Gili Air

A distant, very low frequency rumble filled the air for nearly 10 seconds.

My eyes snapped open despite the fact that I had had only a few hours of sleep. I could see by the clouds outside that the noise was probably thunder, but I’ve never heard thunder so menacing. It sounded more geological than meteorological.

Indonesia is a highly unstable place. There are earthquakes and tremors weekly – its a geologist’s playground. Mt. Rinjani, the enormous volcano on Lombok visible just across the water from where I am, actually had a small eruption last week and they had to evacuate the tourists which go trekking up to see the crater. The ash fell for a while and as far as I know it may still be closed.

Even though the sky opened up with rain soon after, the survival portion of my brain just wouldn’t let me go back to sleep after the adrenaline jolt. When you travel alone, the only one watching out for you is you.

With the streets of Gili Trawangan starting to fill up, and the thump-thump of techno music starting to overpower the sounds of the waves slapping on the beach, I knew that it was time to go. In fact, I have overstayed. Partly thanks to the one ATM machine on the island being perpetually broken and I was unable to pay my guesthouse. When it finally started working, I took out the full daily limit and ran to buy a ticket.

Luckily my stay wasn’t unpleasant. I made my best friends of this trip so far and what a team we made. Two Slovakian girls (one of which I am convinced is a spy), a guy from Canada, and a Hungarian girl living in Hanoi. Five strangers in a strange land – we had enough laughs and memories to make saying goodbye a dreaded thing. Unfortunately its a part of the travel experience. You have your fun but then have to pay the Devil after on some boat dock or bus station as your friends go opposite directions. I’ve practiced it a hundred times but it never gets any easier.

The small island of Gili Air is a strange place. Actually, different is a better word. The vibe hits you as soon as you get off of the boat. Locals sit in the shade and play guitar rather than hassling you to buy stuff. Narrow sandy paths criss-cross in a maze across the island and through the small village in the interior. Cows, goats, and chickens roam freely.

You can walk a circle around the island in an hour, but there is enough local life going on to keep you mesmerized for days. At dark when the tide goes out, locals walk out to spear octopuses and squid that get trapped in the shallow holes. Its not a sport, they are catching dinner and its beautiful to watch.

There are still tourist bars and restaurants right on the narrow beach, but this time of year nearly everything shuts at 22:30. The locals are friendly and open, I have met several. One told me that “everyone knows you” – probably because I am the only American here trying to speak a little Bhasa Indonesian to them.

The diving here is superb, but I never got under the water. I caught my first nasty little chest cold of the trip (probably brought it over from Gili Trawangan) and so I listened with envy to my friends telling me about spotting White Tip sharks, rays, and octopuses. Oh well, there’s always Sulawesi in a couple of weeks!

I highly recommend Gili Air to anyone wanting to see an island near Lombok. Accommodation is cheaper and nicer than the other islands, but there are a few tradeoffs….like electricity and the ability to meet people at parties. April/May is the right time to come, as prices and harassment double during the busy season which is coming up.

A typical day on this island yesterday was me running all over the village on a two hour scavenger hunt, trying to find some mysterious character which brews local rice wine called “Brum” in his house. He sells it in empty water bottles and supposedly its good for your health. Although its their version of moonshine, it doesn’t make people go blind.

I hope.

This is the last stop of the “luxury” part of my trip. When I leave here and head east, things are going to get interesting – much more challenging and probably a little bit more lonely. I’m enjoying every day on this island down to the last minute of

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