Saturday, 29 September 2012

Boats, karaoke, and the first painful goodbye

So we continued our month-long paradise sojourn. We spent lots of time relaxing at Bintang Beach Bungalows, hanging out with our new Indonesian friends and fellow travellers.

Shout outs to James and Laura from the USA; Felicia from Sweden and Gwen from Holland. Not to mention the guy who looked just like John Locke from Lost – a very weird encounter when you're on a desert island! 

And special mentions for Danny, Tim and Larissa from Germany; the beautiful, classy Marga; and Paul, Paul, Emmanuel and Kerry from the UK. Thank you for the music!

Dave and I thoroughly enjoyed being long-term residents at the bungalows, sitting in our spots at the bar, imparting our hard-earned (?!) knowledge of the island to newcomers like sage locals, and reaping the benefits of being well established customers – such as extra helpings of fruit salad, free chips, and use of the bicycles when we needed to do a run to the shops.

Speaking of bikes, one of our favourite and most amusing novelties on the island were the ice cream vendors who, since there's no motorised transport on the Gilis, cycle round with an coolbox strapped to the front of their bikes and a loudspeaker playing out the jingle announcing their approach. So funny!

Danny, Tim and Larissa were lovely and quickly became firm friends and partners for sharing music and playing hours and hours of cards. Our 'Shit Head' tournaments (Becky: UK, Dave: Australia, Danny: Germany, and Ali: Indonesia) were fiercely fought battles for international supremacy. Shame we didn't keep score.

Dave, me, Danny & Ali
Marga, Emmanuelle & Paul
We also enjoyed the local kitty soap opera. There was a serious love square going on, which was very entertaining... Sambal the resident cat had a girlfriend (Mrs Sambal) who was being wooed by Marley, the big black cat from Legend, the reggae bar further down the coast. Then there was Mama Cat, who was looking after the last surviving kitten of her litter of four, who we're pretty sure was the first lady in Sambal's life, as the kittens all looked very much like him! She and Mrs Sambal really didn't get on; there were a few stand offs and at least one cat fight. Who needs TV?!

Sambal. It's tough being so in demand!
Mrs Sambal 
Dave and I had a lot of fun messing about on boats when we were on the Gilis, including a couple of day trips.

You can easily do ferry hops between the three islands; Gili Trawangan is the 'party' island, Gili Meno is the really quiet one, and Gili Air is somewhere in between (the Goldilocks island - juuuuuust right). We paid a visit to Gili T for a day, which is bigger and slicker than Air and with a slightly more commercial edge and not quite so laid back. 

You can definitely tell it's the party island – mainly from the groups of very hungover looking teens dragging their flip-flops to a local eatery for a fry-up, and the pretty blatant marketing of hallucinogenic fungi.

It's still very beautiful though and we walked about half way around the coast then cut inland to find somewhere for lunch and looked around the shops before hopping on the late-afternoon ferry back to Gili Air. When we got back it was quite a relief to return to the chilled place we were calling home! And like the pros we are, we made it back just in time for happy hour. As we sat drinking our Bintangs and munching some free popcorn in Blues Corner Cafe bar, looking out at the beach, we saw a kingfisher come down and land on the sand, gobble something down and then fly away. Sadly it was too quick for us to get a picture but take our word for it that it was very pretty and exciting. Not as thrilling as the other wildlife sighting we were soon to be treated to however... the indigenous Indonesian sand digger monster!

A few days later, we decided to venture out on a snorkelling trip and go out on a boat with a group. It was a pretty good bargain at about a fiver each. We were up early and both very excited to get into the crystal clear turquoise waters that we'd heard are so perfect for seeing tropical underwater life. However, the further the boat got away from the shore, and the deeper the water got, the more freaked out I got, until by the time it had anchored and everyone was getting their gear on, I was in full-on panic attack mode! I was just really scared of getting into the deep open water and could hardly move! But Dave calmed me down and as soon as he said "You don't have to go in if you don't want to" I was fine, and stayed very happily on the boat, sunning myself on deck, looking at the reef through the glass bottom and taking photos of Dave in the water. He had three really good dives and saw three turtles, lots of tropical fish and starfish. And I managed to see a turtle through the glass-bottom, so was really pleased with that.

During our last week, we even managed to venture off of the island over-night - quite a wrench! - when Ali took us over to Lombok. Dave and I jumped in an outrigger early one morning and were met by Ali at the harbour in Bangsal. He'd arranged a friend of his to drive us to Senaru in the north of the island where we could visit some waterfalls. We trekked through some lush greenery, sometimes wading through icy cold, fast-running mountain springs, and pretty soon found ourselves sprayed by fresh tumbling water and swimming in freezing cold pools. The perfect antidote to the tropical heat! 

Afterwards we piled, dripping wet, back into the car and drove south to Mataram, where we visited Ali's mother-in-law's warung for something to eat. Ali and his friend ordered a range of local dishes, including fried fish, gado gado and tempe and we all tucked in. We also had the priviledge of meeting Ali's young wife and his 8 month old son Zidane who, like most children, was inexplicably enamoured with Dave and couldn't take his eyes off him! 

After lunch we were back in the car and off to Sengigi where we checked into a small homestay that Ali knew. It was cheap and simple and, most importantly, close to the local karaoke bars. Another friend of Ali's, Daffy, joined us for some early evening drinks, getting-to-know-you-chit-chat and invaluable 'Shit Head' lessons. 

Then it was time for Dave, Ali and I to hit the town, where we soon found a karaoke club we felt lived up to our weekend-rockstar status. Asian karaoke is something else! They seem to take it 100% seriously for one thing - no tongues in cheeks here - and the songs and videos are projected onto a big screen while the microphone's brought to you so you can serenade the audience from the comfort of your big leather sofa.

We watched about an hour of Indonesian 'classics' sung by the locals, with Ali helpfully translating the stories of the songs for us. There was a huge variation of themes: 
  • boy loving girl who didn't love him anymore
  • girl loving boy who didn't love her anymore
  • boy loving girl who still loved him but was marrying someone else
  • girl loving boy who still loved her but was marrying someone else. 
The ones that were most difficult to follow were the ones that didn't seem to have their own music video, so were accompanied by something entirely random. Our favourite of these was the video that was shown alongside a couple of different Indonesian unrequited love songs, in which a man in Canada went prospecting for gold.

Soon it was our turn, and Ali eagerly called over the man in charge of the microphones to ask if we could request some English-language songs. This was no problem and he brought us over slips of paper, telling us to write down what we wanted to sing. Doubtful, we asked if he had a list of the English songs they had. No problem, we were assured, just write what you want. So sticking to our failsafes, I scribbled down 'Son Of A Preacher Man' by Dusty Springfield and Dave chose 'Let's Dance' by David Bowie. Our slips collected, we waited patiently, drank our Bintangs and listened to the wonderful renditions from the locals. Pretty quickly the guy came back, shaking his head 'no', they had neither of these songs. What a shock! So we were ushered up to see the DJ in his booth. After a lot of failed suggestions and confused shaking of the head (Who are these 'Guns N Roses'? 'Pulp' who?) we fell back on two songs there was no way he wouldn't have... Mariah Carey's 'Hero' for me, and Brian Adams' 'Anything I Do I Do It For You' for Dave. And the reception! It was like X-Factor, when you sing a first line of the song and then the audience immediately gives you an encouraging round of applause (or that's what I've been told!) They were all so generous and enthusiastic, we couldn't not reward them with another – thank heavens the DJ had an everyone-knows-it classic so easy to duet: Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' of course! It was such a great night, so much fun!!!

The next day, after a breathtaking drive along the bays of Lombok's north western coast, it was back to Gili Air for our last couple of days. And we were feeling more than a little pouty about it. We spent our time mostly at BBB, hanging out and partying with our friends, and soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the wonderful island we'd come to love so much.

So lucky we had lots exciting adventures ahead of us to look forward to, or I don't think we'd have been able to leave!

Our contribution to Bintang's farewell sunglasses collection

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