We had two options for getting to the Gili Islands: the $30 ‘fast boat,’ or the $15 ‘slow ferry’ (well, ‘slow ferry, then bus, then boat’ – really). When we first heard the options, we thought the ‘slow’ in ‘slow ferry’ was just to differentiate it from the alternative option, but no, it deserved the adjective ‘slow’ in it’s own right. It was probably called ‘slow’ before there even was an alternative. In fact, the word ‘slow’ was probably initially invented for the sole purpose of describing this particular ferry. It was also hot – claustrophobic in your own skin kind of hot. Despite that, it was the least agonizing part of the journey. Once the slow ferry finally arrived at Lombok, we were put in a minivan with a driver who very convincingly mimicked a Kamikaze pilot for the next hour and 45 minutes, delivering us (alive, but definitely with several years shaved off our lives) to another port, where after standing for half an hour in the rain we waded out to hip-height to climb into the fishing boat that would finally deliver us to the Gili Air. By the end of the 11 hour ordeal, the extra $15 each it would have cost to have been delivered directly to Gili Air from Bali seemed well worth it.
But, Gili Air is worth the 11 hour ordeal.
Gili Air is hand painted signs and beach and boats and sand roads. It is the sound of guitar and locals singing ‘I like to move it, move it,’ or saying ‘my brother/my sister/my friend how are you? Where are you from?’ It is the sound of tiny carriages drawn by tiny horses (which sounds particularly quaint, and most of the time looks it too, but occasionally looks just a bit like animal cruelty) and it is the lack of the sound of motors because there are no motorbikes or cars on the Island. Gili Air is wearing no shoes and paying four dollars for freshly caught seafood dinners. It is Brad stopping to play right-handed guitars left-handed and upside and the locals laughing endlessly because of it. It is swimming and snorkeling and lying on the beach and reading. It is losing track of time and dates and days and considering the possibility of never leaving.
Of course, with any paradise there are the downsides. This paradise exists solely on tourism. Tourism is the primary industry, with tourism-fuelled construction probably coming a close second. There is also the clear class separation between locals and foreigners, and the feeling that in a place such as Lombok, which is majority Muslim, we Whites have somehow paid for the privilege of walking around not only with shoulders and thighs exposed (a no-no in Muslim places) but also stomachs and backs and cleavage. But, I don’t know the religious make-up of the Gili Islands, perhaps it is majority Hindu, and the double standard of women having to cover their bodies because their flesh is somehow offensive, while men (of course) don’t have any such concerns has never sat right with me anyway, particularly in the tropics. Ahh, the moral conundrums of travel.
Of course, it’s entirely possible there aren’t any real issues and I’ve completely invented the conundrums, while in reality everyone is just enjoying the forward march of capitalism, so I’ll just shut up and enjoy it too.