31 Destinations in Time #5: Gili Trawangan, Lombok, 1994


Gili Trawangan

Photo: Jos Dielis on Flickr

The journey to the Gili Islands begins with a wait of up to several hours in a beach restaurant on the larger island of Lombok. When the boat is full, there is a shout and up to 18 people head for the water’s edge, fighting the waves to climb onto the wood fishing boat with two stabilising wings. Then it is all sparkling seas, flying fish, lurching waves and getting doused in spray for around 40 minutes, before skimming across the dark blue line into a shallow coral-rich fringe of aquamarine.

Gili Trawangan is an island off an island, which has that dropout from a dropout feel, or it did in 1994. Behind the tree-lined beach, the musical talent here is remarkable, the guitar skills honed in the many hours to kill between guest house or restaurant chores, and played by island men with the longest hair you’ll ever see on a man, some with a frangipani flower tucked behind their ear. Cat Stevens, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton – lead guitar, rhythm guitar, pop songs, local songs, mashups, reggae – obviously.

Meanwhile, the catchphrases were all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, despite it being an island of predominantly Sasak Muslims – ‘No woman no cry, no mushroom no fly’ and ‘Long hair, long life, long dick’. It seemed Trawangan was where Indonesians went to drop out, too.

I went for three days in the summer of 1994 and stayed for five weeks, enamoured of the gentle hippyish and musical lifestyle. It was that kind of place.

There was only enough recorded music on the island for one night’s party, so every night, the same music played, either at Rudy’s or at Paradise. Led Zep, Rolling Stones, Arrested Development, Men At Work, House of Pain, Bob Marley, Ace of Base, Haddaway, Lenny Kravitz – 15 years later I still remember the tracklist because of the sheer repetition of it. The music stopped when the generator went off and then the oil lamps and the guitars would come out. I have never seen the sunrise so often as on that island.

Gili Trawangan was where I picked up the guitar for the first time and the friends I made there inspired me to carry on when I got home. It was thanks to them that I bought my first guitar at the age of 28 and that I ended up doing a pop music degree at the age of 35.

No place before or after on my travels affected me so strongly. I remember one day looking in the tiny, broken bit of rusted mirror in my hut and seeing a different, much happier person looking back. Gili Trawangan actually altered the shape of my face.

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5 responses to “31 Destinations in Time #5: Gili Trawangan, Lombok, 1994

  1. Pingback: 31 Destinations in Time #5: Gili Trawangan, Lombok, 1994 « Tourist Vs Traveller | Go Blog AdiWarta

  2. I LOVE this! I too was there in 1994 (October). This story brings back memories, and sounds oh so familiar… Thank you SO much!
    Caro

  3. I did go back in 1998 and 2002 – but the times were changing and the island too. Still loved it though. Did you ever go back?

  4. Louise Gottardo

    Fiona, I found your blog by lucky accident after watching a doco about the anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami. Got me thinking about my island-hopping days, including a couple of months in Indonesia in 1994.

    I broke out in a big grin when I saw your name and photo, and an even bigger one when I read your article on Gili T. I met you at the magical Losmen Santai at Mangset Beach on Lombok. We hung out with a motley crew that included Doug and Julie, Rebecca, Nancy. Time spent beach-combing while looking across to Bali’s Gunung Batur, sunsets, communal dinners and inspired rowdy conversations. Chocolate pancakes. Listening to the receding tide at night and holding my breath for a tsunami alert. I think we made the trip together across to Gili T, where you, I and Rebecca shared a bungalow. I only lasted one night (dim dim memories of a wild party) before continuing island hopping my way back to Australia.

    Special times, special place, special people. You were quiet at first but quickly became more talkative, so much fun to be around. At the time I wrote in my sketchy journal that I was particularly sad to say bye to you and that I hoped you continued to enjoy yourself. Looks like you’ve managed that exceptionally well!
    With very fond memories,
    Louise xx

    • Hi Louise!
      Yes, of course I remember you, and Doug and Julie and Nancy. Rebecca – the name rings a bell – was she from Hawaii? It was such a watershed trip. Great to hear from you. I’ll send you an email!
      Fiona x