Tag Archives: Indonesia

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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First time snorkelling

Yesterday, I kicked off my Top 31 Destinations in Time list with my 1994 solo trip to Bali. Which got me digging in the diaries. So expect a new category and a few Dear Diary moments over the next little while, in fulfilment of New Year Travel Resolution #5. It’s the first time they’ve seen the light of day in 16 years and I’m a bit of a travel ingenue in them, as shown by my first ever snorkel…

5th June 1994, Lombok, Indonesia:

Did the most AMAZING thing today – snorkelling. Heidi, A German guest [at Pondok Santai, near Senggigi in Lombok], wanted to offload some stuff so she gave me an excellent snorkel mask. I borrowed the tube bit from Pearl and started paddling out – after spitting in my mask and rubbing saliva into the visor, of course.

With the snorkel on, the view above water, was hazy but as soon as I put my head down, it was incredible. The sharpness and clarity of life below the waves. I followed Doug and Julie out over the reef, about 75m from shore, and suddenly it was like swimming in a vast fish tank.

There were hundreds of fish – none of which I could name – fluorescent blue, flurorescent green, bright yellow, black stripes, black spots, fat fish, thin fish, small medium and very occasionally arm’s length-sized fish. There were puffer fish, angel fish the size of your hand, trigger fish, fish with long pointed noses. No sea snakes or tiger sharks today though, but there were regular stingers – tiny little painful stings, that Doug later told me were sea mites, or bits of broken-off jellyfish, who knows.

The coral, though mostly reddy-brown, threw up the occasional bright green clump or a vivid blue-edged one, or soft wavy coral blowing in the water currents. It’s really hard to describe things with no names!

After an hour, we were nearly past the headland so we started to head back in – which was a hell of a lot more difficult than the float out there. Suddenly all the front crawl in the world was ineffective. I was going nowhere.

Only the occasional incoming waves helped shunt me on my way. I was breathing heavily through the snorkel and trying not to panic. The tide was going out and with the water levels very low, the reef was a lot closer to the surface. I didn’t dare swim a stroke for fear of scraping across the poisonous coral and cutting myself.

I tried to look for depressions to swim over, but in between waves, the water sunk to inches above the reef.

It was a huge relief to find the deep, wide boat channel – a clear underwater road back in to shore. I was disoriented and dizzy with the exertion and over-breathing. But also completely exhilarated. I can’t wait to go out again and watch fish television.

31 Destinations in Time #1: Bali, 1994

Bali 94 photo on a diary

My diary and a photo of me in Bali 1994

Being an irrepressible listmaker, I can’t resist people’s personal lists of recommendations – from 31 Songs by Nick Hornby, to High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, to things beyond Nick Hornby.

Ages ago, I remember getting all inspired reading Tom Lennon’s ‘Top 20 Albums of the Decade‘ but I decided that my top 20 would have to be a list of destinations, and maybe it would be a top 30 since I’m still not done. And maybe it should be 31 in honour of Nicky Boy.

Anyway, in no particular order, and occasionally with some diary entries from back in the day, here are My Top 31 Destinations In Time, starting with…

1. Bali, Indonesia

They say you never forget your first time in Asia – and Bali in the summer of 1994 was mine. This was where I landed after a tearful goodbye to my partner at the airport, a 16-hour flight when I was petrified of flying, inhalers on the plane because I was allergic to my malaria tablets and facing two months of backpacking all on my lonesome. It was like walking onto the movie set of a Seventies disaster island complete with conical volcano, lava flows and earthquake tremors to remind you of how epic this little island is. We were on tidal wave alert several times – which basically involved sleeping in our clothes with our trainers by the bedside, ready to run for the hills. I’d never seen anywhere like it, except maybe in a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road movie. The lush tropical green hurt my eyes and there was aesthetic beauty in everything.

25th May 1994, Kuta, Bali, Day 1

Too many things are different to write them all. A hundred hawkers shoving things at you, opening suitcases of watches in front of you, grabbing your hair, your arm, your bum… Can’t find the roads because they look like back alleys and nearly as narrow. Being called bimbo, la-la, plenty hair girl, red hair girl and other terms not for public consumption. Being asked if I want hash, marijuana, a man! My hair braided, skirt swapped for sarong, sitting watching a pinky blue sunset over the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean!!! A drink seller, Jos, comes to practice his English on me, where am I from, how long here, am I married? It’s rude to say No, so I say Not yet. Covered head to foot so I don’t get bitten by a mosquito; everyone else is in tiny beach gear. I stand out like a sore thumb. Maniac mopeds buzzing up and down tiny alleys. Gagging on disgusting gado-gado. Real true MUTTS, sleeping, strolling, licking themselves, scratching, mangy, hairless, wary. It’s 8.30pm in Bali, I’ve been up 29 hours, I feel very very alone.

Kuta, Bali

Kuta, Bali: © Marufish/Flickr