Gili, Gili, Gili

The island was a far cry from an idyllic paradise. It was noisy and crowded. There was a large strip of bars and restaurants by the pier. Think club 18-30s. It was noticeably warmer here, with no place for shade. I could feel the back of my neck toasting.

We opted against taking a ‘horse taxi’ – not far off a wedding carriage. Instead, we trawled through alleyway after alleyway, slaloming out of the way of the ‘Tour de France-like’ cyclists. As we walked, it became quieter and started to feel more local. There were small kiosks attached to homes and lots of children playing in their yards.

We arrived at the M-Box hostel with little expectation. There was a swimming pool, filled with inflatables and equipped with a basketball net. The music was blaring out and there were a few bodies trying to get that glow by the pool. Our room was a decent size and luckily away from the noise.

After freshening up, we took a stroll back to the strip to have a late lunch. My peanut translation card came into play for the first time. The usual scenario ensued – waiter looks alarmed, speaks to a colleague, goes into the kitchen and then I get a nod for reassurance. I continue to operate on trust, but the EpiPen is never too far away.

Tandem mandem

We later worked our way down the strip to get our bearings. It was clear that cycling around the island was a popular choice. I may have mentioned before that I can’t ride a bike and there wasn’t enough time to learn here. But we did come across a chap who had a tandem bike in stock. One for the romantics, but it’s the only option we had. Farhan led from the front. I obviously couldn’t be trusted. We ventured around the island, mostly ‘off-road’ through jungle-like terrain and took respite at the beach, where two giant swings were stationed in the sea – a perfect photo opp beckoned. The rocks in the water were unforgiving and the water wasn’t much kinder. Farhan just about mounted the rickety old swing. But we managed to get a snap, albeit as silhouettes.

We headed back to the hostel before it got dark and took a quick swim. Feeling refreshed we headed out for dinner. Most of the restaurants had outdoor seating and they all looked similar, offering seafood cuisine. It was hard to make a decision. But we came across a place with a live band. A reggae act in fact. Our waiter Rio was an excitable lad. He spoke English pretty well and he tested out his best Cockney accent. “You olrite mate” and the word ‘war-tah’ had him in hysterics. Meanwhile, the band showed their versatility and transformed into a rock tribute act. It was a bit weird, but they were pretty good. No one really paid much attention to them apart from us.

Following dinner we did a bar crawl and settled on a place with another reggae singer, who sang most of Bob Marley’s back catalogue. We made a few friends along the way,  Brits in fact (what happens in Gili stays in Gili). I somehow ended up having a conversation about dubstep and grime with a DJ from Seattle and a girl from Hawaii, which led to me pitching my app (coming soon) to them and others.

Going back to the hostel wasn’t straightforward. There wasn’t much lighting and for solo female travellers, I can imagine this to be quite daunting after a night out. At the hostel we were greeted by a group of lively Danish lads, who clearly wanted the party to continue. We didn’t. We had a morning boat to catch for Gili Meno and didn’t have the required energy.

In the morning we stopped at Kayu Café for breakfast. Probably not the best idea to hop on board a dodgy wooden boat on a full stomach. But thankfully it was a short journey. In fact, close enough that you could still see Gili Trawangan from the other side. Immediately you noticed a difference between both islands. It was almost deserted. It was clean, but also very peaceful.

 

We decided to take a ‘horse taxi’ because our hotel looked far away. The taxi was kitted with bells, it jingled for the whole journey. The driver every once in a while whistles and whips the horse with straw. Not your every day Uber.

Zen

Our hotel was conveniently by the beach and had its own infinity pool. Again, it appeared quite isolated. But it was the perfect place for us to relax. There wasn’t really anything to do on the island. Were we missing something?

There wasn’t much choice for dinner either as quite a few places were closed. A lot of the businesses must be seasonal. The one place we did stop at seemed surprised that we even ordered food. So much so, they went elsewhere to collect the food. Who knows where they cooked it? But we didn’t really get to eat much. We were terrorised by their resident kitten, who was trying to nab our grub and not one person control the tart.

We took a few wrong turns following dinner, so much so we ended up in a mini village. Given that it was pitch black, I tried not to look down in case we stumbled across anything dangerous. Eventually we found a lit path and managed to find our hotel. We needed an early night. A complicated journey lay ahead – a whistle stop tour of Nusa Penida and then onto Ubud. On paper this was doable, but practically it was going to be challenging. And we’d soon to find out why.

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Boys On Tour

Booking a multi-flight through Qatar Airways was a good idea in theory, and also cheaper. But going back on myself to get to Bali from Bangladesh, via Doha, meant I arrived in the early hours extremely tired. My friend Farhan was also joining me, but arriving a day later. A day alone would allow me to relax and acclimatise. I just wanted to get into bed.

In the baggage hall I heard a loud scream. I’d only landed for 15 minutes and the enemy was in range – a disgustingly big rat. It charged towards a woman EEEEK-ing and repeatedly ran into her feet. Yes, this was inside the airport! I collected my luggage and booked an Uber to the Lokal Bali Hostel in Kuta. I waited at the pick-up point and was approached by many chancers offering taxis. In a bizarre few minutes my Uber driver thought I’d cancelled my trip and had gone home. Annoyingly this meant I was momentarily stranded, so I cancelled the trip to avoid a charge. He called me back strangely asking why I’d cancelled. Confused? I was too. I took a chance on Tony, a burly bloke who wore a fanny pack swallowed up by his belly button. Thankfully my journey to the hostel was short. I checked in and made my way upstairs. I hate disturbing people’s sleep as the new arrival after midnight. But it’s difficult when lights are off and you have to climb a ladder to your bed!

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Mood Booster @ Crumb & Coaster

After freshening up early doors I needed a proper brunch. The plane food, Deshi dishes and broken roads nearly haemorrhaged my stomach. So I Googled the best breakfast spots nearby and took a reliable Uber to Crumb & Coaster, a stone’s throw from Kuta Beach. The interior and exterior is an Instagrammer’s delight, as is the food. Filled with fellow backpackers down a broken side road, the menu is packed with goodness, geared for surfers and yogis. I opted for some coffee toast and a refreshing fruit smoothie. The vibe was chilled and the music was so good that I took my time leaving. I can see why it’s highly rated on TripAdvisor.

Nearby, I came across a cool barber shop (the name escaped me) and opted for fresh beard trim, before strolling along Kuta Beach. Travelling solo at this stage, I’m an easy target for street sellers. The strangest pitch I heard was from a policeman offering me a scooter…

I walked until just before sunset. I pulled out maps.me – an offline map – which hasn’t failed me (recommended by Gavin Greene – READ HIS BLOG) till now. Although, it was quite nervy when it was taking me down alleyways, where I met some friendly locals. I waved, they laughed…stray dogs and I kept walking.

I reached the hostel before it was pitch black and opted for a snack at the hostel. I spent the next few hours watching Stranger Things with a Chinese girl in the hostel reception, awaiting Farhan’s arrival. He was landing at midnight. I asked the two hostel receptionists if they could arrange for a cab to pick him up. Somehow this was misinterpreted for booking a driver to take me to the airport instead. It became clear that they didn’t really understand what I was asking. After a brief delay on his connecting flight, Farhan arrived with his own taxi. Hooray!!

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Leaving Padang Bai

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Lads

Given the language barrier with the hostel staff, we were faced with the late night challenge of negotiating a fast boat to Gili Islands. Most of the boats were fully booked, but luckily we managed to nab a pair for the Patagonia Xpress from Padang Bai in the morning. It was a risk booking on a local site, but we had little option.

We got caught in traffic and starting to sweat it. We arrived at the port and a couple of random men blocked our car’s path. They suggested that our boat had already departed and that we needed to pay them a fee to catch a later boat. I told the driver to continue driving towards a group of tourists, in hope that we hadn’t missed our boat. Lucky for us, we just made it on time. Disturbingly in the distance we could see a volcano. Not the soon to erupt Mount Agung, but a pretty big fella nonetheless.

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A volcano

A smooth 90-minute boat journey saw us arrive into Gili Trawangan. Upon arrival, could see bunting, taxi horse carriages and lots of people cycling around the island. It reminded me a lot of the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, probably because I’d been warned that this was the ’party island.’ I knew things were about to escalate.