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Gili Trawangan

Written on: Friday May 30th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

You?d have thought that after nearly 8 months of travels and countless attempts by swindlers to rid me of my hard-earned cash I would have learnt a thing or two. The trip from Kuta to Gili Trawangan taught me I still have much to learn, and also no matter how long one will travel for there is always a good chance that one will fall prowl to the shady deal. At least I wasn?t alone I suppose. In order to collect my air ticket from the Qantus office in Bali, Ben and I made our way to Sanur, close to Bali?s capital of Denpasar thinking that by making the trip ourselves by public transport to Padang Bai where the ferry terminal to Lombok is, we would get to the Gilies cheaper than by paying the tour agents back in Kuta to transport us. Mistake Numero Uno! We stayed one night in Sanur, which was pleasant enough as we got to take in a great live jazz band and watch the NBA Eastern Finals between Boston and Detroit, but which ended up costing us a fair whack as the jazz restaurant was rather up-market for our peasant pockets and the place we stayed in was more aimed at well-off package customers, rather than us backpacker scum. Then there was the transport to Padang Bai ? no public bemos we were told. To get there in time we would have to get a taxi, and even then we bartered hard to get one taxi-man down to 120,000 rupiah. Adding to our plight Ben had forgotten to adjust his clock to the time difference coming from Java, where they are one hour behind, so instead of having ample time at the port to get our ticket and mill around we were barely going to make it. Then as we arrived at the port just in time we ran full pelt in to Mistake Number Two and Three! We were hoarded out of the taxi at what we were led to believe was the ?official? ticket office, told we still just had time to catch the direct boat over to Gili Trawangan which would take only two hours, almost had the 500,000 snatched off me for the both of us and had our bags picked up by a scraggily motley crew who then legged it off with them towards the about-to-depart ferry. Ben and I hurried behind and climbed the steps up to the main deck with our porters just ahead. Once there our porters dropped our bags and formed a semi-circle blocking our way past them and demanding payment for carrying our bags. We?d both assumed that these friendly Indonesians were staff from where we?d purchased our tickets and had very kindly ran with our bags to ensure we caught the ferry on time because they were good natured human beings who wanted us to leave Bali with a lasting impression of just how polite, well mannered and accommodating a society of people they were. No bloody chance. We?d already paid enough for one morning, and while Ben offered them 6,000 rupiah I pushed my way through the mob, thaning them humbly, while they continued to demand 20 American dollars off us. About 20 minutes in to the voyage we came to realise our other Mistake. We weren?t on an express ferry to the Gilies after all, in fact the ferry wasn?t even going to the Gilies, let alone being express. We were instead heading to southern Lombok. Instead of taking 2 hours, the journey took 6 and then we had to jump on a bus to Bangsal. Meanwhile Mistake Number 4 was brewing licking its lips at our arrival! Most Westerners that were on the boat, and there were a fair few, had brought their ticket in Kuta, had paid 150,000 rupiah for it, and some had even got a return for this price. Their ticket included the bus fare to Bangsal and then the boat over to Gili Trawangan from there. So on reaching Lembar in southern Lombok and after paying over the odds already I was not going to pay anymore for a bus ticket. As it was it seems our extortionate ticket did include the bus journey and so I handed over the ticket to the seemingly friendly Indonesian who waved us on our way as our bus left with just one other passenger on it, who happened to make our day even worse by being an extremely irritating, pessimistic, middle-class, privately educated English twat. We arrived at Bangsal at least content with the fact that it was Friday night and we very soon would be arriving in the glorious Gili Islands. However there was one last hurdle to overcome. We were confronted with what seemed once again like a very friendly Indonesian man who very calmly apologised to us and told us that our boat staff from the company that we had purchased our ticket from had waited for us but as we hadn?t arrived at the anticipated time had decided to leave and go home. We managed to persuade this man to give us the boat driver?s number but after one phonecall he refused to answer the phone anymore, not wanting to leave the comfort of his home to take us across the seas. Of course some friendly sole would come to our rescue. Why, there was still a boat going to Trawangan with all the other people on it from the other companies and so surely they won?t mind us jumping on as well as they know we have already paid? ?But you don?t have your ticket.? ?No, I don?t have our ticket anymore as your weasly mate back at Lembar took it from me saying he needed it.? I snapped back. ?In that case you?ll have to buy another one.? I?d had a long day, I?d been ripped off on countless occasions now and I was about to spill blood on a rather scenic beach. It was no use though, it was the last boat going over to the islands, and even when I threatened to go to the local police station they mocked me pointing me in the direction and telling us we would have to stay here overnight then. After almost stooping to the level of pleading with the boat driver we managed to buy our ride over to Trawangan for 75,000 rupiah each. We arrived just before 8pm. It had taken us twelve hours to get there and cost us almost 400,000 each, 500,000 more than it should have. I only hoped this island was up to the craic. Happily, over the next 6 days the Gili Islands did prove their worth. The perfect place to round off this first part of my trip - to relax, unwind, to not see any temples, museums, or Batik galleries, in fact to do nothing more cultural than drink the local alcoholic poison, Arak. The only downside were the local people sadly, confirming my thoughts that now is a good time to take a break from all the travelling and settle somewhere to get in to a routine again, so that the numb feeling that was beginning to seep in to my soul at seeing and experiencing things would subside and I?d be fervent and fresh at wanting to do it all again. Here in the Gilies the locals, like in Kuta, Sanur, Padang Bai, Lembar and Bangsal were all intent on ripping you off, constantly pestering you to buy marijuana, bracelets, hats, boat tickets and anything else they could possibly think to sell you. At the beginning of my trip I would have appreciated the banter, joked with the vendors and have taken it in my stride, but now I wanted to rip out the heart of the next person who offered to massage me. That said Ben and I met some great travellers on the island, 6 of whom we became very close with. Kate and Georgie, two English girls hailing from Guidlford, were on the same boat as us coming over to the Gilies and hung out with us on the beach during the day and got visionary with us in the evenings, and Nilla, Josie, Julia and Natalie from Sweden became our beach volleyball partners, as well as of course drinking buddies in the many bars on the seafront that plead for your custom after the sun has set. We snorkelled on a couple of our days that we spent on Trawanagan, once about 50 metres out from the shoreline where the strong currents whisked us along the east coast of the island, where we spotted a couple of sea turtles munching away on their appetising lunch they had come across on the ocean bed; and on another occasion from a boat that dropped us at several spots around Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Other than the turtle sightings it was sadly disappointing though, even the dive I did off the west coast of Trawangan at Shark Point wasn?t particularly talkative, albeit more turtles and a couple of white-tip reef sharks. The reason being was the backdrop for what should have been a star-studded theatre show is instead incredibly gaudy and downtrodden. Instead of the breathtaking, explosion of colour that the Similan Islands offered, the seabed around the Gilies is cluttered with dead remnants of pale, colourless coral, destroyed over the years by the increasing volume of boats frequenting the islands and the thoughtless locals plying the waters with dynamite in order to increase their fishing quotas. That said seeing a shark in its own territory eye you up and down is always a buzz and a worthwhile excursion and the turtles were the biggest I?d ever seen.  Nonetheless it is a shame that the ocean floor is in the state it?s in. It transcends the island itself, a beautiful oasis that is being spoilt by the dominant population of young Indonesian males who are constantly on the look-out to exploit as much money from visitors as they can and who hassle the female tourists almost non-stop with their incessant and over-the-top attempts of flirtation, and in the evenings when the different clubs host their party nights, the full-on just grabbing of girls who might in the slightest look a bit game. The parties, particularly the one on Friday night at Rudy?s Bar makes the meat-market that is McClusky?s in Kingston look like a well respected cocktail lounge.