Gili T – Last days of the year and on the island

Hangover. Major hangover. The local vodka we had last night was either too impure or too plenty, or both. It’s the first day of the new year and our last day on Gili Trawangan. Today’s activities are kept to a minimum, we need to eat and Outi wanted to do some tanning on the beach. And since we’re leaving early in the morning on the 2nd, we need to make all preparations today. But that’s already more than our (or especially Fredrik’s) physical condition allows.

This year’s NYE naturally differed quite a lot from what we’re used to. Not only because it wasn’t -15 degrees, snow and dark, but also because we had a really busy day. We started off at 8:30 in the morning by going to the diving school to rent a camera with waterproof casing for two days. The original plan, as we might have mentioned, was for Outi to buy a pocket camera and casing in Bangkok. But as we all know, we ended up buying some suits instead, which lead to no waterproof casing, which lead to drenched SLR camera… With a (crappy) camera again, we had to make the most of these two days to get as many pictures as possible from the island. We also got to keep it overnight, meaning that we could get pictures from NYE as well. Great success.

A turtle surfacing for some air.

A turtle surfacing for some air.

We had also signed up for the early morning “fun dive” at the dive school, and that was up next. This dive was our first as graduated Open Water Divers, so we were a bit nervous about it. Most of the diving schools on Gili T arrange fun dives, which essentially are regular dives with a group of certified divers guided by a local dive master. We headed out to a place north of Gili Trawangan called Shark Point in hope of seeing some sharks and maybe stingrays. The weather was perfect and visibility great. The only problem was the strong current that made it difficult to stay in place and made us consume more air than usual. But still, the dive was great and we got some wicked underwater pictures, although it was really difficult to shoot 18m under the surface where it was too dark for the pocket camera. We saw more turtles, some lobsters, a cuttlefish, lots of bumphead parrotfish, and all of the usual suspects like angelfish, clownfish, needlefish and so on. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any sharks, but another group diving at the same time had seen both a white tip shark and a black tip shark!

Fish. They're everywhere!

Fish. They're everywhere!

Excited about the underwater pictures, we headed straight from the fun dive to one of the many snorkeling gear rental booths along the main road and went directly into the sea again. Jon and Christy had mentioned a good snorkeling spot northeast of the island that we decided to check out. We’re not sure if we ever got there, but the snorkeling was fun anyway, although the only really exciting animal we saw was an octopus.

The coral reefs around the Gili islands have suffered a lot due to dynamite fishing, but a handful of organizations are trying to regenerate the coral reefs using “biorocks“, steel structures with a weak electrical current making limestone and corals stick to the structure. It was quite amazing to see new corals grow on these steel cages and notice how much wildlife they attract. The places with the most diverse population of fish during our snorkeling trip were the biorocks we saw.

Did we say it was hot?

Did we say it was hot?

Next up, we decided to explore the inner parts of the island and specifically hike up to the top of the Gili T mountain. The back streets of the town give a completely different impression of the island than the more or less flashy main street. While tourists sleep comfortably in luxurious villas and bungalows, the natives live in old, shabby sheds with trash in every corner (it seems as if each family has it’s own personal dump site in the back yard). For us the houses seem really primitive, but on the other hand, there’s no reason for triple glazing and insulated walls when the temperature never goes below 25°.

We asked around to find the foot of the stairs leading up to the island’s summit. Although the peak isn’t higher than maybe 50 meters, the heat and humidity make it tedious to reach, despite the concrete stairs all the way up. The sweat is running down our faces and forms droplets on our shoulders, and we have to drink more water than usual. Finally there, the view was quite spectacular. You could see the two other Gili islands and the hills of Lombok on one side, and Bali in the distance on the other side. Other than that, it’s just ocean as far as you can see.

We had agreed to meet up with Jon and Christy in the evening to celebrate NYE together, but before that it was time for dinner at one of the better restaurants, Scallywags. Most of the restaurants along the more posh part of the main road have a seafood grill with a delicious selection of fresh fish and other seafood neatly lined up on a bed of ice. You choose the pieces you want and they throw them on the grill while you attack the salad buffet. The concept is a nice combination of eat-all-you-want and top class seafood à la carte. And the tables are of course placed on the restaurant’s own little strip of the beach, between the main road and the sea.

Seafood grill with salad buffet.

Seafood grill with salad buffet.

We had planned to eat lobster this evening, as both of us were curious about how it tastes and since lobster is relatively cheap here. When returning from the summit hike, we went to the only ATM on the island to withdraw cash for the evening and for the remaining time on the Gilis. The ATM only works with Visa, which made Fredrik our cash cow for the Gili T visit, since Outi only has a MasterCard. As it turned out, however, we had spent much more money on this trip than anticipated, so Fredrik’s Visa card had reached its limit, forcing us to live on a minimal amount of cash until we get back to Bali. Hence, the lobster was spared and we went for tuna and red snapper instead.

NYE in the sea.

NYE in the sea.

Quite soon after we met up with Jon and Christy in the Irish pub where we first met on Christmas Day, we decided to abandon the ridiculously sweaty and loud beach bar and instead buy or own cocktail ingredients and head for the beach. It was probably the best thing we ever could have done, although we had to carefully count our money to have enough for two-three bottles of vodka and some juices and soft drinks. By 23:40 we had all plunged into the sea in only our underwear with a mango cocktail in our hands. Although the nights are usually pitch black, the full moon lit up the sea in a nice bluish color. At 00:00 several restaurants and hotels on the island fired off their fireworks, which were all visible from our point of view in the sea. This was probably the most odd NYE in our lives, having mango cocktails in our underwear in the moonlit sea. The night went on with more cocktails, a couple of underwear runs through the crowds on the main street to get more vodka, a game of truth or dare, more cocktails, more bathing and more laughing.

No one is laughing today, though. Don’t know what the vodka was made of, but it sure gives you a hell of a hangover. Let’s hope it settles until the the morning when we have to go by boat and bus and boat and bus back to Bali and Ubud…

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