Lombok & the Gili Islands

We’re still here! It’s been a while since our last post, partly because we’ve been having such a good time in Lombok and partly because I’m used to writing these blogs on long journeys and, well, we haven’t covered a particularly large distance in the last few weeks.

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I might have put it off even longer, but I think I’ve found somewhere a little nicer to write than my usual crowded train.

Our first stop in beautiful Lombok, after swooping up an excited Josh and several large Bintangs at the airport, was Kuta. Kuta is a quiet little beach town situated on the south of the island. It’s still relatively undiscovered in comparison to Bali, but it’s growing increasingly popular with the backpacker crowd and there are a few boutique hotels springing up here and there.

 

We’ve fallen completely in love with Lombok itself, which is exactly the idyllic little island we were dreaming of in the icy Nepali mountains. It’s completely different to Bali, not least because, like the majority of Indonesia, it’s a predominantly Muslim island. It’s Ramadan at the moment so, although the tourist restaurants and bars are still up and running, everything is a little quieter than normal (except for the mosque next to our hotel which broadcasts the call to prayer from sunrise to well past bedtime).

From what we’ve seen, the tourism industry here has managed to strike quite a nice balance with the local culture and, although people wear bikinis on the beach and Bintangs can be found everywhere, most people are also very respectful and there’s none of the raucous street parties or Thailand-esque bucket scene that we found in Bali.

The food is also much better value and tastier than in Bali. The old favourites (nasi and mie goreng) are still found everywhere, but there’s a spicier spin on most of the dishes and, although Bali’s famous pork dishes are obviously off the menu, they have been replaced with tasty slow cooked beef rendang.

We stayed in one of the fancier hotels in Kuta (thanks to the lovely Josh) and split our time between there and a new guesthouse in Gerepuk, a fishing village just a short bumpy scooter ride away. The guesthouse has just been opened by Kyle, one of Josh’s friends from Perth, and it’s one of many cropping up in the quiet little village. The main attraction of Gerepuk, if you haven’t already guessed, is that it’s the springboard for several popular surf breaks accessible by boat from the little harbour.

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Sunset from the hills above Gerepuk

On our first morning in Kuta, we headed out with our skipper Eddy, eager for our first sight of Lombok’s famous surf breaks. Sadly for us (well, for the boys anyway), Josh seems to have brought some bad luck with him and the surf was uncharacteristically non-existent for almost the entirety of his visit. We still had a fun little paddle out and, since I never actually manage to catch these mythical waves anyway, I was more than happy to hang out on my giant eight-foot foamie (basically a raft) and soak up the rays.

 

Unfortunately for the boys, however, the surf didn’t improve on the days after. The upside of this was that we ended up spending most of our time on the stunning white sand beach Maui, home to a shallow reef break which usually sees scarily powerful waves.

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But the downside was that it meant the boys were getting very little use out of their beloved short boards. They gave up in the end and, on Josh’s last night, decided instead to take out some of the aforementioned speed-machines (the eight feet foamies) and make the most of some ‘party waves’.

Other highlights from our week with Josh included an incredibly delicious fish barbecue at Kyle’s place, featuring home made fish curry, tandoori chicken and some freshly caught squid in a garlic and chilli sauce. Kyle is originally from Goa so, needless to say, it was delicious.

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The boys learning the joyful delights of gutting fish

We also braved the midday heat for a short hike up the cliffs overlooking the Tanjung Aan beach. Absolutely stunning views and two or three completely deserted, picture perfect white sand beaches – a refreshing find after the crowds in Bali.

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And, of course, we spent many happy hours scooting around exploring the island, enjoying ice cold Bintangs (including a toast to the royal wedding!) and paddling in the crystal clear Lombok waters.

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After Josh left, we still weren’t quite ready to leave, and so Jamie and I spent a few more days exploring the beaches and taking in the breath-taking clifftop views from the scenic drives to get to them. I’m convinced that you could spend months beach hopping here and still not discover them all – it seems there’s an endless supply of pristine and sparkling coves.

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Jamie also spent some more time down in Maui, perfecting his recently discovered ability to turn right. This is the first time he’s ever had such a long time with good waves, so he’s improved a lot since we arrived and every time he comes back to the beach he’s apparently had ‘the best wave of my life!’ He’s avoided any serious scrapes except for a nasty rash and some bruises here and there, but his surf journey was nearly brought to an abrupt halt after another overeager surfer tried to go round him on a wave and instead went flying into him at high speed. Luckily the hole was in the board and not his head…

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One not so happy surfer. Luckily there are plenty of board doctors in Lombok.

We eventually tore ourselves away after ten days and headed for the west coast of the island to the so-called tourist hub of Senggigi where we were hoping to renew our visas an pick up tickets back to Bali, with a stopover on the Gili islands. Turns out, however, that it’s not quite as simple to get a visa extension as we’d thought and, after a fruitless afternoon traipsing around all the tourist offices in town, we weren’t exactly overjoyed when we found out we’d have to hang around in Senggigi for a week to oversee the whole process.

Senggigi is a very strange place that is clearly trying to model itself on Kuta Bali (definitely not to be confused with Kuta Lombok which couldn’t be more different!). There are a couple of nice looking resorts, but other than that it’s full of tacky American style bars and restaurants offering all-you-can-drink promos to a non-existent clientele. I don’t know if it’s busier off season, but it was like a ghost town while we were there.

After our first appointment at the visa office, we told to return in a week for finger printing. Not feeling particularly enthused at the prospect of hanging around Senggigi for a week, we decided to change our plans and head to the Gilis for a shorter time.

You’ve almost certainly already heard of the (in)famous Gili islands. Three tiny islands, with once-pristine beaches and world class snorkelling, they have a bit of a mixed reputation. Gili Trawangan is famous for its gap year party scene and tiny Gili Meno is known as a honeymoon island (or at least it was until they started building a massive resort, backed by the Hoff, which will take over the entire island). Gili Air is said to be the perfect combination of the two – a touch of nightlife without the crazy all night parties of Gili T.

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We started our Gili experience in Air and absolutely loved it! It’s true that there’s not much authentic culture left on the island – almost every ‘local’ we met was actually from Bali or Jakarta – and the pace of development has spoilt some of the beaches, but it still somehow maintains that laid back island vibe. No motorised vehicles, sandy paths between the guesthouses and plenty of casual beach shacks.

 

And what makes the Gili islands as amazing as they are is without a doubt the incredible snorkelling. Sadly large areas of the reef have been damaged by irresponsible tourism, but it’s still possible to swim straight off the beach into areas full of hundreds of fish and, best of all, turtles!!

 

Turtles are almost guaranteed on the Gilis and, on our very first dive, we got up close and personal with a giant one coming up for air. We saw at least six or seven giant turtles, as well as hundreds of colourful fish and coral.

 

Gili Trawangan was, as expected, much busier but we still had a lovely few days snorkelling and lounging on bean bags with our feet in the sand and our heads in our books. The nightlife does kick off and the main strip can occasionally resemble something slightly apocalyptic, but there are still plenty of nice laidback beach bars. We couldn’t really make the most of it thanks to stomach bugs we picked up in Sengiggi (I think our bodies are ready to leave Asia..), but it was still a fun few days.

 

And our absolute highlight of Gili T – the night food market!! After months of exploring local restaurants and markets, this is our favourite so far. For just 50 rupiah (£2.50), you can get three large skewers of your choice (snapper, tuna, calamari, prawns) and a huge plate of local veg dishes and rice or noodles. For 20 rupiah (a pound!) you can tuck into an even bigger plate of five different veg mixes. So delicious!

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I don’t think I’d want to visit any of the Gilis (or Bali for that matter) during the peak season, but for now we had a lot of fun.

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We went back to Senggigi earlier this week and managed to pick up our new visas so we’re all set to stay here until the 14th when we leave for Perth. We’d only planned to spend one night in Senggigi en route so we were relieved to finally be leaving it after five nights and boarding our boat to Nusa Lembongan, a small island off south Bali, home to my new favourite scenic writing spot.


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