With the last of our volcanic exploits behind us, Angela and I caught a ferry from Java to Bali, before bussing across the island so we could catch another ferry to the Gili Islands. We would explore Bali more later, but for now we wanted to check out the quiet, tropical getaway of the Gilis, which had been recommended to us by so many people we'd met on our travels. The archipelago comprises three small islands just off the coast of the larger island of Lombok, and they are famed for their gorgeously turquoise waters, quiet bungalow-lined streets, and plentiful diving opportunities.
After an uncomfortable bus journey and violently bumpy fast-boat ride across the Lombok Strait, the relaxing atmosphere of Gili Trawangan - the largest of the three islands - hit us immediately. Like Koh Rong in Cambodia and the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, the Gilis have no cars or motorbikes, lending them a mellow, laidback character that can't be found in the traffic-laden cityscapes that blight many Asian beach destinations. It had been a tiresome few days, getting up before dawn to see the volcanoes, as well as making the long journey across Bali, so we decided right away that we would spend our three days in Gili doing little else but unwinding. We could have rented bicycles and cycled the circumference of the island, maybe climbed up to the viewpoint like we did on Ko Phi Phi Don, or perhaps taken a scuba diving class to admire clownfish, sponges, and sea turtles. But no. This was our relax time, and we were going to relax. We did little else but sunbathe and read our books as we sat in giant beanbags next to the ocean. Unlike muggy Koh Rong and the unbearably hot Phi Phi Islands, the weather here was perfect, warm enough to go in the ocean but with a nice mild breeze to cool us down. It was absolute paradise.
The only thing that marred it all was the fact that those three days of bliss were sandwiched between two awful travel days entering and leaving the islands. The Bali bus journey and fast-boat provided a long and unpleasant experience in itself, but getting off the islands was even worse. We paid around a hundred dollars each for our return tickets to the islands, and so were expecting to take an hour-long fast-boat directly back to Bali. It was a lot more money than we really wanted to be spending at this point in the journey, but at least it would allow us to get on and off the islands quickly and without too much hassle. However, when it was time to leave, it turned out that due to inclement weather, no fast-boats were operating that day. This meant that our hour-long journey would become a sixteen-hour ordeal, requiring us to take a slow ferry to Lombok, a bus to another ferry port, and a four-hour ferry to Bali, interspersed with long drawn out waiting periods where we stood around for hours on end, unsure what was happening or when we would leave.
Now, to be fair to our ferry company, the weather issue was outside their control, and we would rather take a slower route than risk our lives on rough seas. However, the way they dealt with the situation was pretty dire, refusing to give refunds despite the high cost we all paid for a fast-boat, poorly organising or informing people as we stood around waiting for ferries or buses and not knowing what was going on, and staff members generally being very dismissive and unhelpful. It was a complete shambles, and once again confirmed Indonesia as our least favourite country when it comes to value for money. If a country is going to be expensive, then it should be convenient and relatively hassle-free. Conversely, if it's going to be inconvenient, then it should be relatively affordable. Indonesia is expensive and it's inconvenient, which makes it doubly frustrating to travel through.
Whatever. The volcanoes were incredible, the Gilis were paradise, and Bali would be one of the absolute best parts of our trip, so we can forgive Indonesia for its flaws. More on Bali later. For now, here are our pictures from the Gilis.
|This map shows our route by ferry from Banyuwangi to the Balinese port of Gilimanuk, then by bus across Bali to the port town of Padang Bai, and finally our fast-boat route to Gili Trawangan, the westernmost of the three Gili Islands.|
|Boarding the ferry in Banyuwangi, we said our goodbyes to the island of Java.|
|On board the ferry, a local Indonesian smokes from a pipe.|
|Arriving in Bali.|
|Even this bank looks a bit like a temple. Notice it has a candi bendar or split gate like the one we saw before.|
|As well as houses and temples, we also passed many stretches of beautifully green countryside.|
|Some simple rice paddy fields. We would see some more impressive ones later during our time in Bali.|
|By the time we passed through the busy streets of Bali's capital, Denpasar, our backsides were sore and we were dying to get off this awful bus.|
|Waiting for our boat with some new friends.|
|The fast-boat was crowded with backpackers like us, and the ride itself was extremely rough, jerking us around and throwing us out of our seats. We could even hear people up on the top deck vomiting their breakfasts into the Strait of Lombok.|
|On the island itself, however, the frenzy and chaos dissipated immediately, and we were in a land of beach bungalows and horse-drawn carriages.|
|Gili is a popular place to learn how to scuba dive, something that our friends Kimmi and Matt did when they visited, but which we chose to ignore in the interest of saving money. Maybe one day we'll give it a try though.|
|A quick look at the pretty beach. We'd spend a lot of time here over the next three days, but first we needed to find our hostel.|
|Away from the beach there are some pretty backstreets where the locals live.|
|As well as these kids playing in the street, at one point we saw some young men gambling over a cock-fight.|
|The local mosque.|
|Once we found our hostel, we had lunch by the beach.|
|A small island with a big population of tourists requires frequent imports throughout the day.|
|We spent hours reading our kindles by the beach and occasionally dipping in the sea for a swim.|
|Exploring the main street by night.|
|There's a night market that offers some great street food, including these delicious banana pancakes.|
|The next day, we walked around the main town some more.|
|Though it's small, the island has plenty of modern amenities, including its own cinema.|
|It wasn't long before we returned to the beach.|
|A ferry sails out towards Lombok.|
|Enjoying some sheesha the evening before the day we were due to leave.|
|As mentioned above, there were no fast-boats running on our day of departure, so in order to get back to Bali we had to endure a sixteen-hour journey via Lombok.|
|Taking a slow-boat to Lombok. This part wasn't so bad.|
|Finally on a bus, heading to the ferry port in southern Lombok.|
|From what we could tell, Lombok seemed very beautiful, with quiet, pretty beaches and few tourists to be seen.|
|Fortunately, two ferries finally arrived around six o'clock, and Angela and I secured seats on one of them. For the first time in hours we were able to sit down.|
|Kids played football on the shore as we waited to leave.|
|As the sun was setting, the ferry finally departed.|
|We arrived at Ubud late at night, and found our hotel, Jungut Inn, in the darkness.|
We had a crappy time of it leaving the Gilis, but things would look up the next day. Ubud turned out to be one of the most charming and fun places that we visited on this trip, and helped us forget about the stresses we endured to get there.