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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Indonesia ↣ Part 1

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

China ↣ Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

We weren’t supposed to be in Gili Trawangan. There I was, getting the best (Balinese) massage of my life, happily gorging on exotic smoothie bowls and diving colorful reefs - but we weren’t supposed to be there.

Have You Ever Fallen In Love With A Place You Hadn’t Been To Yet?

When I headed to Asia last year to scuba dive and explore places so unique to me, two countries in particular topped my list. The Philippines was first - for the diving of course! I am so lucky to have had three incredible trips there. On those trips I found the best diving I’ve experienced to this day, absolutely stunning landscapes and sincerely warm locals.

The second place on my bucket list was Indonesia. The archipelago of 17,000 + islands seemed so exotic to me, and I was drawn to the region’s continuous activity. Indonesia is so alive, dozens of volcanos smoking along its powerful landscapes and thriving, mystical jungles ripe for exploration. It seemed like the place to witness what our planet has been doing all these millennia: creation itself, and such an abundance of life still flourishing. From the rich volcanic soil grows luscious fruits I was eager to sample - I imagined my eyes growing wide at such unique flavors! My mouth watered thinking of the rich coffee growing there, exported beans the only taste I’d been lucky enough to have - now I wanted the real deal! I longed to grab my camera and capture the colors of vibrant flowers, the antics of playful monkeys. And what better way to experience a country than dazzling my palate? Meals prepared with exotic spices I couldn’t begin to imagine awaited me in the Spice Islands. I was fascinated by a country with so many different religions - surely resulting in a variety of unique cultures. And I longed to take in the myriad of dances which are so much a part of Indonesian culture: astonishing costumes, dramatic body paint - and moves I’d never seen!

And of course, the scuba diver in me was uncontrollably giddy with excitement. Thousands of islands lie in the heart of the Coral Triangle, more flora and fauna than I could hope to explore in my lifetime - let alone a few visits. The nutrient rich waters of Indonesia are home to countless animals and plants to be found nowhere else on earth. Even more exciting is the fact that Indonesia is where the Pacific and Indian oceans meet, meaning huge diversity and dramatic topography to behold!

I was head over heels! For my first venture, I knew I needed a month just to get a taste of the country. Yet somehow it felt like only the tip of the iceberg...

Eruption Interruption

Horse on the beach, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

After countless hours plotting the perfect adventure, an eruption interrupted our plans. Our month in Indonesia was to begin in Komodo National Park, where world class diving and indigenous Komodo dragons roamed. Unfortunately, our flight connected in Bali, and all flights were cancelled due to Agung’s volcanic ash blanketing the Balinese skies. It wasn’t the best way to begin an adventure. But we were venturing to islands composed by the famous Pacific Ring of Fire - so really, should it have been that surprising?

Less than 48 hours later, trip insurance claimed and flights rebooked through Lombok, we departed China with an amended plan for the start of our trip. That evening, we touched down in Lombok, spent a night in Sengigi, then caught a local boat the next morning to the idyllic Gili Trawangan. There are three Gili islands off of northwest Lombok - we chose Gili T for its reputable restaurant options (after a few months in China the prospect of variety had my tummy grumbling!) and the abundance of dive spots.

Welcome To Paradise!

Horse drawn carriage, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

On Gili T, horse drawn wagons carry luggage over a dirt road parallel to the sparkling sea. The car free island was a welcome break from scooter engines and honking horns.

Horse drawn carriage, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Our room was an airy wooden bungalow with the first of many stunning bathrooms we’d enjoy during our stay in Indonesia. A sliding door at the back of our room led outside into a mini paradise: earthy wooden floorboards led to double sinks, and two wide shower heads allowed us to rinse beneath a garden of tropical flowers. Surrounding us while we showered was a tranquil lily pond, where I was terrified my shampoo spray would poison the golden fish swimming about.

After an afternoon swim, we grabbed a drink and watched the sun set over Gunung Agung, majestically towering above Bali as we gazed at the horizon. Peaceful now, its eruption paused, the volcano constantly loomed as a reminder that we were in unpredictable Indonesia.

Sarina Seeks on the beach, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Our time in Gili T was filled with delicious meals. We moaned over mouthfuls of perfectly spiced butterfish wrapped in banana leaves. Chilled magenta dragonfruit smoothie bowls seemed too beautiful to eat. My skin glowed from the nutrient packed Indonesian fruit juices we’d grab on snorkeling breaks. In the evenings we tried various restaurants on the beach, as many plates as we could stomach covering our table. We sampled fusion dishes like duck pad Thai and octopus egg rolls, paired with equally exotic cocktails. After indulging, we’d walk back to our part of the island under an impressive canopy of stars. Goats wandered through the dark fields, enjoying peaceful evenings.

Now To Burn Off All Those Indulgences...

boats on the beach, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Let’s not forget about the diving of course - it was fabulous! We swam through plenty of healthy reefs which were patrolled by dozens of white and black tip sharks. Countless turtles glided past, settling upon grassy rocks, one eye trained on me as they enjoyed their morning snack. Giant banana nudibranchs clung to overhangs, their fluorescent squishy bodies catching our attention. Blue spotted stingrays buried themselves on the sandy bottoms, exposing only their eyes and tail tips, reminding us to stay off the ocean floor! Whimsical currents hurried us along, then surprised us with their strength as we tried to pause and take photos.

volcanic sand, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Gili T is tiny - we circumnavigated the island by bike in less than an hour, bumping along the single road under the hot sun. Our snorkels in our baskets, we set out to explore, riding over volcanic sand. The sparkling black was a stark contrast to the bright aqua waves spilling over it. In the distance, Gunung Rinjani loomed and I sparked with excitement at the thought of climbing it just a few days later! We stopped at various points on the island to snorkel, but the currents proved too dangerous without lifevests or fins. We erred on the side of caution, staying closer to the shore.

snorkelling, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

sunset, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

While initially I was saddened to postpone hanging out with Komodo dragons, we really could have done much worse! I thoroughly enjoyed our little getaway in the tropical paradise of Gili Trawangan - it was the perfect retreat before heading on a challenging trek!

Next up: Indonesia ↣ Part 2: Senaru ↣ Mount Rinjani

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