The Gilis are an archipelago of three small islands off the northwest coast of Lombok. They comprise Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. They really are a string of pearls. By the way try not to refer to them as the Gili Islands. This would be a misnomer because Gili means “small island” in the local, Sasek, language.
You can reach the Gilis by boat either from Lombok itself (a short journey of about 20 minutes in speed boat from Bangsal – a bit longer by the regular ferry) or alternatively from Bali (a longer journey of three hours plus).
When you get there you have the small problem of getting yourself and luggage to your chosen accommodation. Automobiles and indeed any motorized traffic are prohibited on the islands so the preferred method of transportation is bicycle or the horse-drawn carriage called a cidomo. These are run by some amiable looking pirates. Best to know the fair cost of journey before you start and agree a price otherwise you will be taken for a ride.
The beaches and swimming on all the Gilis are superb. Clear water and pristine sand. I had heard that there were turtles to be seen but didn’t dare to hope that I would see one. In fact they were ubiquitous we must have seen at least 10 during our two days there. We mostly saw Green turtles but Hawksbill turtles are also resident as well. You could get up really close to them and they were not particularly nervous mainly, I think, seeing the occasional inquisitive snorkeler more as an irritant rather than any threat – they could put on a turn of speed to escape when necessary.
One thing that really exceeded my expectations was the food. We eat really well. Good food of variety and of reasonable cost. The culinary highlight for me was definitely a Sasek style squid curry eaten al fresco on Gili Meno. We enjoyed an excellent Italian meal and the fish was excellent.
Most of our meals were had in small open air salas (as the Thais would describe them) on the beach. A wonderful way to while away the time and looking across to Gunung Rinjani which we had laboriously scaled only 24 hours previously – a wonderful sight.
In fact all views to the east were dominated by Gunung Rinjani which at 12,224 ft is the second highest volcano in Indonesia.
To the west, though much further way, you can in clear conditions catch sight of Gunung Agung on Bali.
These islands I feel are at an important juncture in their development. From my own, admittedly subjective (our stay was relatively short), observation there was reasonable equilibrium between the, often conflicting, demands of both the indigenous population and tourism which did not contemporaneously create undue strains upon the environment. Accommodation was basic but really quite adequately comfortable, the beaches were pristine and the interior of the islands tidy.
A very good indicator is the state of the coral. At the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Sabah an analogous set of islands can be found off Kota Kinabalu but the coral is in relatively poor condition having been pulverized by dynamite and past irresponsible tourism. Laudable attempts are now being made by the authorities to reverse this damage but coral is an extremely sensitive organism and grows very slowly.
Fishing yes but not overfishing. The sight of the locals fishing with their long rods and single lines over the reefs was quite picturesque and really this is a sustainable method of fishing. In fact divers and snorkelers (those who do so from a boat) have to pay a fee to fund a monthly compensation scheme for local fishermen so that they keep to designated areas and desist from fishing with invasive methods such as dynamite and cyanide. The scheme has proved to be very successful as evidenced by the coral structures around the islands which remain in reasonable condition.
There are occasional power cuts (“brown and black outs” an Indonesian wide phenomenon) but these caused no real imposition to us vacationers (though no doubt local residents would be highly irritated). The real problems will come upon the arrival of the ubiquitous “5 star” hotel which I think will ruin the character and casual atmosphere of these islands not to mention the accompanying strains upon infrastructure and environment – just look at what has happened to Phuket over the past 30 years.
After a relaxed and laid back couple of days we were sorry to have to return to the world.