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.