Monday, 10 September 2012

Gili Air: Our first home-away-from-home

Gili Air (pronounced Gilly Aye-Er) very quickly charmed the flip-flops off us both and we were soon in no rush to leave. It was so lovely, after all the preparations for the wedding and travels and the busy first few weeks of the honeymoon, to find somewhere so chilled where we could just sit still together for a while. We experienced that common traveller phenomenon of planning to visit somewhere for 4-5 days and ending up staying a whole lot longer... a month by the time we left! We just couldn't think of anywhere else we'd have been happier at that point.

A lot of it had to do with the home-away-from-home we discovered at Bintang Beach Bungalows (BBB). It was perfect for us; really great staff who made us very welcome and a good atmosphere with the other guests. We'd play cards, read, listen to music, chat and generally watch the world go by.

Dave contemplating life, the universe & everything
Two of the many lovely people we met were a couple of girls who'd been on the island for a few months and had ended up doing some work at BBB. Nadine and Kim were really helpful, giving us tips about things like cheap places to eat and good swimming spots. They also lent us their external hard drive so we copied a bunch of music and movies – really handy on quiet nights when you just fancied flopping in front of a film or wanted to play some tunes in the bar.

We did have a nasty shock during our first couple of days. Andi, the manager of the bungalows who had greeted us on our first day, tragically died in a motorbike crash on Lombok. Dave and I had been on a little exploration of the island and came back to the bungalows one afternoon to find a very sombre group of people sharing a drink, and we were told of the accident. Later that night we joined the staff and Nadine and Kim for a small 'wake' in Andi's honour. We knew him for all of about 48 hours, but the love that the others felt for him was palpable and it was clear that he was a great guy who would be really missed. He was 34. R.I.P. Andi.

Deep breath. Anyway...

Our bungalow was about a 30 second walk to the beach and Bintang's bar/restaurant, where there were little open huts called berugak and bamboo furniture and cushions set up on the sand. We spent a lot of time sitting up at the bar chatting to the guys who worked there, Ali and Adi – who seemed to be on duty every hour of the day, with Ali even sleeping at night behind the bar! We'd have our breakfast there every morning – usually the classic banana pancakes (spelled 'pencaks' on the menu - now all they'll ever be called by us!) and tall glasses of muddy Lombok coffee. Always that gamble of 'can I get one last sip without getting a mouthful of grounds?'

Ali & Adi
There wasn't any WiFi access at BBB, but it was available in some of the bars around the island, even if it was a little unreliable. There would also be regular power cuts, as the island runs off of its own generators that go down pretty regularly. At one point we were having 2-3 blackouts a day, which was a bit of a pain when the fan in our room or the speakers in the bar cut out.

There was a laundry service (or 'lundry' as the sign read.. another term we've adopted) and we treated ourselves to our first machine wash since being away. Oh the delight of simple things like clean clothes – really clean, not just done with shower gel in the basin! On this subject, I had to hold my hands up to Dave and congratulate him for the excellent forethought that led to his purchase of a travel plug before we left the UK. It's something I didn't really see the point of, but weirdly nowhere has plugs for their plugholes and how else were we supposed to wash our smalls?? 

We were also very pleased to have bought other 'travel essentials' like cotton sleeping bags (just in case of bedbugs), torches (the pathways on Gili Air weren't lit), padlocks (the only way to lock the door of our bungalow), and the wire mesh backpack cage (just to keep things like our laptop and passports extra safe in our room while we were out and about).

Another novelty was the open-air shower in our bungalow. I was unsure at first about it being outside, and about the cold water too, but it was perfect after a day on the beach, even if it wasn't always too relaxing dodging the bees that were somehow fascinated with the running water.

BBB did really good food (both local and Western) and we settled into a routine of eating breakfast and then a decent meal in the late afternoon, with maybe a fruit salad around midday. That saw us through no problem, but it's not like we were burning much energy sitting on the beach all day! Elsewhere on the island you could eat a good bowl of nasi campur (rice and yummy stuff) for about £1 in the warungs slightly inland but the island speciality was delicious fresh fish BBQs – restaurants would display the day's catch out front and you could choose your fish, which would then be cooked fresh for you over coconut shells. YUM!

There was a big dance party at a bar called Space on our first Saturday on the island, where they had some international DJs come over to play. Dave and I went along with Ali once he'd finished work and had a few beers and a dance in the sand. They'd set up a stage and loads of UV decorations and black lights, plus people doing fire shows. The music was 'psytrance', which isn't exactly our genre of choice, but it was good fun and my first ever beach party! (How had it taken me 30 years??)

We had our own beach party at BBB one night too. Nadine and Kim were leaving for Australia, so they threw a big farewell send off. There was a bonfire on the beach and the locals they had gotten to know over their months on the island cooked up a fantastic feast of grilled fish, water spinach, rice, tempe, and a delicious spicy sauce. We drank far too much 'home brew' rice wine (called 'brum', preferably said as a kind of car noise) being passed around and plenty of good music for dancing.

Dave enjoys the local brew
James, Laura & Ali
 We felt like we'd settled in and found a good bunch of people to spend time with... and those people were the main reason why Gili Air will always have a special place in our hearts.

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