Stop number two on our Balinese adventure was the tiny island of Gili Trawangan, also known as Gili T. We took a shared van ride from Ubud to the harbor to board a pukebucket called the Bluewater Express. At first the ride was marvelous because we could sit on the roof with our legs over the side as we sped our way through the Bali Sea. But the water was uncommonly rough during our visit, which meant that everyone had to sit inside the small boat, close the windows and accept mints, seasick pills and vomit bags from the staff.
I was relieved to reach the island, and we lugged our suitcases across the sand and right across the small road to Gili Yoga, where we spent three nights in a lovely little bungalow for a yoga and freediving retreat.
The island was magical and bohemian, and of all the places we visited in Bali, this was my favorite (although technically the Gili Islands are located off Lombok). Much of our time was spent barefoot, as most of the restaurants are directly on the sand, and shops require you to take off your shoes before entering. There is a relaxed, come-what-may attitude. The island is so small that even I, a visitor for only three nights, knew people to chat with as I walked along the street. There are no cars (they wouldn’t be able to fit), so the only way to get around is by foot, by bicycle, or by a colorful horse and cart called a cidomo.
Mom and I were shocked by the waves here, which instead of rolling in towards you as you stand on the shore, would roll sideways. The beach was dotted with traditional double outrigger boats.
There were two or three luxury hotels, but I do believe that to stay there is to miss the point of Gili T. Staying in a bungalow amid the action of the beach bars and dive schools gave the island a beautiful energy. Groups of divers and yogis relaxed on pillows, chatted, and checked emails on the floor of the Gili Yoga center, and we enjoyed yet another outdoor shower.
Photo: Freedive Gili
Everyday we practiced sunrise and sunset yoga, so in the morning Mom and I would roll out of our beds and right into the outdoor yoga studio. Then breakfasts of watermelon juice and banana jaffles (little panini pressed banana sandwiches) would be delivered to our front porch.
I spent two days earning my freediving certification, which meant donning a butch wetsuit, doing some breathing exercises in the swimming pool, and taking a boat into the Bali Sea. We jumped off the side into really choppy water, and as the waves knocked us about, we took turns finning our way deep underwater. When freediving, the water is supposed to be clear and smooth as glass, but we had to make due. It was a practice in Zen: feeling the pressure of 10 meters of ocean on my chest, realizing that even though I held my breath on the way down, I’m going to have to continue to hold it on the way up, and coping with the pressure equalization in my ears. Here’s my freedive group heading out in the boat, and a photo from Freedive Gili of what the sport looks like when done by a pro.
What did Mother do during this time? Well, she had spa treatments, many many spa treatments, and spent the afternoons sketching and sunning at various beach clubs.
Swimming for hours in the ocean was a wonderful way to spend my days on Gili T, although I was so happy to have my nights free. I am still obsessed by the “movie theater” I went to. The long-haired Australian owner downloads movies and shows a new one every night on a large screen inside a hut on the ocean. The waves roll in underneath the hut, and the staff passes out handmade paper cones of popcorn.
One of Gili T’s most special attractions is their night market, where you can buy full traditional Indonesian meals from carts and sit in long rows of picnic tables with other visitors. Fishermen set up stands of beautiful fish caught that day and will grill it fresh for you with rice and spicy greens. This beautiful, luscious-lipped fish is called a parrotfish, and each one has different gorgeous neon markings. Mom and I also enjoyed banana pancakes with condensed milk.
It takes about two dollars and two hours to rent a bike and ride around the entire island. I had to get off and push my bike through the sand many times, but it was a great trip, especially when I stopped to go swimming in the ocean with not a soul in sight, or had a man on the side of the road slice the top off a coconut for me to drink.
If given the option and I didn’t have a job to return to (which frankly was up in the air anyway), I could have stayed on this island for two or three months, working the desk at one of the dive centers or who knows, climbing trees to pick coconuts.