10 people, 8 nationalities, 4 islands and the best weeks of my life
10.07.2010 - 28.07.2010 30 °C
As I’m writing this post, I’m sitting on the deck of our thatched bamboo bungalow gazing out across the ocean, the beach a mere five metres from where I am sitting. Piercing the distant horizon sits the silhouette of Balis perfectly shaped volcano. My hair is still wet from snorkelling the reef that lies directly in front of our bungalow. A cold beer sits in my hand as I wait for the sunset. Welcome to paradise.
Warning: The following post may contain traces of sentimentality
After I’d booked the plane ticket to Bali I was feeling slightly nervous. Taking off to a new country with a bunch of people I’d only just met, what was I thinking? Though I am realising that with travelling spontaneity is the best way. When we arrived in Bali I met the remainder of our travelling group for the first time. Ten solo travellers from eight different countries and four different continents. Together we would become greater than just 10 people, our legend spreading to all corners of the globe. We would become the FAMOUS 10.
We were an eclectic bunch. Erik the relaxed Swede (“Fake Swedish”), Sarah the smiley German (“German Cow”), Cesar the charming Mexican, Hakan the Turkish born German “(Hans”), Marieke the Dutch blonde beauty (“Paprika”), Nicola the bouncy French guy (“French cow”), Aro the tanned Zimbabwean girl, our fearless Dutch leader Joel (“Papa smurf” or “The Blonde Angel”) and myself (Imaginatively known as “The Australian guy.”) We also had two other important travelling companions in the shape of Joels guitar and “The CactAxe,” my guitar, and between them and our 3 guitarists made for many an enjoyable evening.
The last section of my trip in India was mainly about the soaking in the culture. Really as the Famous 10 we didn’t see much culture, not much of the “real” Indonesia. This was more about fun and being social.
We spent a couple of days in Kuta before jumping the ferry to Lombok. Not much to say about Kuta. It could be anywhere, a fairly soulless place. Full of Aussie surfer boys spending their nights drinking and their days doing the topless strut; that peculiar way of walking with their arms hanging slightly away and behind the body to emphasize their chest muscles. Kuta has never interested me as a destination, in fact that was why Indonesia was never on my initial plans for this trip. I figure if I want to sit around getting pissed with a bunch of Aussies I may as well stay home. Saying that though I did enjoy our couple of days there, two big party nights (including the world cup final night) which were a lot of fun, and the beach is also quite nice. But a couple of days was more than enough.
Although Kuta was completely Westernised the transport to Lombok seemed typically Asian. We were split between 2 minibuses for the journey to the port. Ours took 1.5 hours to make the normally 45 minute trip due to traffic jams. We still had a while to wait for the next ferry to leave, which was lucky as the 2nd minibus with the rest of the group which had left before ours took 3 hours to make the same journey, just making the ferry with barely a second to spare. A few hours on the ferry and a cramped minivan ride left us in Lomboks main tourist hub, the small town of Sengiggi.
The next day we all rented motorbikes and went for a tour rounhd the island. It’s the first time I’d ridden a bike since the odd trail bike experience as a young teenager. It was a blast, and I’m sure will become a regular method of travel later in the trip. I was a touch shaky at the start, but soon found the groove, and the temptation of speed is hard to resist. Lombok is rich with spectacular scenery; stunning beaches, jungles and soaring volcanoes.
After a lazier beach day we made our way to the Gili Islands. Ah, the Gili islands. I’d heard stories about paradise and about backpackers heaven, but I was a little sceptical. Sure they sounded great but paradise and heaven? Well for me, these stories were all true. I hadn’t expected to spend two weeks on two tiny islands, and it is still damned hard to leave!
The Gili Islands are three tiny islands hanging off the side of Lombok. Surrounded by reefs and plenty of marine life they offer a fantastic underwater playground. The lack of any motorised transport means walking, cycling or the odd pony cart are the only way to get around the islands. Some nice beaches, plenty of coconut palms and almost perfect weather complete the picture of tropical “paradise."
Our first stop was Gili Trawangan. Trawangan is known as the “party” island of the three. It is the busiest and most developed. It’s not to say this is a modern resort town, it still has a lot of atmosphere, beautiful beaches and some spectacular diving and snorkelling. And with all night parties, no police on the islands and the prevalence of a certain green plant and a certain type of fungus, it really is a 20-somethings version of Disneyland and has something for everyone. But Trawangan was really about being social, hanging with the Famous 10 and meeting some amazing people from around the world. We did see more than one sunrise during our time there (and not at the beginning of the day...)
I also finally tried diving for the first time, getting my Open Water certification on Gili T. Diving was spectacular and again will certainly be something I’ll be doing a fair bit more of later in the trip. The marine life, the colours, the coral and the feeling of being underwater was fantasitic. I’ve never spent as much time in the water as I should have, and now I’ve “discovered” the underwater world I’m loving it, and can’t wait to get back in the water for more diving and snorkelling. The dive school was also a nice place to hang around, good instructors, good fellow divers and relaxed vibe. I ended up spending quite a bit of timing just hanging there relaxing.
After a few days on Gili T we realised we had made a name for ourselves. Talking to someone at a bar and I’d mention I was travelling with a group of 10. It became a common answer, “Oh! You’re with THAT group.” Ten people from around the world turned out to be quite a novelty.
It was certainly a change for me from essentially travelling on my own to travelling with 10. Nothing happens quickly, and in Bali and Lombok we really did spend almost every making minute as a group. Just leaving the hotel and finding places to eat can be an exercise of patience. It was nice though not organising everything. Joel, our Blonde Angel Papa Smurf became our de facto leader, happy to book boats, buses and hotels for the group. And between his charm and the size of the group we did get some good deals.
It's hard to describe the amazing times with this group. We all realised we were sharing something pretty special. An amazing group of people, and memories that I am sure we will cherish till we are old and withered. Such a diverse and interesting bunch of people all working amazingly together. It was an emotional day when the group first split up. Three of us were staying on Gili T one more day while most of the group headed to one of the neighbouring islands, Gili Air. Cesar was finishing his dive course, Marieke was hanging with some French friends and there was more I wanted to do on Gili T. It was surprisingly hard seeing the group heading off on the boat that day. Standing there on the shore with Marieke it felt unexpectedly emotional. As it was it was rather silly as we all saw each other again in a couple of days, and most of us will catch up again in other parts of South East Asia.
After a days good snorkelling and a final big Gili T style party (probably the best of the week) we too headed to Gili Air the next evening. As seems to be pretty common on the Gili Islands no-one had left Gili Air and we had a Famous 10 reunion, one final night sitting by the beach playing guitars till the wee hours of the morning. The others left again the next morning, and for the third day in a row I sent people off on a boat (the day before had been a couple of Swiss and German friends.) Cesar and I decided to stay for one more night on Gili Air, and ended up staying five days. What can I say? These Islands get under your skin.
Gili Air is much more relaxed. It still has it’s fair share of places to sleep, eat and drink but it’s much more spread out. This is a true tropical paradise. Cheap beachside bungalos, good snorkelling and nice chilled out people. I loved my time on Gili T but I found I was surprisingly busy. There wasn’t all that much “down time” between my dive course, partying and socialising. Just walking up the beach was a very social affair, talking to people met the night before. Air is the sort of place it’s easy to lose hours sitting by the water strumming the guitar or walking barefoot around the island.
One thing that surprised me about the Gilis was the lack of Aussies. With it’s close proximity to Bali (2 hours on the fast boat) most people here on the Gilis have jumped from Bali. Though it’s mostly Europeans visiting here. I guess most of the Aussies just go to Kuta for a couple of weeks of partying and surfing.
But now the time has come, time to leave paradise. My Indonesian visa is running out, and really I haven’t seen much of the country at all, just a tiny pocket. I could extend my visa, but I can feel the Phillipines calling. And I’ll definitely be back...
So long Gili’s, you will forever have a special place in my heart, right next to the Famous 10.