13/11/11 ‘The Innocents Abroad’
Breakfast is all-day at KKM and after a restful sleep, Miss Emma and Big Boss hit the beach side restaurant for the breaking of the fast. This, honestly is the only part in which the venue loses points. I can’t eat eggs. I’m not sure why, but scramble them, poach them, fry them, whatever method you try, my throat closes over and the gag reflex kicks in. Quiche and frittata has the same effect and I’ve never understood why. Naturally enough, eating out cafe style for brekky sees me head straight to the muesli/pancake section. The only non-egg selection at breakfast is the ‘Baker Box’; a croissant, a Danish and a muffin. Brekky fail. Miss Emma, on the other hand, gives the egg white omelette two thumbs up. I go with ‘Lombok Coffee’ with my Baker Box; a delightful sludge as black as the ace of spades that hits you like baseball bat in the back of the head, but requires no sugar whatsoever. Like plunger/press coffee, Lombok coffee grounds settle at the bottom of the cup, so you only need drink three quarters of the cup.
Breakfast done, we decide to take a walk “and explore.” These, as on many another occasion in many a travel experience, are Famous. Last. Words. Our initial plan of action is to start our walk heading west, just to see what’s there. Our walk begins on the developed South-side of the Island. The concrete paved road takes us past a variety of beach-side bars, mixed with local houses; the starkness in the contrast between the tourism investment and the relative squalor of the locals can’t be ignored. Like nearly any developing nation that relies on tourism as its economy, the gap is vast and not about to close any time soon, despite what Harvard Business School texts would have us believe about trickle-down economics.
We haven’t been walking more than 10 minutes than the oppressive heat kicks in. The weather in Gili T seems to follow the same pattern. The mornings are bright; an azure sky above and a bright yellow sun beating down on the islands as the winds remain off-shore. Even the locals are sweating as they go about their daily business. As the afternoon approaches, the skies cloud over, but there is little, if any rain. As night falls, the overcast skies begin to break slowly apart for some of the most spectacular sunsets you might ever have the pleasure of seeing. The only constant during our stay on Gili T is the oppressive humidity – to be expected, given the island’s proximity to the equator. I say this because in our innocence, we began our trek in the hottest part of the day.
Nonetheless… Our path winds through paved ‘road’, the paving disappearing as the tourist developed properties subside. As we reach the most west point of the island; Manta Point – a veritable ghost town. Long deserted villas, shambolic decrepit bars, still inviting all and sundry to ‘sunset drinks’ look frozen in time. Cliched, I know, but apt. This region of the island has me imagining we’ve stumbled on the set of a horror film cast and crew have broken for lunch (Scene: Ext: Day: Establishing master shot with cast members arriving on island where science team are believed missing. Tables and chairs at out door bars are left in place. Villas look disheveled… windows have been knocked out, doors creak and bang on the fluttering breeze.). We’re later informed that this end of the island was, and likely still is, owned by an Arab millionaire who died unexpectedly and possibly in mysterious circumstances. One of the locals, June, tells us that no one else wants his properties, and they can’t be touched.
As we continue, lush and rugged coastline gives way to the odd farm and local lodgings. All are built in the traditional Indonesian island design; thatched roofs, stilts and weaved windows; functionality over style the order of the day. Most of the dwellings have “Private Residence” signs where their fence lines meet the road. As our trek continues, we come across a number of cyclists heading in the opposite direction to us, most looking exhausted, which we put down to the heat of the day. We soon realise that what was once paved road, given way to firm compacted dirt and sand has given way to a lush, soft grey sand, into which our feet sink slightly into. After a while, we come across an oasis; the first of what we soon learn will be many five-star resorts planned for the island. A thoroughly inviting deep blue water pool, hotel staff bring people drinks with umbrellas in them. Again, you know that money has been invested because outside The 5-star Ombak Sunset Hotel, the sluggish sand has given way to a paved road, the length of which starts and ends no more and no less the length of the immediate boundary of the hotel.
Heading on, about 400 meters down the track, the road once again giving way to sinking sand and bedraggled cyclists already exhibiting signs of some A-grade sunburn which will be their nemesis for tonight, possibly the next two, as they search for sleep. We have reached Shark Point. In the distance we see a team of Cidomo’s and what appears to be scaffolding; it is the middle stages of construction on a new resort. The scaffolding is similar to what you’d see on Bali and any other of the Indonesian islands; sturdy bamboo expertly placed for maximum strength and ease of worker elevation and construction materials. It is Sunday, it’s hot and the workers are going about their business in a leisurely way. As we pass through the site – the road cutting through the project – we can see who we think may be the owners of the development. Three neat and very well-groomed Asian people are being escorted into the site by what appears to be the foreman, with and gestures suggesting some kind of description for how the progress is traveling. As with most asian businesspeople, their facial expressions remain neutral and passive. As with just about any building site anywhere in the world, the sight of Ms Emma takes the interest of more than a few of the workers. I don’t speak Bhasa very well, but I can pretty much tell that the calls from the worksite directed at Ms Emma as she passes aren’t exactly asking her how her day is. At the end of the site, and testament to business smarts of at least one local, a refreshment stand is operating. We buy some much needed water and continue on.
After around another 500 or so meters, we come across our next oasis; Villa Julius. On the path, we signs such as “Ice cool Rose” (sic) and “great food” with an arrow leading us on. Not much further on, reminiscent of the Huey Lewis and the News video for “Stuck With You”, Restaurant Villa Julius appears. Set among the trees on the beach side of the road are tables and chairs, day beds and sun lounges. The actual accommodation for Villa Julius sits on the island side of the road. The house has a beautiful looking pool, and the residence has been converted into a series of self-contained sleeping quarters. There looks like there could be anywhere between seven to ten rooms. We sit with great relief at a table in the shade and scull the water we brought at the construction site. Our waiter arrives, mercifully, with a drink and food menu. We decide to lunch and enjoy some seriously chilled drinks. As we wait for our food, more and more cyclists arrive, each looking buggered out, but few stop for a bite, or a drink. The better angels of our nature urge Ms Emma and I to advise them that if they’re at all tired and thirsty, they should chow down now before they hit the badlands. But we’re on holidays and honestly couldn’t give a shit about anyone else. Our angels sulk away, defeated.
Re-charged, we recommence our expedition (we know it’s only 9k’s around the island, but after the morning heat, we allow ourselves the thought of being explorers). The sinking path gives way to somewhat more compacted, slightly more solid ground, and we sense that there may be some more villa’s ahead. Our thoughts are proven correct, as we come upon a cluster of the eco-friendly villas which we learn are becoming quite popular and a feature of Jack Point and the Coral Fan Garden area of the island. A friend of Ms Emma’s, Carolyn, recently stayed at one of these; Desa Dunia Beda and was a big of the place. DDB and the other Eco-Villas (Gili Eco Villas, Karma Kayak and the Savana Beach Resort) appear rustic and basic in their own way, but all thoroughly inviting. The island side of these developments all contain the accommodation, and the beach side of the road accommodates elevated and sheltered day beds with full waiting staff service. In our travel, we begin to notice that the unmerciful sun has given way to rather sinister, overcast skies. The heat, however, remains. The humidity formidable. Nearly all of the staff at these villa’s are staffed by Indo-Rastas, a feature of island life; the kind of boys who could earn a tidy sum in Kuta or Seminyak as the infamous “Kuta Cowboys”. Tanned and buff, reggae music playing at a modest volume. It is in the North-east corner of Gili T that I’m offered ganja on three separate occasions. And yes, to the authorities who might be reading this, I passed on each occasion.
We soon arrive back on the south side of the island. It’s the part of the island that offers the best snorkelling opportunities, so naturally enough, the road is strewn with snorkel hire places on the beach side, touts offering you their wares at every chance “eh, big Boss, snorkel? eh?” Unlike Bali, no means no, and you are left in relative peace. The accommodation in this precinct of the island appears to be the budget style, so if coming to Gili T with a backpack, not much cash and no lodgings sorted, head to the right as you disembark from your boat transfer from Bali or Lombok and try these places first. Later, we learn that this part of the island also has a burgeoning crystal meth problem, and even with the benefit of hindsight, we can barely recall seeing anyone displaying any signs of use, nor the tell-tale signs of addiction.
The south-east of Gili T is dotted with a myriad of cafes and bars, again the lodgings on the island side of the road, the day beds, private huts and tables on the water side. Lush green trees provide shade, and looking down the stretch of road, my mind can’t help but conjure up memories of my younger days spent on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria; Pizza and fish and chip shops, milk bars, fibro cement “holiday Units” and sand everywhere you turn before the volume – and class – of visitors necessitated the arrival of supermarket chains, take away food franchises and gastro-pubs.
Whereas Bali is dominated by Australian tourists, the composition of Gili T visitors are equal parts European, Australian and Americans. The cafe’s dotted along the south east of Gili T are a mix of traditional Indonesian sidewalk kitchens and then the more western-friendly bar/cafe. Most menu’s have a mix of seafood, beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian, so all tastes are catered to. We stop at “Mozart’s” a Bavarian friendly cafe (natch) for a drink. The place has only a few tables, the bulk of the floor space taken up with shaded dining huts. Our fellow diners are engaged in conversation in Dutch, Indonesian, German and French. A man who appears to be the owner – given that the waiting staff are checking with him on minutiae every so often – waltzes around the cafe cradling a cat in his arms, seemingly oblivious to what’s happening around him. He has the dress sense of Alby Mangles and the facial features of Donald Pleasance circa ‘Wake in Fright’.
We leave ‘Mozarts’ and as we head towards KKM, Ms Emma finds a nondescript massage establishment; ‘Exqisit’ with more than reasonable prices. Situated at the entrance of the shop is a tank of tiny tadpole like fish. I’m invited by the staff to stick my hand in and immediately, these fish launch onto my hand. They are, it turns out, fish that eat the dead skin from people, apparently leaving the area supped upon feeling a million dollars. Perhaps I’ve watched too many a Korean horror film since falling for Ms Emma, but I’m seeing short odds that either biology, natural selection or carelessness around chemicals has, or will, turn one of these fuckers into flesh eating killers. I withdraw my hand within ten seconds. (for the record; those braver than I who wish to try this, it feels like little tingly sensations on the parts being (ahem) attacked by these fish. Your hand goes black. Maybe the best way to enjoy this offering is to NOT watch).
We finally make it back to Ko Ko Mo, in the process, noting a range of accommodation choices to keep in mind should we decide to return. We’re probably biased, but we agree we may just have landed at the pick of the bunch. Most of the hotels offer their own diving courses, snorkel hire and, like Ko Ko Mo, have their own restaurant on the beach side of the road. There is, like Mozart’s, an Irish Pub and an Italian Cuccina, possibly reflecting again the composition of visitors to the island, and even though nearly all the eateries offer tapas, I’m left in no doubt that an opportunity to open a Spanish style restaurant is going begging. We arrive back at the villa exhausted and collapse into our spa pool.
Dinner that night is a feast of Beef tenderloin with roast potatoes, seared vegetables and red wine jus (me) and a Lamb rack with mash and vegetables (her). No desert. We retire to the villa and once again, enjoy the sleep of the righteous.