Life on Gili Air

Posted by Ted on Oct 11, 2010 in Travel

I’ve never been a fan of flip-flops, the footwear of choice here in Southeast Asia. With a ‘no-shoes’ policy in many homes, restaurants, and spiritual places, their ease of coming on and off one’s feet is certainly a key feature. That and the fact that they are cheap to make, cheap to buy, appropriately minimal in hot climates, and quick to dry during the rainy season. As perfect as they might be, I’ve never gotten used to the feeling of the small strap rubbing against the inside of my big toe or the flip-flopping of the heel with every step that gives the shoe its name. That said, since coming to the Gilis two weeks ago, the velcro straps on my Tevas have been kept blissfully loose.

The smallest of three small islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, I can walk around Gili Air in 90 minutes along a narrow path of sand and white coral. Looking outward, the four corners of the island offer a different view – to the north, open water as far as the eye can see; the east offers a sunrise over the northern tip of Lombok, and the bulk of the island’s lush green mountains lie to the south, often covered in clouds. My favorite view is from the hammock I recline in as I write this, on the porch of our “Wanderer” bungalow, looking west across the other two Gili islands, and on a good day you can see the sun set behind the outline of Bali’s sacred volcano, Gunung Agung.

Fronting the coastal path are dozens of bungalow compounds, restaurants, bars, dive shops, money changers, tour organizers, and tiny convenience stores selling biscuits, drinks, and toiletries. The only traffic to speak of are other people on two feet or two wheels, be they bicycles or pony carts. The interior of the island is entirely different. Modest homes and fields for cows, chickens, and boat-building are connected by a maze of twisty dirt roads. While tourists are not unwelcome within the village, most stay to the easily navigable coast, especially at night, even if it means a longer walk around the island.

The pace of life is refreshingly slow. Hot days are spent reading, writing, and napping in the shade, or diving and snorkeling beneath the deep blue waves. Warm nights offer the simple pleasures of watching lightning storms over Lombok and listening to music while sitting at a bar with a bottle of Bintang. The hardest decision one faces is where to eat. Restaurants offer typical Indonesian fare such as fried rice and noodles (as well as Italian, Indian, Mexican, and flat-bread pizza), but the real draw is perusing their selections of the day’s catch and picking your own fish to be grilled. The tuna and vegetable kabobs at Zipp Bar or Chill Out are the bomb. Service tends to be slow, but it hardly matters when one isn’t late to get somewhere. This is also balanced out by the fact that one can hang out undisturbed in a beachside cabana for several hours after finishing a meal, reading, napping, or just listening to the surf.

Our time on Gili Air draws to a close, and there is a part of us that wants to spend the rest of our time on this idyllic little island. We’ve dived among sea turtles, lounged on a day bed with kittens, and watched the tides roll in and out over a coral reef. However, more adventures await us, in Singapore, Malaysia, and the rest of Southeast Asia, and so onward and northward we go.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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