The reasons why we choose to travel in the first place and why we choose specific destinations to go to are always different than what we actually gain from the experience. And the learning and understanding processes do not stop when you leave the location. This story is about what I gained and learned from my travel to the Gili Islands.
The first of the three Gili Islands, and the biggest one, is Gili Trawangan. My friend’s and my first reaction was – no, we don’t want a party island. We don’t want crowds and loud music, we want to relax. So we picked the calmest one, Gili Meno. And, yes, I read about this island in the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and remembered that when we planned our trip to Indonesia. Later we heard Gili Meno was internally called a “honey moon island”, and it became more clear to us why so many people thought my friend and I were a couple.
How did we arrive? By a speed boat from Bali. It took us about one hour 30 minutes on boat to get there. But, you can also take a somewhat cheaper ferry and travel longer.
First advice: if you want to travel to these islands, by all means do not carry a rolling suitcase. Only backpacks. And pack light.
There are no real western style roads here. Not only that there are not such roads, but – all the roads around the island are made of – sand. And there is no other means of transportation but a carriage with a horse, which is not cheap. Probably worth it if your accommodation is on the other side of the island even for backpackers, but for just a few hundred meters – no. Rolling a suitcase those few hundred meters in the torching sunshine ON THE SAND is that much exhausting that we both made promises to ourselves right then that our next trip together will be only with our backpacks. And we both fulfilled that promise.
Second advice: even though online it says that there is no accommodation within your price range available on the island, it doesn’t mean that there is no accommodation within your price range available on the island. The price you pay online is significantly higher than the price you pay when you come to a guesthouse or a hotel and ask for accommodation in person. We found our cottage in 20 minutes, even though it was high season, in July. And paid about 30% less than what we would have paid for the same cottage online.
The island is beautiful. If you start using this word for views like the one below, you will use the word much less frequently for describing islands.
The food was good. The exchange rate was terrible (another lesson learnt: any island in the world has a terrible exchange rate!). No ATMs. There is no night life on the island. There are turtles, coral reefs and myriad of fish. There are diving schools. And beautiful color of the sand and the sea. There is one hour walk around the whole island. Great sunsets, and a good reggae bar. And there is absolute absence of the police. Yes, no police in all three islands.
A local confirmed that even though there is no police, crime rate is almost non-existent. According to him, there are certain unwritten laws that all members of their small society follow, and if someone does commit a crime, they would be totally expelled from their society. Outcast. Bashed from the island. His face turned very serious when he was describing how severe internal punishments are and how much locals are afraid of them. It seems that these unwritten tribal laws work quite well. I didn’t feel unsafe for one second.
Overall, prices are similar or a bit higher than in Bali, but considering terrible exchange rate if you do not carry enough local currency to get by on this island (plan in advance), you will spend more of your country’s currency overall.
“Would you like a massage?” in a high pitched tone and the word “massage” sung with very long second syllable’s “aaa” becoming higher and higher in tone before they finally end the melody with the last consonant and release the word into the ether like launching a rocket – is a sentence you will hear a dozen times during one day. “Would you like a coconut?”, dozen times. “Would you like to buy pearls and jewelry?”, half a dozen times. And some other sentences uttered by different local sellers aimed at you while you are trying to relax in this piece of paradise and disconnect from anything involving consumer society which is consuming people’s souls. After a while, you find your own way to cope with this problem of being a tourist under the siege of local sellers. Mine was the constant usage of headphones and just shrugging shoulders with a smile on my face and a facial expression which can be read as “Sorry, I can’t hear you”. They smiled back at me whenever I did that. Or you just buy whatever they are selling, and buy it fast. But, beware, if you purchase something from one seller, the other seller may approach you in a child-like offended way: “You purchased something from him/her, and you haven’t purchased anything from me”, and you can feel in their tone of voice and see it in their eyes that they really thought it was not fair and that they were hurt! And then, they display again what they have to offer and even though you are in disbelief that this person feels offended and you know you shouldn’t feel guilty, somehow this feeling of guilt inserts into your heart for a little while and you find yourself buying another small thing from the offended seller. And it goes on and on and on…
After five days on this island, and my first diving experience ever, which is why Gili Meno has a really special meaning for me, we moved to a next Gili island, where my diving school’s headquarters were. My diving instructor greatly influenced this decision to visit Gili Air by describing it to us, so we did it. We arrived in the late afternoon (a mistake) and it was difficult to find cheap and nice accommodation at dusk. With heavy rolling suitcases and no accommodation we walked on the sandy roads for more than one hour. I mean, we would have rented a carriage with a horse, it would have been worth it, but to take us where? We do not have accommodation and we have to walk and ask around in order to find one. Eventually, we found a nice accommodation, but in a mid-price range. And our promise to ourselves that on our next trip we will pack light and have only backpacks at this point became as firm as diamond.
On this island, you will see signs for magic mushroom drinks everywhere. We came to the Gilis from Bali. In Bali, any kind of drug abuse is very severely punished, and there is a lot of fake drugs selling going on, that the police is actually aware of (we spoke to one policeman about it). Drugs are very much illegal in Indonesia. You can get arrested for smoking marijuana and spend years in jail. In Gili Air, however, you see magic mushroom shake signs everywhere, and if you do not have background knowledge about this place, off course you think they were hoax, too. I was so convinced they were hoax that I do not have a single photograph of any of those signs, and I take a lot of pictures. A few years after we returned from Indonesia was that we found out that the Gili Islands are the mecca for magic mushrooms, and they are the only place in the world where mushrooms are so-to-speak legal. I heard that some wording in the law makes it ambiguous whether they are legal or not since they grow freely in nature – how can you make nature illegal? If you are a fan of a stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, one of his stories will pop up in your mind right now. Anyhow, Bill would have been happy to hear that based on that very argument, these mushrooms are actually not illegal in the Gilis. I wonder how this relates to the fact that there is absolute absence of police in the Gilis, therefore no real conflict of interest.
Beaches of Gili Air are not as paradise-looking as beaches of Gili Meno. There is a dramatic tide and rise in the Gilis, and whereas it does not affect too much the beauty of the beaches in Gili Meno, it hugely impacts the looks and accessibility of beaches in Gili Air. On the other hand, there are more cafes, more restaurants, and some parties even, with fewer number of local sellers harassing tourists of all three islands. And there are magic mushrooms. Gili Air is in night life, partying kind of way somewhere in between Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. You can have parties if you want them, but you can also find total peace if that is what you are up for. But, you will miss the paradise look of Gili Meno during the day.
Which is the most venomous snake in the world?
And, to go back to the subtitle of this story: on the day we left the Gilis, while waiting for our speed boat to arrive and take us back to Bali, we saw and heard some turmoil in the sea by the boats in the marina, and soon we realized it was because of a sea snake swimming near the boats. We now see the usual picture, a local is using a stick to point the animal away, without hurting the animal. They respect animals so much in Indonesia. I have not witnessed that much respect for animals anywhere I have traveled to the day. I approached the closest I felt safe to the spot without any knowledge about the snake and how dangerous it was, and took a few photos of it.When I arrived back home, one of my hometown friends who saw my photo album online said she watched a documentary a few days before and the snake I took a photo of in Indonesia was the most venomous snake in the world and she couldn’t believe I took a photo of it, and was all excited for me! I smiled. Obviously, I did not quite believe her, so I did not do a research on it.
A few years later, I saw again my photo album from Indonesia and the photo of the snake sparkled my interest to find out which one it was. And it was Belcher’s sea snake, or faint-banded sea krait. And I started reading about it, and reading about the researches that have been done on snakes, and the opinions which was the most venomous snake in the world.
Some say, Belcher’s sea snake is the most venomous snake in the world, some say it is inland taipan, which lives in Australasia. But, the fact is, there are no comparable research methods done on the poisons of these two snakes. We only know what intramuscular LD50 (lethal dose that would kill half of the sample population of a specific test animal, performed intramuscularly in this case) for Belcher’s sea snake’s venom is, and that is the method of research that has never been done on inland taipan’s venom. And, according to the intramuscular test result, one drop of Belcher’s sea snake’s venom can kill 1,800 people, when taken intramuscularly. On the other hand, one bite of inland taipan can kill more than 100 full grown men. But, since there is no data on how many people would have been killed by inland taipan’s venom taken intramusculary, the results are incomparable. Even though the number of 1,800 people confuses your brain in many different ways.
Belcher’s sea snake is so timid and good-natured and it bites people only when seriously provoked, and even when it does bite them, it releases the venom only in 25% of cases. Inland taipan is another relatively placid snake, quite shy, lives in remote places and very rarely encounters or bites people. There are no cases that people haven’t survived inland taipan’s bites because of timely first aid and hospitalization.
And, to conclude with a quote: “The concept of deadliness has to include relative personality of the animal itself”. This realization to me is worth more than the fact that I might have actually seen the most venomous snake on planet there, in Gili Air, Indonesia. So, even though I have approached one of the most venomous snakes in the world, I did not risk that much after all, when taking into account both animals’ personalities.