Saturday, 5 September 2009

Indo blog 6: Gili Islands: 3rd-5th July

Fri 3rd July - off to the Gilis

Got up pretty early, and made use of my final morning with a private, open-air bathroom by partaking in some naked sunbathing. Again, felt pretty weird, but worth it to get some new freckles in odd places. Hee.

Then we had to say goodbye to our hammocks and catch a cab to the harbour; about a half hour drive up the coast. Private taxis aren't allowed to drop off at the harbour; they abandon their fares 300 yards from the terminal, to allow the local horse and cart men the chance to make a bit of cash carrying Bules and their bags the last stretch to the boat. We decided they could stick it and carried ours ourselves. Carls warned me they would try to do the same thing at the boat - basically take your bag from you, put it on the boat and then demand money for 'helping you' with your bag. We manage to avoid this blatant extortion, but we did see a bunch of french tourists behind hassled for cash for acccepting the help of a couple of cheeky f**kers. Riz can't abide these people, says they have no pride. He's right.

Ho hum - all aboard the HMS Deathboat (so christened by Carly's mates Rachel and Mhairi who had a rather hairy crossing on their visit - our voyage was totally sedate, but the name has stuck). Our destination is Gili Trawangan - the largest of a group of three little islands off the north west coast of Lombok, collectively called the Gilis. AKA the party islands. :)

We sort ourselves out with accommodation pretty easily. I considered getting myself somewhere uber fancy, as it would be here that I would leave my 20s, and I figured I'd do it in the lap of luxury. In the end though, we opted for somewhere fairly modest, electing to save our rupiah for cocktails and madness. Cunning, no?

I still got myself a decent big room, with a sea water shower and air con. That'll do nicely sir. Quick shower and then out to explore.

The Gilis pretty much exist for tourists, but they're not overdeveloped yet. Gili Trawangan is the biggest, but its still tiny; consisting of basically a beach-front strip of hotels, bars, restaurants and clubs. There are signs of it beginning to be developed, as one end of the strip has some pretty swish restaurants and accommodation, while the other end gets progressively more ramshackle as you head out of town. The beach however, is beautiful, and there's a big diving and surfing contingent here. None of that for us though. We're here to party and say goodbye to my youth.

We were starving so grabbed some chicken satay and chips (aaaawesooome) in a place by the beach, and avoided the midday sun by lounging around on our private platform table drinking Bintang. Then we popped along the strip to an Irish bar (yes even here, there is a bloody Irish bar), which had private booths in which you could watch pirated DVDs. They were pretty awful quality though to be honest, which is perhaps unsurprising. We only got halfway through Vantage Point when the picture broke up completely and the DVD froze. Sigh. I may never know what happened in that movie now.

We wandered along the beach for a bit, where I got first sight of what is called a Burkhini; what devout Muslim women wear to go swimming. Its basically a wetsuit, but with a long tunic top and a waterproof headscarf. Utterly utterly bonkers. I'm sorry if that offends anyone, but seriously people; get a life.

We headed back to our rooms for a quick change and then out again to the Irish bar to refuel with pizza and G&Ts. We met up again with Josh and Margaret (from Karimun) at a Reggae bar along the strip called Samu Samu ('you're welcome' or 'no problem' in Indonesian). J&M had been on the Gilis for a week already. They were with another three lasses; Anna, Heather and some other bird who didn't ever talk or smile. Didn't warm to her for some reason. We had a few drinks and listened to a pretty good live band of dreadlocked Indonesia rasta boys.

Got a bit bored with Reggae so we moved the party back along the strip to a beach front bar, where we collectively decided to try out the local mushroom shakes (Honest Mum, these are totally legal in the Gilis). They're not particularly strong, so we just got a bit trippy and giggly.
Trip over, we hit the hay about 2am. I think.

Sat 4th July - the last day of my 20s

So the last day of my youth did not start well. Carls and Riz came to wake me up at about 11am, with the news that the airline had texted Carly to tell her our flight home from Mainland Lombok to Surabaya on the 5th had been moved. It meant that in order to make the flight, we'd have to leave the Gilis at 6am on my birthday. What's more, this was before the first public boat. So we'd have to shell out to commission a private speedboat. Bugger.

We decided we'd sort it all out once we'd eaten. For some reason we all had the same craving for burgers. Yeah yeah I know, but it was my birthday so I could be gross if I want to.
We walked the full length of the strip and saw several bars selling burgers, but chose a wee place by the beach at the ramshackle end of the strip.

I can only guess that mushroom shakes must seriously impair your judgement because this was categorically the worst burger in the known universe. It was like bushmeat. I swear it moved. It was so bad that despite the fact that I was completely ravenous, I still took it back to the kitchen, dumped it on the serving counter and asked the 'chef' if he'd ever seen a burger. Suddenly nobody speaks English.

I'm starting to feel like the universe was deliberately f*cking with me. This was not a good start.

Riz to the rescue. We went down to the ferry terminal and sorted out a speedboat from the next morning (half a million Rupiah. Only about £33, but a small fortune by local standards), and then we got what Riz called 'proper Bakso'. The Bakso we'd had in Ubud was shoddy in comparison. This was spicy meatbally loveliness. Made my eyes water but it was totally worth it. An elderly local couple at the terminal seemed to find it really funny that a redhead Bule would eat local food. They kept pointing at me and laughing. :)

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the irish bar watching dvds and drinking G&Ts and Bintang. Was totally lazy, chilled perfect afternoon. Which pretty much made up for the crap morning.

We headed back to our rooms to get dolled up - if my 20s were about to run out I was going to make damn sure I looked hot seeing them off. I followed in the chinese birthday tradition and insisted on treating Carls and Riz to dinner on my birthday night, so we went to the best restaurant on Gili Trawangan. It was at the posh end of the strip (natch) and it was called Scallywags. We got these brilliant seats, right by the strip; they were massive rattan cushioned nests you could totally curl up in. Scallywags cook to order, so you pick your fish and while it's being cooked you choose from this massive salad bar, and eat that while you wait. I chose a slab of Baramundi, and while it was being grilled I had a big salad mix up of quail's eggs, spicy cous cous, fresh cabbage with peanuts, cherry tomatoes in pesto and potato salad. Followed by a mojito. THAT'S what I'm talking about.

After eating our own body weight in food, and drinking a few more lethal cocktails, we were in severe dangers of falling asleep in our massive squishy seats. So we slapped ourselves aboot the face a few times, settled up, and trotted off to find a party bar. But we ended up back in the good old Irish bar. Sounds tragic but it really had the best atmosphere on the strip. Poor Riz wasn't feeling too hot and gave in before midnight. But Carls and I struggled manfully on. When the bells finally tolled on my youth, the DJ played Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday, we lit the 3 candles on my little bit of cake that I'd brought all the way from the UK, the barman gave us free lemony shooters and all the bar staff kissed my hand. It was pretty forkin cool. :)

In bed by 2am. My first task as a grown up 30 year old is to make sure I am awake in exactly 3 and a half hours. Owee.

Sun 5th July - My birthday

Strange birthday morning. Woke up a bit fuzzy round the edges, but hauled myself up and got dressed. All the time I was faintly aware of a humming noise from outside. I presumed it was a generator or an air con unit. Had kinda forgotten about it by the time I actually came to open the door of my room. So I got the fright of my life when I realised my porch light had attracted a swarm of wasps. I swear to god there were hundreds of them. I have never run so fast with a 20 kilo backpack on me.

So... time for a sharp exit. Down to the harbour and our awaiting speedboat. I witnessed the sunrise on my 30s travelling at high speed across open water towards mainland Lombok. Which is a pretty damn cool way to start a new decade. :) And much faster than HMS Deathboat.

At the other side some nice locals gave us the number for a taxi firm WITHOUT expecting money for their 'help'. Folks seem to be more magnanimous early in the morn. The drive to Mataram airport was about an hour long, and beautiful. We drove high up through the mountains with deep mist-filled ravines dropping steeply away from either side of the road, dotted with massive boulders. Macaque monkeys disappeared into trees as we passed, and we raced Bemo buses piled high with bales and boxes and the occasional hitchhiker.

I'm sure I'd have appreciated the beauty of the journey a lot more if I hadn't felt like I was going to blow chunks the whole time. Massive hangover + windy mountain roads = not good. This state of affairs was massively improved however at the airport with some hot sweet coffee and Pop Mie. Aaah s'better.

Back at Carly and Rizqy's in Surabaya, we crashed out on the sofas for an hour then ordered in chinese for lunch. We pissed about all afternoon, I repacked my suitcase, we played Wii, and then my older brother called from their caravan in Gairloch to say Happy Birthday. I could hear the usual chaos in the background of my baby nephew Brodan crying, the dogs barking, and my older nephew Irvine rabbiting on about being an ambulance. Irvine demanded the telephone 'I speak to Auntie Ayay?', and proceeded to sing me the cutest rendition of Happy Birthday that I've ever heard, before informing me that he had no birthday cake to give me, and obviously finding this most irregular promptly chucked the phone back at his Daddy and ran off to continue his duties as an ambulance. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever. :D

Carls and Riz took me out to dinner on my final night in Indo. We went to the posh Chinese end of town, which advertises itself as the 'Singapore of Surabaya'. The houses are ridiculous; columns, statues, fountains, lions, stained glass the lot. In the drive across town I've never seen such a rapid juxtaposition of rich and poor and in such extremis. We went from passing slum housing along a grotty river, with people living in corrugated iron lean-tos, to these monstrosities. The Indonesian rich live in gated communities and completely self-contained apartment complexes with security guards, maids, nannies, air con. They venture outside as little as possible so as not to darken their skin, which would make them look like the poor folks they try so hard to pretend don't exist.

Dinner though, was lovely. It was traditional Indonesian food, but the restaurant was Balinese in style. Sort of indoor/outdoor courtyard, with lots of sculptures and wood carvings. Which makes the addition of a country and western style four piece band serenading the customers somewhat incongruous. But they did do a lovely version of Happy Birthday for me. Which was not quite as memorable as Irvine's cover version, but it runs a pretty close second.

We had beef sate, prawns deep fried in dessicated coconut, mango and chilli sambal, fried chicken, rice and green beans, all yummy. Dessert was an Indonesian speciality: kinda weird but kinda good. It basically consisted of crushed ice and condensed milk, with syrup, jelly pieces, bread pieces and avocado, served up like a knickerbocker glory. Apart from the bread, it really worked!

On the drive home, Carls asked Riz to drive us back through Surabaya's red light district. The area is named Dolly after a particularly famous Dutch madam, and is as you'd expect, pretty seedy but jumping. Girls sit in shop windows on red couches, wearing ordinary clothes and bored expressions, chatting and texting. It looks like the queue for a takeaway. There are a few ladyboys about too, and occasionally there are shops full of TVs where guys sit on the floor and play playstation games they rent by the hour. These stores are about as popular as the hookers. Its official. Playstation is the new wanking.

Home and to bed. Goodnight Indonesia.


FabBlab said...

Seems like you're having a fab time!

markeddie said...

All sounds great! im off to Gili T on Friday. Im not sure why youd travel all that way and spend all your time in an irish bar and eating burgers. Weird !

methusela said...

mmmm this world is beutifull!