I’d had rather a hectic five weeks since leaving Santiago – 8 long flights, 3 12 hour overland journeys, and staying in 14 different places in 4 different countries, and quite frankly after all that I was knackered. This called for serious measures: time to hit the beach. Now the problem with that is there are quite a few to choose from amongst Indonesia’s 17,000 islands (ah, it’s hard life), so, along with the group I’d met on Java we started with the obvious choice – Bali.
After yet another long journey (where I got to witness the most enterprising beggars I’ve ever seen: aquatic ones, swimming alongside our boat as we left Java, swimming around for coins and notes thrown down by passengers, and kept dry by packing them into their mouths like hamsters), arriving in Kuta was quite a shock to the system. Up until now the most touristy place I’d been to was Cusco in Peru. Bali is a different matter altogether – it’s more reminiscent of the big resorts in Spain than anything I’ve seen yet (not surprising really, it gets package tourists from all over the world, but especially Australians, for whom it’s their closest foreign country). Some people are very sniffy about the place for that very reason but I really didn’t care – I have plenty of time to see the ‘real’ Asia, and in the meantime it was great to find somewhere with a huge beach, great nightlife and novelties like fast internet. While my companions spent much of our time in Kuta trying their hand at surfing, I preferred to spend my time with more sedate pursuits like lying on the beach, with the occasional foray into the waves to cool off.
Nice as it was to chill out in Bali for a few days, my ultimate goal was the Gili Islands, three tiny islands off the north coast of Bali’s neighbour, Lombok. After, you guessed it, yet another very long journey (I’m getting used to the fact that getting around Indonesia requires a fair amount of patience – what looked like a shortish journey took us over 12 hours, via two minibuses, a ferry, and a small launch, which was mildly terrifying as the waves were pretty huge and kept coming over the edge – the Spanish girl I was with spent most of the way hiding on the floor of the boat refusing to look), we arrived in Gili Trawangan, universally known as Gili T, the liveliest of the three islands, and I knew straight away I’d enjoy it. The whole island is so small it only takes around two hours to walk round the whole coastline, and it’s only ‘developed’ along one side – when I say that, it’s still very undeveloped compared to Bali or the big Thai resorts – there’s only one main road, which is still unpaved, and most of the buildings are still small, single story shacks, with a few bigger hotels and dive shops. The island itself is beautiful – covered in palm trees, with a long, white beach running all around (and there’s more than enough beach to go round, so they’re not crowded at all). Just metres off the beach lies the coral reef, and it’s so close to the surface that the snorkelling opportunities are amazing. Meanwhile by night, the handful of restaurants (most serving wonderful fresh, barbecued fish and seafood) and bars were more than enough to keep the party animal in me happy. One of the odd things about Gili T is quite how many Swedish people there are there – I’d met just one in 8 months before arriving in Indonesia, and since then I’ve met loads. There are so many who choose to come here in fact, that when I got off the boat, I was greeted by a local in Swedish first, before he tried English on me.
After a couple of weeks on the beach I was feeling fully recovered, but I still hadn’t found a beach to really fall in love with yet…so on leaving Gili T it was time to give a third island a go – Gili Air.