GoPro footage courtesy of Caitlin Doonan and Brent Wingers.
Sarah has become both our financial advisor and our travel agent, which make for strange bedfellows. We were looking in the face of our last vacation in Indonesia, an extended weekend holiday for the Ascensions of Jesus and Mohammed, just days away. Our decision on what to do had become something of a cold war- I wanted to get out of Kelapa Gading and Sarah was advising against it. We have big plans over the next few months, and Sarah’s purse strings were tightening. Brent and Caitlin had already booked for their stay on Gili Air and what a better way to ruin a pre-wedding getaway than to invite a family with two overactive kids. The more I tried to convince Sarah, the more she hesitated, so I resorted to my secret weapon- I sent Caitlin and Brent to sell the idea in the library while Sarah was working. By the end of the day, we had plane tickets and a place to stay.
The Gilis are three small islands (gili means small island in Indonesian) off the northwest coast of Lombok, just east of Bali. Each island has a different offering: Gili Trawangan for the scantily-clad, young party-goers, Gili Meno for a more rustic stay, and Gili Air (pronounced ah-ir, the Indonesian word for water), a happy medium. Getting to the Gilis takes a bit more thought than some of the larger islands. We chose to fly into Lombok’s main city Mataram, travel a couple hours north to Senggigi Beach, then take the ferry over to Gili Air the next morning. We arrived in Mataram after dark on the Wednesday, rode directly to a McDonald’s, than onward to our Lombok hotel, the Kebun Resort. Originally we considered it a quick stopover, but the pools and restaurant were nice enough to keep us there for a leisurely morning before an hour by car to the dock and then a ten minute ferry over the crystal, tropical waters to Gili Air.
For the culturally-inspired tourist, Indonesia is boundless with possibility, but every once in a while its nice to have a vacation with little obligation. The bliss of the Gili Islands is in their detachment. No temples, no dances and no thoughts on appropriate dress, Gili Air is simply the beach, a retreat which we unexpectedly appreciated on this vacation. There are no paved roads and four-wheeled vehicles are prohibited. Public transport is by delman– the traditional horse drawn cart, but the tiny island is very accessible by foot or rented bicycle. Most traveler’s needs are concentrated on the southern and eastern coasts of the island, from, say, Mowie’s Bar and Bungalows on the southwest to Star Bar and Bungalows on the northeast. We stayed at 7seas Cottages, rustically ideal, 1 bedroom and roofless bathroom with a bamboo pipe out of the wall for a shower. It was all we needed and spent little time there. We immediately rented bikes for our stay, and soon one of Cian’s favorite pastimes was riding back and forth on the road in front of wherever we had placed ourselves.
A small walk from our cottage was a place to also rent clear kayaks, something Sarah had coveted in expensive outfitter catalogs back in the States, so naturally it was one of our first activities. Like an aquatic version of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet (Lynda Carter style), we skimmed across the beautiful, blue waters to view the coral reef underneath us. It was a novel experience but limited compared to snorkelling or scuba diving. The kids enjoyed laying face down in the boats, watching the creatures below. Once the combination of boat rocking and the sight of sloshing water through the canoe had caused a bout of sea sickness and pulled Sarah to shore a bit early, I was satisfied that the $12 dollar rental saved me thousands of dollars of having to buy one in the future.
Our experience in Gili was the perfect combination of productive and unwinding; we accomplished a number of activities without feeling worn out. We lazed in seaside restaurant cabanas, giving the kids beach time and the adults a chance to relax with some fresh seafood and a cold beer. There were a number of different choices, each with a nice piece of uncrowded shore for the occasional cool-off dip or to throw one of the kids into a wave. Brent and Caitlin didn’t just tolerate Cian and Áine, they embraced the “vacation with kids” 150%, and kids are perceptive enough to know the difference. Life is good.
After their introduction to the underwater world of snorkelling off the shore in Amed, the kids were eager for more. Our lofty intentions of scuba diving this vacation had succumbed to the laid-back ambiance of the beach, so we chose instead to step up our snorkelling and see some of the better sections of reef by renting a boat. We combined this with a stopover lunch on the next island, Gili Meno. Very similar but more expansive than Amed’s snorkelling conditions, our first reef was full of fish and a variety of corals. Cian and Áine did an impressive job navigating the choppy waves far from shore and pointing out some of the more unusual reef residents. The reef on the second stop was beautifully scenic as we floated along the drop-off’s edge. The kids stayed on the boat this time with the driver, but got tumbled around in the fierce rocking, so we climbed back aboard and headed to Gili Meno for lunch, where the kids quickly made friends with the local youngsters swimming between the moored boats. The section of Gili Meno we visited was like a lesser developed version of Gili Air, quieter and more spartan. It was a fine way to spend the day.
We ended our Gili Air days and began our evenings at Mowie’s, famous for their vibrant sunsets and only a short bike ride away from our cottage. “Time to go to Mowie’s” was something all of us enjoyed hearing. Beanbags in the sand, fantastic meal choices (terrific French fries), tidal pools to explore, and swaths of beach for frisbee all made for the perfect afternoon. As the sun dropped, the silhouette of Bali’s mystical Gunung Agung would appear briefly in the distance, connecting us for a moment to the rest of Indonesia. There we were, relaxing on a small island just off another island in exotic, tropical waters, sitting back with good food, good drink and good friends. Upon our return to Jakarta, we faced the daunting tasks of closing up shop at school, packing our apartment, preparing ourselves for a summer in America and then a move to a new part of the world. Gili Air was a welcome last breath before our next plunge.