Death. Death is coming for me. That’s all I can think about in the run up to Indonesia. I mean – boats! Who is driving these boats? What are they made out of? What’s the sea like? And then there’s Indonesian planes! Have you seen their safety ratings? Frodo and Sam were safer crossing volcanic Mordor on the back of that massive eagle. Oh, and of course Komodo dragons. THEY EAT PEOPLE THEY ARE GOING TO EAT ME.
How your brain changes as you get older. Fear creeps up on you. I am so un-Indiana Jones I actually think if I ran into Harrison Ford he might (justifiably) punch me in the face.
Anyways, as you can probably guess I was being an idiot. Indonesia is absolutely mindblowing and you don’t have the headspace to worry about anything because you’re too busy loving every minute.
Try to relax
We fly into Bali, easing into the relaxed vibe as soon as we enter the airport. Drivers in headscarves and sarongs hold the names of their passengers in one hand whilst chatting and laughing with their neighbours. Our taxi coasts out of the airport as if it isn’t in a rush to get anywhere, a phenomenon I’ve yet to encounter in Thailand. We pass low rise buildings with traditional Balinese gateways, a dramatic statue called the ‘Flying Knight’ sculpture, which the Balinese believe protects flights coming into and out of the airport. I mean this isn’t the only safety measure of course. Is it?!?
To my joy, friends from the UK are in Bali and we meet them at The Fire Station to sample the local cuisine such as ‘shepherd’s pie’ and ‘onion rings’ (the food is actually great). A few cocktails later Adam ends up in a cameo performance playing percussion for an ageing Balinese singer with a long beard and sleeve tattoos. Not the start we had envisaged to our trip but a great one nonetheless.
Early the next morning I have to face the first of my fears. It’s not the middle-aged taxi driver who rotates his head 180 degrees to look at me and purrs ‘very niiice’ with starey eyes and a fixed grin, although that will probably wake me up in the night in a cold sweat for a few years to come. No, it’s the boat trip to Gili that I’m a little jittery about.
Luckily Scoot seems pretty professional when we find them among the medley of shacks down at the port. We’re even given a safety briefing by an incredibly smart looking Australian man with a lustrous silver moustache and a gold watch. He opens by declaring that we’ll be travelling on fifty litres of explosive, and a single lit match could result in ‘the biggest barbecue Indonesia has seen’. So no smoking okay? Don’t worry though folks, he adds – Scoot has never had an accident! I mean sure, it’s happened, but never to Scoot. I laugh nervously and, since it’s impossible for us to travel with Scoot for every journey, I am haunted throughout each subsequent boat trip by the image of smouldering beef jerky.
I board the boat in true Tanya style – a big wave bucks us just as I’m stepping gingerly on board and I fall forward and push over the girl in front. My apologies, along with a few unlucky mosquitoes, vaporise in the rays of the death stare she gives me.
From there on it’s fine – blue skies, blue sea, little islands looking like paradise.
Arrival in paradise
We arrive in Gili having done virtually no research. It’s blisteringly hot and our resort is a few km away and it appears the only way to get there is on the back of a horse and cart. We climb aboard and clatter along a dirt track. I soon start to wonder if this was fair on the horse. Sorry horse.
We jerk along the back paths of Gili, passing small stone houses, washing strung between palm trees in their yards. We see tourists moving at that nowhere-to-be-pace that only tourists move at, and we see locals moving even slower, removing the baskets perched on their heads as they stop for a well-earned chat. I notice that all over the interior of our carriage are scrawled heartbreak-themed quotes in English: ‘Don’t waste your time loving someone who will never love you back’ and the like. The hunched shoulders of our young driver suddenly seem a little sadder to me.
When we pull up at Kaluku, we know we’ve made a good choice immediately. To our right is the hotel bar, open air and overlooking the beach. Snorkelers with barbecued backs splash in the shallows metres from the shore. To our left the neat cottages of the resort sit in the shade of palm trees.
As we soak in the pool congratulating ourselves, our friend comes shrieking from her room. There’s a ‘MASSIVE’ spider in her outdoor shower. Oh good. It turns out to be dead and not actually that big. Plus I’m post spider-therapy. But I can’t help thinking the gods are taking the piss out of what a wimp I am by throwing these little treasures at me.
I love a snorkel. And nothing proves that more than the humiliation I suffer getting into and out of the sea at low tide in Gili. For a good hundred metres or so the water is ludicrously shallow and impossible to swim in. However, walking in flippers across a coral reef six inches deep is also impossible. The only way to manage the situation is to shuffle backwards in our flippers (bare feet a no-no thanks to all the sea urchins), avoiding corals and sticking to sandy areas. For one hundred metres. It’s slow progress, and it feels particularly excruciating doing my moronic back-shuffle past a huge boat of Indonesian divers shouting, pointing and laughing: ‘Why don’t you swim like a mermaid? Did you see the baby plankton?’ This whole episode goes on for around 15 full minutes.
It’s all worth it of course – as we explore the corals in the deeper water I see a burst of tentacles and realise an octopus is right beneath us. As we watch, it flees from one part of the coral to another, changing colour from beige to crimson in an instant to match its surroundings. This fair blows my mind.
The beauty of Gili Air is that it’s absolutely tiny and there’s no motor vehicles at all. There’s one partly sandy, partly rocky ‘road’ skirting the circumference of the island, and a few through-paths. So after a serious snorkel you can wander just about anywhere on the island in less than 30 minutes. Our group meanders down to Scallywags beach club, walking along the main strip of bars and barbecues, occasionally passing through a throbbing cloud of reggae, always vaguely aware of the swoosh of sea on shore. My friends dine on the freshest barbecued seafood accompanied by plates piled high with salad – pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw. And my fear of missing out dissipates when my sizzling hotplate of veg fajitas arrives. It’s a beast portion, veggies marinated all smoky and salty.
We gorge and gape at the stars and start falling in love with Gili. Suddenly, I’ve forgotten I was scared at all. How about that.
Travelling from Sanur to Gili with Scoot was not the fastest trip from what I can gather, as the Scoot boats stop at Lembongan and Lombok on the way. It took a little longer than the time advertised on the timetable. You can find boats that go direct to the Gilis from Bali. However your transfer time from hotel to pier on Bali can be quite lengthy as the traffic on Bali was terrible at times. We found it pretty convenient sleeping in Sanur and having a quick 10 minute transfer to the pier for our boat. And, as mentioned, Scoot have a good safety record and it was comfortable and professional, so if peace of mind is important to you, they’re a good bet. Oh, the only other thing is there’s no pier at Sanur so you’re going to have to wade into the ocean and heft yourself up onto the boat. The lady who got on after me lost her expensive sunglasses and the bumbag round her waist got soaked because a massive wave washed in as she was boarding. Keep phones etc in waterproof bags or where they can’t get wet. The boat was full so I’d recommend booking in advance if you want to use Scoot.
Kaluku was a lovely resort and nicely located away from the busiest part of the island, but still within a 10 minute walk of the busier area if we wanted a couple of drinks in the evening. You can hire snorkel equipment from them for 40,000 IDR a day and we just kept ours for the duration of the stay – super easy and a good, non-leaky mask. However they did run out of equipment while we were there. If you leave the resort, turn left and walk a little way up the track there’s another place you can hire from, just look out for the signs.