Adventure Duo visits the Gili Islands
After our experience in central and northern Bali we decided (based on fellow travelers advice) to spend a week (11/2-11/8) on one of the tiny islands off the northwest coast of the island Lombok, Indonesia. The archipelago of three islands is made up of Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. We choose to stay on Gili Trawangan (often referred to as Gili T) since it offered more activities, accommodations and restaurants due to it being the most visited and larger in size than the other two. Read on to hear about our experience; including becoming scuba dive certified, biking around the island and our top restaurant picks.
Welcome to the Gili Islands
Before departing Ubud we decided to book a fast boat to get to Gili T since the journey was long and it came recommended. We were picked up by the BlueWater Express service van in the early morning, sadly without our hotel breakfast because the manager forgot to tell the kitchen (grrr). Unfortunately the van ride to the boat harbor on an empty stomach caused a little motion sickness. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a warung close by upon arrival and looked around at the busy harbor with loads of travelers anxious to board the 5-motor powered boat. By the time we boarded it was more crowded than anticipated, however the 2 hour ride went fine; with the exception of my nauseous stomach from the rolling waves. We disembarked the boat onto the sand and headed to our hotel after working our way through the crowd of islanders asking us, “you need horse carriage ride? I give you good price.” (Gili T has a strict no motorized vehicles law).We passed on a ride considering the island is only 3 km long by 2 km wide and a good walk would serve our stomachs well.After 15 mins of walking we arrived at the Vamana Resort which was a great place to stay since it was on the northern part of town away from the party-centric hustle and bustle central area. Call us old already, but waking up for sunrise and/or a run beats waking up hungover any day. The Vamana offered snorkel gear for rent and beach front loungers, so naturally we dropped off our bags in our room and made a b-line for the ocean with snorkel gear in hand.
Learning to Scuba Dive
The main highlight for us was getting dive certified for life. Here is Will to tell you about our adventures in the course.
Getting dive certified was something I have had in mind since I was planning for our trip. First it was going to be in Costa Rica, then when that didn’t happen I thought maybe Australia, or maybe we’d just skip it. But, I decided to get dive certified while sitting on the loungers on the beach on Gili T and wanted Jenny to join since there wasn’t a whole lot else to do for a week on a small island. She was nervous about her ears having pain from underwater pressure, so we went to find our more information at the Mango Dive shop that offered the Scuba Schools International (SSI) certification. I found out that we could take an intro class for a day that includes learning the gear basics, diving in the pool and one open water intro dive. I talked Jenny into doing the one-day class to give it a try and if we liked it we would do the full three day course to become certified. I was planning on doing the full course regardless, but had to get Jenny interested. 🙂
Scuba School Day One
We woke early and eager for our days adventure: trying out scuba diving! Breathing underwater and all that. We met our teacher, Nico (from France) upon arrival to Mango Dive. After some quick chit-chat we began with some theory (learning about diving in general) then a session in the pool learning about all the gear and the general idea of diving. It was enough “school” because the next time to practice was in the open ocean! (BTW, scuba is an acronym that stands for: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).
Our first dive started out a little rocky as Jenny had trouble equalizing her ears, but eventually we got down to the targeted depth and started the drift dive. We got to see green turtles, loads of colorful coral, some little shrimp, a variety of fish and an eel! Exciting to say the least. We had a long ways to go in learning buoyancy control techniques but were confident we could do it! We ended the first day with a video “study” session reviewing what we had learned and then off to bed for another day of diving.
Scuba School Day Two
Our second day at Mango we started with pool skills for a long time – about 3 hours! We had a new gal in our group and that made things go a bit slower, but it did give us a chance to practice our skills more. We mostly practiced buoyancy, some mask clearing, and finally a quick lesson on emergency skills.
Next, the fun stuff: gear up for our dive! The new gal struggled a bit, but it’s all good. We were feeling more comfortable with the gear as we attached and tested each component. The dive was better than our first. We saw a lot up close and personal and enjoyed getting used to the routine once in the water. Jenny was excited to have her ear issues sorted out. The long day ended with another round of theory review and videos We left scuba school feeling confident and excited to be able to dive.
Scuba School Day Three – Double Dive Day
The final day at Mango we geared up (learned how to setup and prep all the equipment by ourselves), reviewed book theory, and then loaded the boat for our third dive. This location was ‘Shark Point’ and it lived up to its name! One of the coolest things was spotting a small white tipped reef shark sleeping under a large coral. We drifted in the water with the current and enjoyed the rest of the dive. The amazing underwater life was so facinating to observe. Jenny’s favorite to watch was the clownfish protecting their anemone. They would try and chase us away if we got too close. We were getting hooked on diving!
After a quick lunch break we had our 4th and final dive, then later was the test! Yes, there’s a written test to be able to get your certification. Jenny is a natural test-worrier, and I was doing my best to let her know that if we understand how everything works, we’ll pass the test.
We geared up for our final dive, and while I was a little nervous for the skills test (mainly the mask one), we were well prepared for another successful dive. We backflipped off the boat on the count of three (as usual), put in our regulator and descended to 15 meters for our skills testing. After passing our skills test we were off to check out the wonderful corals and underwater life. We spotted three more reef sharks, eels and loads of colorful fish. We both felt more comfortable with our buoyancy this dive and it was another good time under the sea.
Following the dive we reviewed the theory practice tests and got ready for the real test. We luckily got to work together on the test (got to sit together and share a booklet) and didn’t have any problem passing (with the same score ;)). Yay! Certified divers! We were both proud of eachother and so glad we decided to take the plunge and get dive certified.
That’s all of my portion of this blog post, here’s Jenny to tell you about the rest of our adventures.
Recap of our Gili Adventures
In addition to the diving, here is a recap of the other activities on our week in the Gili Islands…
- Leisurely jogs around the island – A handful of mornings we woke around 5:45am to beat the heat and watch the sunrise as we jogged around the island. The island was a ghost town that early which we enjoyed. It took us just about 45 minutes to jog the 4.3 mile flat trail that circled the island. The footing was tough in the sandy beach spots on the less developed north point of the island, but it made for a good challenge. We were amused when running through the party-centric south end and past a few dazed partiers drinking till the morning light. The best post-jog reward was running into the cool ocean water followed by enjoying the hotel provided beachfront breakfast.
- Watching the sunrise atop the island: Will got up early and headed out on our rented bicycle to peacefully watch the sunrise atop the hill on the south end of the island. The volcano ash cloud took away beautiful sunrise, but he enjoyed it non the less.
- Renting bikes – We rented bikes for two days since they are the fastest way to get around on the island, aside from the sad looking horses. On our first spin we took the bikes around the island and enjoyed the ride until the sandy north side forced us to push them along. Riding was the best way to stay cool with a constant breeze when not in the ocean or in the a/c room. Our favorite bike outing was to happy hour at Gili Teak where we lounged for sunset with live music.
- Snorkeling tour – 3 different spots with a stop for an hour on Gili Air for a fun lunch with a view. Feeding fish after lunch was a highlight.
- Turtle Conservatory – We stopped in the see the little swimmers being cared for by a non-profit organization on the island. The organization makes sure that the population of green turtles flourishes for years and is not threatened by predators. They were by far the cutest thing to see on the island!
- Massages that, yet again, were disappointing, but it was relaxing to be off our feet. We opted for $10 massages at a place that looked to be popular and was right on the water. Turns out the women were unqualified, didn’t have much technique and ended up sitting on top of us. So strange and funny! Our lesson has been learned… we will be paying a decent price for massages in the future. 🙂
Our Top Restaurants
- Pituq Cafe – A funky vegan cafe where we enjoyed lunch and dinner, but would have been best for breakfast due to the array of espresso drinks. Ordered the pumpkin lentil wrap twice since I was craving the fall flavors. It was nice to try a vegan place (even though we’re not vegan) that uses sustainable practices such as reusable bamboo dishes/straws/etc instead of plastic and offers water refills instead of bottled water.
- Pizza Regina – We dined on a pizza dinner that randomly included a fire show. A teenager wowed us as he spun his fire stick around to create cool light patterns. The food could have been better, but thought it was neat to see some live island entertainment as we dined beach front.
- Danima Restaurant – We splurged for the seafood BBQ dinner on the beach by candlelight at Danima on the northeast end of the island. It was by far the best seafood we have had on our trip and the best price keeping our tab under $20 usd.
- Gili Teak – Our favorite place for sunset drinks with live acoustic music. The place has a relaxed vibe with unbeatable views on the west side of the island. We enjoyed a round of cocktails and dined on coconut milk fish and spicy chili-lime-ginger-lemongrass chicken. We probably would have stayed at the resort if we knew about it ahead of time.
- One of our stops along our bike ride around the island was at a tiki bar with individual huts above the shore line. We crawled up a ladder to our hut and enjoyed some gin & tonics as the ocean began to calm for the night. The small bar is part of the Coral Beach 2 Bungalow accommodation on the northeast tip of the island. Well worth the stop!
Selamat tinggal (farewell) Gili Islands
After a week on Gili T diving, swimming, lounging, scubaing and living like an islander we headed east to the large island of Lombok for some more adventure. Stay tuned for our recap of our time on Lombok that includes an active volcano scare, unique diving and our funny fish dining experience.Until then, keep on adventuring!
Jenny & Will