The Gili Islands – All The Little Fishes
There are over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Bali is only one of them. A week and a half ago I had never heard of the Gili Islands. It seemed to be the place all the backpackers were talking about. “Don’t even waste your time in Kuta. It is nothing like it used to be.” I heard that over and over. That is one nice thing with backpacking, the “buzz” is always more correct than an outdated Lonely Planet guidebook. So, while in Ubud I bought a ticket for the “the speed boat” and I was on my way.
There are three Gili Islands and all have a different personality to them. Gili Meno is the quietist Island. And no wonder since it has mosquitoes…..I choose not to go there. Gili Trawangan has the most development and the most tourists. Gili Air is less developed and though would be perfect in the high season, right now it seemed almost too quiet for me.
It is easy to jump over to different islands for the day. We were were really happy we spent a day snorkeling on Gili Air as we saw many different varieties of aquatic life here.
Since it was the low tourist season on the islands, I found Gili Trawangan a perfect place to hang my hat. The cost of the rooms are about half the price than in the summer and the weather was perfect. The entire time I was there only three of us occupied this hotel and we had the beach front and umbrellas to ourselves.
The nicest thing about all three islands is that there are no vehicles or motor bikes allowed. Once here you have to walk, ride a bicycle or pay a flat rate to ride a cart pulled by a pony to travel anywhere on the island.
There are no police on these islands but there seems to be no need. I guess if something “happens” there is a “guy in charge” that will resolve the issue. Though I think it is the permanent inhabitants that watch out for their own island. One time someone tried to brings a motorbike on Gili Trawangan and the locals threw it in the water. It is still visible to new comers as a reminder of the no vehicle policy.
In many ways I think I have stepped back into time…. This must have been the way beaches used to be in more famous places before being taken over by developed resorts. All accommodations are steps away from the water. In low season it is not uncommon to spend twenty to forty dollars a day on accommodation. The cost of lunch has been about two dollars a day. An expensive meal would cost seven to eight dollars. No snorkel gear? That’s okay…The place next door has gear for three dollars a day.
The snorkeling is incredible. Just a few feet off our beach we started seeing fish. Then a huge turtle! Wow. We just floated and watched this giant turtle eat on the bottom of the sea. Several minutes later he, ever so gracefully, moved his fins forward and glided to the surface for air.
The were bright electric blue and aqua fish that darted about. There were fish whose color blended in with either the sandy bottom or lime green coral surroundings each tried to appear invisible beside. There were small black and white angel fish swimming energetically and big vibrant yellow angel fish gracefully floating by their reef.
There were grey fish with orange, white, blue and purple highlights. Long transparent fish with needle noses that pointed an inch out from their faces. You could see their long spine within.
We saw a puff fish and a cutter fish with sides that rolled up and down like a flag in the wind. I loved the medium size fish with purple, pink and blue colored pastels. How lovely.
There were also fish as big as a trunk of a person. One of these was busy feeding on the coral when someone I was snorkeling with decided to get a closer look. This large fish did not like that and swam directly towards him. When the fish opened his mouth we saw it had teeth. Now the mouth was smaller than my fist and we we in no danger but our friend was sure he had just had a possible brush with death.
My favorite fish was at least two feet long and had the most brilliant colors. Bright purple and yellow splotches on the sides and tail and vibrant aqua on his face.
Off the shores of Gili Air they had millions of these little light blue minnow fish which darted about us in these massive schools of fish. Just as I thought, “Wow, really cool”, then they all changed directions unison and darted the other way. This is just a few of the countless varieties of aquatic life we encountered. More than once I thought I felt like I was in the middle of the Nemo Movie.
The people here are pretty laid back. The locals and businessmen do not haggle tourists on the beach or when walking down the road unlike in other Asian cities. One only has to say “no” once to be left alone. Restaurants are “open until closed” and no one seems to be running on a set time. Some may say that has to do with the availability of magic mushrooms but I think it is the island life.
We had to laugh one Monday as our hotel restaurant was closed for the day and it was lunch time. We had been sitting on the beach for hours and we getting pretty hungry. “I will ask if they have take out at the place next door?” James, who was staying at our hotel announced. A few minutes later he came back with a smile on his face, “No food there but he did say he had some magic mushrooms and marijuana to offer.” Needless to say we found take out somewhere else.
The snorkeling was some of the best I have ever seen. The sheer beauty of these islands makes this one of my favorite beaches ever. The absence of noise pollutants and few people makes this one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. It is not easy to get out to these islands but if you do you will not be disappointed.