November 22, 2014

Travelogue: Gili Meno

October 27, 2014

Perhaps I was already predisposed to disliking Gili Meno, but the island hasn’t left the best first impression.

Predisposed, because getting here was a miserable ordeal; after a fifteen minute boat ride and three hour drive from Gili Asahan, we arrived in what is quite possibly the worst place on earth — the port of Bangsal. There we were, through the co-conspiracy of our driver and dozens of shady characters at the port, extorted and held semi-hostage until we had paid an exorbitant fee to get access to a boat heading to Gili Meno. I left the port feeling threatened, frustrated, extorted, much lighter in the wallet, and already despising this leg of the trip.

A word of advice for anyone reading this: avoid Bangsal. Stay in Gili Asahan, for it is hard to leave paradise and be thrust into what believe hell to be.

I will admit that the island of Gili Meno is quite beautiful, and that our resort compound is picturesque. Even the horse-drawn cidomo ride (no motorized vehicles on the island) from the harbor to the resort was cute and quaint, if not over-priced. The people are friendly (The Swedes and Germans that operate this place are a hoot!) and the water in the sea is crystal blue and all kinds of warm. The panang curry we had for lunch was a standout meal.

Perhaps I will warm up to this place soon, but for now I am still sore about our journey to get here.

To add insult to injury (or perhaps, in this case, injury to insult), the coral on the local beach is overwhelming. Three times today — in a span of ten minutes — I have cut my feet, the last one tearing out the nail on my right little toe and causing a bit of a bloody mess. Ten minutes is perhaps all the time I will spend in the water on this particular stretch of beach; I dare not risk my fragile toes and feet to its teeth again.

At this point, I will try to stop complaining. I will endeavor to restore cheer to my day that has been, until now, frustratingly maddening.

Hopefully our beachside stroll around the island to our dinner spot will save the day.

October 28, 2014

The island is growing on me. For all its faults, the water is a mesmerizing shade of blue, the sand (where not besieged by coral) is white and powdery, the people are helpful and cheerful, and the food is consistently delicious. Sure, a cat kept jumping up on our table last night at dinner and left deep scratches on Lise’s back, and sure my toe looks horrendous and stings every time I take a step and I feel it may be infected, but all in all, the charms of Gili Meno are catching up to me.

Apart from the cat scratches, dinner at the Sasak Cafe was memorable. The twenty-minute walk along the beach on the mostly-quiet west coast of the island offered some spectacular views of the sunset over the neighboring island, Gili Trawangan. Dinner itself was on tables on the beach in the darkening sky; Lise picked out a large fish from their super-fresh tray of daily-caught seafood, and they grilled it superbly.

About halfway through the meal, we saw a fireball erupt in the water not too far away. Once the initial burst of flame had subsided, we could see that a boat engine had exploded. The boat, which was quickly abandoned, drifted toward us and came to rest on the reef just outside the restaurant. The staff put out the flames, and everything resumed a sense of normalcy, after that.

(We learned today, from our snorkel guide, that one of the people who had jumped into the rough, nighttime waters from the fiery boat had still not yet been found. The tragedy of this still sits heavy in my mind.)

Our morning walk today took us along the beach on the eastern shore, a much more developed (yet still remarkably quiet) part of the island than last night’s stroll. After doing a bit of exploring, we found a nice little spot of white sand and clear blue sea where we set up shop for a bit of swimming, a bit of sunbathing, and drinking coconut water from a coconut that a local woman cut open right in front of us. (There was more juice in that coconut than you’d normally find in a large carton of coconut water you’d by at home at five times the price.)

After ten days of eating mostly southeast Asian food (so much rice!) our lunch at the Karma Reef was a welcome change. I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed cheese. If you do ever dine there, make sure you order the grilled octopus; I have eaten octopus (my favorite type of seafood) in dozens of restaurants all over the world, and very rarely have I come across the creature cooked as tenderly and perfectly as it was at The Karma Reef. I felt like standing up to applaud the chef.

I didn’t stay to applaud the chef because it was time for our snorkel trip. We boarded the glass-bottomed boat, appropriately named the Why Not?”, and took off on a 2.5-hour tour of the coral reefs around the Gilis. I lasted less than an hour before my stomach started turning — perhaps hopping on a boat in choppy seas so soon after lunch wasn’t quite agreeing with me — so as soon as we approached a stretch of the island that looked familiar, I hopped off the boat and swam back to shore.

An eventful day so far, and a pleasant one at that; it is easy to see why I am warming up to Gili Meno. But the real reason why I am starting to like this island so much is simple: because Lise is so happy here, and seeing her smiling and excited is the best way to lift my spirits.

This was most obvious when she returned from the snorkeling trip, giddy with excitement. She told me, enthusiastically, of seeing giant clams, moray eels, lionfish, and even sea creatures that looked exactly like a Christmas tree. (Note to self: buy a Christmas tree for the house when we get home next week.) Most excitedly, however, she told me of her lengthy time swimming with turtles, just an arm’s length away.

The smile on her face is illuminating. When an island can make the woman I love so very happy, it is easy for me to fall in love with the island.

Tonight, we go for a sundowner at a small tiki bar on a beach along the west coast; after the sunsets, a candle-lit dinner at a much-lauded resort. And then, tomorrow, we head back across the sea, by boat, to Bali.

Check out more notes from my various travels.

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