Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Gili Islands, Indonesia: Paradise Has Turtles! And Bugs.

Headed out to the Gili Islands the next morning from Bali by fast boat.  I didn't realize what an undertaking it was - first an hour-long shuttle to the East side of Bali, then cattle herding onto a tiny, not-air-conditioned, squishy boat with hard seats for an additional 2 hours.  But I was excited for paradise. And scuba diving!

What It's All About:
The Gili Islands are a set of 3 islands off the coast of the Indonesian island of Lombok (directly east of Bali).  They're known for their insanely gorgeous waters and diving/snorkeling, and each of the islands has their own vibe. Gili Trawangan (called Gili T for short) is the biggest island, and is the party/most-developed island, Gili Meno is known for being kind of hippie-dippy, and Gili Air is more romantic/retreat/resort.  

I stayed in Gili Trawangan (which I realllly wanted to call Tra-WANG-an, but is actually pronounced Tra-wahng-en, sad fact) for a couple nights, just wanting some beach and scuba time.  

The perfect beaches of Gili T

A Gili T Overview:
  • Lawlessness. Just kidding. But seriously, you know the vibe has changed when your boat pulls up to the shore of the island and men start tossing all your bags onto the beach. Some were dropped into the water (oops so sorry backpack, hope there wasn't a laptop in you) and some were put so close to the water that you had to run and get your bag before the waves claimed them.

Men unloading bags from the tiny, stiflingly-hot boat. They were seriously tossing these things around like NBD.
  • And then the entire island is unpaved dirt roads with no motor vehicles.  It's the weirdest combination - there are tons of restaurants and beach bars and dive centers by the water with young, scantily-dressed holidayers, but then you walk a block or two into the island, and it's straight-up rural town. Like chickens in the streets and wood shacks and cows.  Oh, and the locals are Muslim. So there's incredibly conservatively-dressed people and the call to prayer sounds all the time.  It's so WEIRD.
Tourist-targeted main street by the water
And tiny horses adorned with pom-poms are the main mode of transportation!!! Along with bicycles, but those aren't fun to photograph
And then a block later, chickens! Chickens everywhere. The locals like to sit outside their houses during the day and chat and harass tourists to buy things, and so I'm sure they all enjoyed staring at me photographing a chicken when they were running around literally everywhere
But then look at this beeeeeach

And Then I Encounter Problem #1:
  • Wanting to treat myself to a non-hostel for my 2 days in paradise, I booked myself a nice room near the center of town.
Oh new room, you seem so normal and pretty

  • Later that evening, I was happily on my bed typing away when I see a small bug crawl across the pillow. Gross, but it's the tropics and it's SE Asia - "there are bugs everywhere," I thought to myself. I squished it and used a tissue to drop it into the toilet (so it doesn't crawl back out and attack me, obviously).  A couple minutes later, another bug on the pillow catches my eye. Double gross. I squish it again and drop it in the toilet to join its friend. Half an hour later, another tiny bug appears on the bed. I grab the remote and squish it - and a small pool of blood oozes out of it.  
  • OMG OMG. BEDBUGS. I've never seen a bedbug before, but my paranoia about them has led me to google them multiple times and it kind of looks similar to what I remember showing up in google images.  Panic mode. I think about my options.
  • To add drama, the island is currently in a blackout (oh, I didn't mention that- apparently the island gets island-wide blackouts fairly frequently.  When the power went out at 8pm that night, a worker had cheerfully been like "It should come back in a couple hours, but who knows, might be a whole day!")  The lights in my room were on due to a backup generator, but there was no A/C or anything else. It's 9:30pm and the streets are pitch black from the outage. I even debated bringing out my travel sheets and sleeping on the floor. 
  • And then I realized there was no possible way I could sleep in that bed or anywhere near it. I once saw someone comment that if you had bedbugs, you were better off just burning down your entire house - dramatic maybe, but it stuck with me.  What if they infected my backpack and I carried bedbugs around the world?? I ran downstairs to the adjoining restaurant (same owner) and quietly explained my issue. I was super-nice about it, I told them I felt bad and I wouldn't push the issue, but was there somewhere else I could stay?
  • The first man tried to convince me it was ok and went and sprayed bedbug spray all over the bed. Um, no. And then it turned into a big to-do, with all the workers coming out and asking me to explain the story and chatting amongst themselves looking disturbed. I felt terrible, but told myself I'd be firm about not staying there. Another worker was incredibly kind and padded down the dark streets in his bare feet to show me a bunch of other guesthouses. Most of the proprietors were sleeping, and he'd have to wake them up to show me a room (is it possible to feel more terrible?). A bunch were full, and the other ones I did get to see were incredibly eerie  - bc of the blackout, showing me the rooms entailed shining a flashlight into a pitch black room. They all looked like horror movies waiting to happen. I was not loving it.
  • Then the manager ended up coming in from his house to talk with me. He was so, so concerned - he said he'd do anything to help me find a new place, but begged me to not write anything about it in online reviews or TripAdvisor. You could see the panic in his eyes. I simply told him I wasn't looking for payback or vindication or anything; just a new place to stay. He ended up taking me down the street to a friend's guesthouse, where they had an empty bungalow (and cheaper than my previous hotel)!  So all's well that ends well, but it was pure panic for me and I dreamt I had bedbugs crawling in all my things the rest of the night. Oh, and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes in my new bungalow - but better mosquitoes than bedbugs, I always say.
Sorry for posting this, but as a PSA, THIS IS A BEDBUG. With blood oozing out after I squished him. I took this photo in case the people didn't believe me or tried to convince me it wasn't a bedbug.

Also, how ironic is it that I haven't encountered bedbugs in a single hostel, but the hotel I tried to treat myself to.....?

Highlight of the Trip:
The next morning, I went on a dive to an area called Shark Point. HOW BALLER is that name.  First off, the water was gorgeous and so clear and you could see forever. The boat didn't even have to drive that far out.

There were so many cool, beautiful fish - we saw an octopus scooting along the ocean floor, some gorgeous parrotfish, and a bunch of clownfish living in an anemone (is it sad that most of my fish knowledge comes from Finding Nemo?).

And then we saw SHARKS. Like, real-looking, medium-sized, gray sharks - it was wild.  One was just swimming by creepily, and the other one, we swum up into a rock and it was chilling there in its rock home.  It was seriously one of the coolest, coolest things I've ever seen in my entire life.  If I could have excitedly shouted underwater, I would have. And then I would have gotten us attacked maybe.

AND THEN WE SAW TURTLES. LIKE FINDING NEMO TURTLES. There was one swimming up over our heads and it looked just like the a movie.  And there was another one on the ocean floor resting.

I stole this photo off the internet, but it looked JUST LIKE THIS. Framed by the light and everything.

This was the most insane/awesome/life-changing dive of my entire life. Never mind I've only been 3 times. I'm fully embracing my newfound love of diving. I only wish I had a GoPro!

The Rest of the Trip:
Consisted mainly of lounging by the beach, drinking coconuts, and exploring. There was also a time I rented the world's ghettoest bike, and I noisily rattled down the streets and everyone stared at me like I was like a one-man parade.  And then I got hopelessly lost (navigating big cities, no problem. Tiny dirt paths on a tiny island? Hopeless.) and ended up in some rando field with cows and farmers and chickens everywhere.  I did eventually find my way out but I'm pretty sure I was the only tourist that's been in that area ever.

Plus side of paradise? Every restaurant has a lounging section and they all serve watermelon juice
Some of the fancier places have beachside lounging bungalows
And they all have coconuts!
Washing all the bedbugs off me. Just kidding. Yayyy beautiful water
Some parts of main street are incredibly pretty
And this was my view from dinner. Sigh.

Tiny Problem #2:
This is turning into quite a post. Anyhow, I'm clearly attempting a pattern of positive/negative, positive/negative here. Like good news, bad news.  Just to break it up a little.

As a side note to all the great things in Gili T, I also have one not-so-great thing to say about it.  For me personally, the harassment levels here are definitely the highest they've ever been.  The locals often chill in the street outside of their houses or businesses, and there are not many people usually, so they often yell at the passerbys.  Most of them know a couple basic phrases in every language due to the tourists, so 90% of the time, I get Japanese phrases yelled at me.

I totally understand why and it doesn't offend me: 1.) it's pretty normal to racially profile here; 2.) they're trying to sell you things or strike up a convo; 3.) they're probably incredibly bored sitting outside all day; 4.) there's not many people walking the streets; 5.) it's also pretty rare to see a solo girl; and 6.) when your entire island relies on tourism, it makes sense.  But to be honest, it's just not that fun.

I can either ignore them, which makes me feel like a jerk because they really don't mean any harm, or if I quickly respond "Hi" or smile and move on, they always ask where I'm from. And "the USA" is not an acceptable answer. It's the same as it's been in the rest of Asia, but it's especially bad here. Every single person has followed up with "Why you look Japanese then?" or "Why you have slanted eyes?"  In two days, I've gotten the actual slanted eyes pull three separate times. Again, they don't mean to be offensive so I don't take that part personally - when I explain that I was born in the US but my parents are from Taiwan, they're generally curious and interested to know more - but having to explain myself constantly starts to get really irritating. I guess I've just never had to be so hyper-aware of my race in my life. Even growing up in a overwhelmingly-Caucasian community, I've never had to think about it as much as I have the past two days.

I just think getting constantly yelled at in Japanese phrases and having to explain why I'm Asian isn't a conversation I want to have 25 times in a day. I see other people, and they get asked where they're from, and they say "Australia", and the convo is over.  The end.

Finale To The Wordiest Post Ever:
Gili T was beautiful and great - if a close scare with bedbugs and getting harassed in Japanese is the price to pay for getting to swim with sharks and turtles, I'd pay it every time.  I'm starting to say this about everywhere, but I would love to come back and get to see the other Gili islands, Gili Air and Gili Meno. Also, fun fact, you can get a beachfront bungalow to yourself for so, so cheap. I'm so glad I got the chance to visit, but was OK moving on this morning - I miss the hustle of the city! Onto Singapore!

Last final side note, on the boat ride back to Bali, there were dolphins diving alongside the boat and it was MAGICAL. MAGIC.


  1. Sorry to hear about all the negatives but I loved reading it just as much as other posts. When I travel in Asia I just tell people I'm from Singapore and that always shuts them up. It's those bad times that makes us remember how good we have it back in the states. But then again, all your awesome off the beaten path adventure stories is what keep tempting me to just drop everything and go. Keep up the great tales!

    1. Always good to know there are the others in the same boat, and yes - just a minor hiccup to the overall bigger picture to how awesome traveling and getting out of your comfort zone is.

      Love that you are still following along with the (over)abundance of posts!