this.. But somehow I truly truly didn’t expect that there were this many tourists on Bali after our first 3 secluded days on the island. And while it meant that this stop, for us, was not nearly as scenic as we might have hoped, it largely acted only to make more precious our first few days on this beautiful island – when we avoided the tourist masses with unintentional ease. It was fascinating to compare how exclusive our holiday had been up until this point to how generic and crowded it must be for most visitors. And it was quite satisfying to find a solid confirmation of how well we travel.

 

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But regardless of the personal satisfaction that I may have been experiencing, the tourist hoards were too much. We spent little of our time at this stop, instead opting to collect some snacks from a nearby convenience store and depart toward our final spot for the day – Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is a small temple that rests atop a large rock which, at high tide, is detached from the rocky coast of Southern Bali – giving it an austere and forbidden air. And before I go any further I will admit that it all is, at the very least, a really beautiful idea. However for the most part, unfortunately, the reality of the place is that it is an overpopulated tourist depot. It’s a gorgeous artistic concept that’s been exploited to develop an overrated tourist marketplace. A destination that is swamped with mindless visitors and their selfie sticks, which has little significant spiritual value and which, honestly, could have been skipped. It was as if our day of site seeing at these more touristic spots of Central and Southern Bali had been gaining momentum from the outset, finally reaching it’s climax at this dried-up, rock-top temple.

Tanah Lot.JPG

We sat with heavy disappointment on the rocky mainland, stared for a while at Tanah Lot. Walked about the grounds of the nearby ‘cultural park’ briefly. And left.

Our day did, however, end with a highlight.  We spent the remainder of our evening enjoying a heavy Mexican meal in the largest and most impressive Mexican themed restaurant that I have ever seen (and Melbourne thinks it has a foodie scene..). Where delicious food was served to multi coloured tables set out on a verandah that looked onto an impressive cacti garden. It far exceeded my expectations and left us all full and satisfied and ready for bed.

And with this, our last day in Bali drew to a close. Our short four day trip was already over. In the morning we would leave early for the Gilli Islands.