Gili Air- fantastic tropical island, just be careful with the mushrooms
We are not the most enthusiastic beach bums on the planet but after a few months on the road it was time to kick back and stare blankly at sand and sea. We stocked up on good reads in Ubud- Laura picked up a couple of mystery novels and I dug out a couple of light reads Andrew Marr’s ‘History of the World’ and Daniel Kahnemann’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. I am looking forward to exchanging these two fine books for some equally cerebral tomes at an island hostel. ‘Oh, wait…what are these ‘Shades of Grey’ books I am seeing everywhere.’ Damn…you get a different class of traveler around the world these days. When I first traveled, it was all Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Neruda, and Borges. Now, it is all lame soft porn…no wonder, everyone is practically naked in Indonesia!
Getting to Gili Air was extremely easy. We booked a fast boat online and the company (Blue Express) picked us up in a shuttle and took us to the port of Padang Bai, about an hour from Ubud. The sea voyage took about 90 minutes. All very painless, ruthlessly efficient, expensive, and, best of all, very safe. Indonesia does not have the best record when it comes to boat and ferry safety so it was nice to see a properly seaworthy vessel and life jackets.
Gili Air is surrounded by coral reefs and great diving spots so there are a lot of divers and dive resorts. It is also blessed with gorgeous sandy beaches, good restaurants, and relaxed bars so there is also plenty to do for the hydrophobes.
The water in front of our hotel, with Gunung Rinjani on Lombok in the background.
The one joy of the beach is that it allows you to slip into a bit of a routine. One of the main reasons to travel is that you want a change of routine but typically it is difficult to create new routines when you are constantly on the move and changing hotels frequently. It is amusing to watch people setting up routines on a beach within 24 hours of arriving. People settle into the same sun lounger, eat at the same restaurants, swim or snorkel at the same time, and even run at the same time each day. The island was about 2.5 miles around so we decided we would run around it before breakfast every morning. Every day we ran round starting at about 6.50am and every day at the same spot we said ‘hi’ to the same runner heading in the opposite direction. It was almost like ‘groundhog day’.
We stayed at a fabulous spot called Youpy’s Bungalows. The bungalow was $29 a night including breakfast and outdoor bathroom. The outdoor bathroom was lovely…a pleasant saltwater shower and toilet al fresco. It certainly beat the stinky sweaty bathrooms you often find in Asia. The staff was pretty relaxed, as you would expect from a place that loudly and proudly advertised magic mushrooms for sale. Thankfully, the place was full of young couples sunbathing, drinking and snorkeling rather than tripping youths expanding their minds. One French couple plunged into the psychedelics though, which resulted in one of the funniest arguments I had heard in a while. Sadly, the mushrooms didn’t seem to work for them. Now, I am no expert but I thought that one of the risks of buying drugs anywhere from someone you don’t know was that you are highly likely to get a bum deal. At $5 for a bum trip, I would have put it down to experience and moved on. Not Pascal and Francoise though. They were pissed and were complaining to the owner about how unprofessional they were to sell mushrooms that do not work. ‘These mushrooms do not work’, ‘They are dead mushrooms, deceased’…it really was like a Monty Python sketch. The woman declared loudly and authoritatively that, ‘These mushrooms are shit’. Not that anyone else in the café cared. The owner point blank refused to refund them. I am now looking out for the Tripadvisor review. Or, maybe they went to the village headman… or, the local trade ombudsmen… or, maybe the police.
Given the fantastic views available: Gunung Rinjani (Lombok’s huge volcano), fabulously clear blue seas, and a myriad of fish and turtles below the surface, I am baffled as to why you would want to trip… but, hey, travelers come in all shapes and sizes.
Boats at Gili Air harbor at sunrise.
Talking of travelers, we were very surprised to find that the vast majority of backpackers we spoke to were on short trips of 4 weeks or less. This was very different from my experiences previously in South America and Asia. It certainly creates a different dynamic. Most of the travel in Java, Bali, and Lombok is centered on efficiently moving travelers from one site to another. Holidaymakers were all about the beach with the occasional bout of cultural immersion or volcano viewing. Those people on month long trips would pretty much do what we did in Java, Bali, Gili and Lombok. It is all very easy but crowded.
We absolutely loved Gili Air. Laura got into snorkeling in a big way and saw plenty of colorful fish and turtles. We also had some time to work on apps. One of our big aims for the trip was to design, develop, and release a couple of apps for the travel market. We want to keep our skills up-to-date in readiness for our return to work next year. In addition, there are a couple of tools we would like to build that could help us with our future holidays and, hopefully, help other travelers too. Laura is putting the finishing touches to our first release so I hope to be able to share that with you shortly.
There are plenty of good food spots on Gili Air. Our favorites were Scallywags for their delicious homemade granola; Chill Out for scrumptious fish satay; Wiwin Cafe for grilled fish in spicy sauce and mango juice; and Pachamama for rendang burritos, and decent muesli. One thing we found though was that portions were often small so we ended up snacking a lot or grabbing second breakfast. Our hotel also served cheap and delicious Indonesian staples such as nasi campur, tahu and tempe curry, and nasi goring for those moments when we could not raise ourselves from the lounger.
As unlikely as it sounds (to us anyway), we have become fully signed up members of the Beach Bum’s Society! We had figured on a few days here and there at the beach for a bit of downtime but now we were actively reconfiguring our plans to fit in more sea, sand, and reef. To be honest though, it seems like a natural turn of events. We travel to find something new or something we don’t get at home. We expected to spend a lot of time in the mountains but for us that seems like a busman’s holiday. We have beautiful mountain scenery at home but what we definitely don’t have is tropical beaches, palm trees, soft white sand, and coral gardens with their infinite variety of crazy looking fish.
Photos of Gili Air
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I would love to visit Gili Air!
Getting to Gili Air was extremely easy. We booked a fast boat online and the company (Blue Express) picked us up in a shuttle and took us to the port of Padang Bai, about an hour from Ubud.