I visited the Gilis, three tiny islands off the west coast of Lombok in Indonesia, 24 years ago. I was 21. It was 1993, before the first resort was built on Trawangan and the fast boats from Bali had arrived. Back then, you caught a local boat from Lombok. Gili Meno had malaria and Air was for locals, so most tourists (aside from the very adventurous) went to Gili Trawangan (affectionately called Gili T).
I spent five days on Gili T and it was idyllic. There was a handful of shacks where the boat came in, a few warangs (street food) and losmen (home stays), a nightclub for dancing on magic mushrooms, and a couple of small backpacker hostels. It took the better part of a day to walk along the sandy track around the entire island, and then up the hill to watch the sunset. There was untouched reef, alive with colourful fish, in the pristine lagoons off the shore. It was paradise.
There was a large sign proudly announcing the first resort was coming soon.
Fast forward to 2017…
I walk around the rainy island, past the resorts, shops, restaurants and piles of rubbish, waiting for a sense of recognition. Trawangan is still beautiful, with its beaches and cidomo (horses and carts), but tourism has completely destroyed what it was. It is heartbreaking. An Indonesian waiter gives me a rose handmade from a disposable napkin in the evening and my first love emails me, out of the blue, in the morning.
Gili T becomes symbolic of my first love. Utterly beautiful in my youth and damaged beyond repair in my 40s. It has a special place in my heart, but I will never go back to Trawangan. I move on and cross the sea to find another beautiful island. One night on Meno, which is lovely and reminiscent of the former Gili T, and then to Gili Air. After two days of unusual rain in the dry season, the sun is shining again as I catch the boat to Air.
I fall in love with Gili Air. The island is a charming blend of quaint, rustic and modern, with gorgeous beaches and a relaxed island vibe. I extend my stay by three days to swim with the turtles.
I’m so grateful I spontaneously changed my plans and stayed longer on Air. This is major progress for a master planner *recovering control freak* like me. When I came up with excuses like *it might rain* or *i might cut my foot on coral* I knew I had to say YES. And I’m so glad I did. As it turns out the weather was glorious, I saw three turtles, numerous colourful fish and a sea snake, and my feet are just fine.
Some thoughts from my time in this little island paradise…
- Know and love thyself – the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one.
- Loneliness simply means you are tired of your own company – just like you get tired of other people when you spend too much time with them. Seek company or solitude as you need it.
- Love is in everything, if you choose to connect and feel it.
- Trust your intuition, it knows the best path for you.
- You are rarely alone when you travel alone – I shared adventures, meals and chats with some wonderful people.
- Surprise bonus of staying in a villa with your own private pool… skinny dipping in the morning and when you get home at night.
- There is beauty to be found in even our saddest experiences. The magnificent turtle we got closest to was in the waters of Gili T.
- We don’t regret the chances we take, even if things don’t unfold as we hope. We regret the chances we didn’t take out of fear.