I flew from Darwin in Australia to Bali in Indonesia. The plan was to get to the Gili Islands. There are three of them: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Gili Trawangan is known for partying whereas Gili Meno (also called Honeymoon Island) and Gili Air are known for a more relaxed lifestyle. After spending around two weeks in the mainly quiet outback of the down under and getting too much of partying backpackers in overpriced Darwin I needed a break. So I aimed for Gili Meno from an islet to a volcano in Indonesia.
From Denpasar Airport I finally took a taxi (apparently there is now public transport on Bali and Lombok) to the harbour in Padang Bai. From where I took the cheap, slow boat instead of the expensive, fast boat that is packed with tourists heading to Gili T. Being the only Caucasian among many Indonesian people on board, I used the 4-hour night ferry to Lombok to get some sleep. Another taxi ride later, I was standing at the port in Bangsal. Nature called while I was waiting for a boat to get me to Gili Meno. I entered the restroom in the small building at the port. Where there was supposed to be a toilet bowl, there was only a hole in the floor. No signs of toilet paper but a barrel filled with water on which floated a small red bowl. It took me a few minutes to put one and one together: Welcome to Asia! With well-cleaned hands I continued waiting for the boat on the outside.
Arrived on the small paradisiacal island I found myself the cheapest bungalow there was. After a good night in an ‘air-conditioned’ bungalow (a little fan on the ceiling) I took a walk around the island. The coast was packed with luxurious bungalows for the freshly married couples. The more distance to the sea an accommodation gained, the cheaper it got. The inland of the islet reminded me of medieval times. The locals were living in little wooden shelters right next to their cattle in between palm trees. Somewhere in the centre there was a big pile of trash.
After a second night in the bungalow I moved to a so-called hostel which I discovered on my walk the day before. It was an open-air place and you could rent different spots such as a hammock or a tent. The showers and taps worked entirely with a mixture of fresh and seawater, which made cleaning the teeth a little salty. I booked the sun deck where I pitched my tent and covered it with my tarp to hide from the burning sun. The view from the deck was stunning, showing the wonderful blue sea in the front and the volcano Mt. Rinjani on Lombok in the back.
The very shallow shore of Gili Meno was perfect for snorkelling. The crystal-clear water enabled the look on several fish, prawns, starfish, snails and turtles I had never seen before. One afternoon I went spearfishing with Chacka, a local guy I met in his cousins’ food place called Ya Ya Warung. However, I didn’t catch anything but the seafloor. I could hold my breath barely long enough to get to the ground and back whereas Chacka floated quietly a few centimetres above the seafloor for minutes carefully aiming and shooting his pray.
One morning, while enjoying the sun rising from behind Mt. Rinjani, I decided to summit its peak. I left Gili Meno behind and headed to Senaru on Lombok. A short boat trip and two hours of painful taxi-scooter drive later I was standing in the hilly landscape northwest of the volcano. After asking around if the ascent would be possible on my own and getting only negative answers, I finally ended up booking a guided tour. So I left all my nice intact equipment at the accommodation and left with the group for base camp. As not everyone was used to hike the pace was moderate. Our short athletic guide and his porters were wearing thongs, carrying the food and gear attached to a bamboo bar on their shoulder.
The place where we stopped for lunch was crowded with other groups. Unfortunately the vast number of plastic bags and bottles, remnants of previous tours, ruined the beautiful landscape of dark green hills partially covered in mysterious fog. The meal the porters had cooked was tasty but way too filling and slowed down the group even more. Monkeys started showing up to the left and right of the path above a certain height. The base camp that was situated at the foot of the ridge that led to the summit looked like a tent village. The porters set up the tents and cooked dinner. I killed time by scaring off monkeys from the tents and preventing numerous mice from entering the backpacks. When I entered the tent to go to sleep I longed for my intact gear back at the accommodation. The tent was perforated, probably by mice and the mattress was only a thin foam sheet. The sleeping bag however was fine. We took off at around 3 a.m. after a ridiculous breakfast consisting of a cup of tea and three biscuits. The ridge was packed with a mix of unskilled Westerners wearing sneakers and casual wear and unskilled Japanese equipped with high-end mountaineering hardware. During my ascent I spotted several porters still wearing thongs and only a blanket to cover them from the strong, cold wind.
After overtaking many other hikers I reached the summit at around 5 a.m., early enough to witness the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Other than clouds in a mountain range, which are pierced by the surrounding peaks, clouds around a single volcano form a smooth, continuous sea of cotton wool. After the sunrise I walked back to the base camp to have breakfast. The tour led us past the caldera lake to the yellow-watered Hot Springs. We enjoyed the hot water for a while and after lunch we continued the journey up to the crater rim to set up our second and last camp. Everybody was tired and went to bed early to refuel for the hike down to Senaru the next day. The walk down took us through the surprisingly quiet green jungle. After saying goodbye to the guide and porters I spontaneously decided to join the rest of the group on Gili Air for a couple of days before leaving Indonesia to fly to Vietnam.
The first thing I did on Gili Air after finding the cheapest accommodation was taking a nice shower. Gili Air was similar to Gili Meno but a little less quiet. I spent the following two lazy days with snorkelling, eating and chilling in the sun. Well-rested I undertook a second time the long journey with the slow boat back to Denpasar Airport to get my flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Photos © Marc Sadler