When I told a friend in Bulgaria that I was planning on going to Bali, she said simply: “Go to Gili Air.”
“What’s there to do there?” I probed. “Nothing.” And that was the point. It was to be a dip back into an earlier, simpler time. Less hub bub. Fewer tourists. Certainly fewer distractions.
Ubud was very busy. Sanur was peaceful but still lively. And always anywhere I went in Bali there were scooters, tourists, and traffic. I was still looking for the elusive “Paradise” that did not include the chaos and the annoying edge of money-making from tourists.
Well, Catherine was right. I found it in Gili Air. Here petrol motorized vehicles are banned. The loudest sound you hear is a clop clop of a pony behind you.
You can walk around the island in 1 ½ hours. You can rent a bicycle and try to cycle the perimeter instead but get bogged down by sand. So, you take the slow way. Always slow on Gili Air.
Gili Air is mellow.
So mellow in fact that this is a sign advertising magic mushrooms, bicycle for hire and accomodations.
Really? And how does one order magic mushrooms? Well, first you get them from the cow patty. (Lots of those lying around.) Then the restaurant owner informed me, either put them in a smoothie or an omelet and let the magic lights begin. Honestly!? For a country where dealing drugs can be a death sentence this is mind boggling. But hey- its Gili Air.
Want some up-scale mellow? Easy. The H2O Yoga Studio is a few minutes walk down a pot-holed alley, strewn with cow patties.
You could choose pool yoga (great for my knees that can’t kneel), advanced classes, vegetarian cuisine and meditation. In the evening the calling out of a yoga pose was matched by the distant call to Muslim prayer.
Because this is a Muslim island.
Except for Bali, all of Indonesia is Muslim, and the three Gili islands are actually part of nearby Lombok, not Bali. I was wondering what difference this might make, apart from the calls to prayer and the head coverings.There were no offerings, gods or rituals. Well, almost none.
While I was relishing this full breakfast and watermelon juice,
I noticed four people gathering on the beach. A woman with white scarf sat and a man with incense put something on her forehead.
Then he took a large platter of bananas and placed them in the ocean. An offering? But for what?
After he left, another woman rescued the bananas. And then the honored woman took off her scarf and sat in the shallow water. Fully clothed and cleansing herself. No soap. Just the ocean water. Over and over. Another woman took pictures. And then they went home.
What was that! My hotel clerk gave me his opinion — that it was the ceremony done 7 days after birth, “buang awu.” Thanks are given to the ocean. The Mother cleans herself. But is that Muslim? Well, Gili Muslim. People here had religions before Islam took over Indonesia, before the Hindus escaped to Bali. This sure looked pre-Muslim to me! He explained that the Muslims got rid of the bad aspects but kept the good.
Why the ocean? “Because the ocean is everything to us. We fish in it. It surrounds us. It is life.”
And eating at a restaurant that had tempted me with a handmade sign, I understood their relationship to the ocean a little more.
No one else was eating there. But when I asked what fish they had, the young man replied, “Whatever my brother brings in.” And I realized that the man poling the small outrigger to a larger outrigger that morning had been his brother. And look at the fish he brought in!
Red and white snapper. Little tuna they call bonita. Look at the curious little boy.
I asked for white snapper (they can also catch black snapper) as this was the only time I’ve ever seen it. Grilled with garlic. Delicious!
The waiter/clerk asked to sit with me and chatted, jumping up to attend to other clients, coming back to his plate. He asked something about my views on Osama bin Laden and thank goodness the power and lights went out before I had to beg off the question! I would have been curious about his point of view, though.
I’m impressed by the industry and enterprise of these people.
The next morning his mother pedaled up with loads of kang kong she just bought and two little boys and I’m impressed by the enterprise of these people.
The father can’t work because of illness. You can’t grow vegetables in this horrible soil and even water has to be shipped in. But they seem quite happy. In fact, the pony cart driver told me with great pride that he owns the pony and cart — inherited from his father. He makes more profit from one trip to the boat landing than my taxi driver in Sanur, who has to lease the taxi, did for a two hour trip!
What else did Gili Air teach me?
I was still reeling from the ride from “the boat-ride from hell” to get there, wanting to solve my fear for the return trip. So I asked people how they deal with fear of death. When I got bogged in the sand bicycling, this man resting from hard labor called out to me in Indonesian. “Plan, plan.”
What? He translated — “Slowly, slowly.” Good advice for inner peace. And I took a chance with this helpful stranger, asking him how to overcome fear of death. “You have to work with your mind a lot so that your thoughts are always with God.” OK… I had a lot of work to do.
I pursued it further when I signed up for a yoga class at H2O Yoga and asked one of the instructors what her advice would be about fear of imminent death. “Pray to the 100,000 angels!” she confidently advised. The other instructor practically and emphatically proclaimed, “Those boats are crazy! I won’t set foot in one during this season!”
I braved the seas for a snorkeling tour. Lots of dead coral although no one would say why — fish bombing is now illegal. The highlight was sea turtle.
The guide found them, pointed them out resting on the bottom and nudged them up as we swam after them, enthralled.
Lunch on Gili Meno (where there is even less to do) was surreal — pancake topped with banana and chocolate, Bob Marley playing and the mosque singing across the water.
The last night was magical with a full moon, music in the air.
I asked the hotel clerks to sing me a song and show me some dance moves. Silly fun guys. Here they are.
And when they asked me what my “dance moves” were, I replied, “Well it depends on the song — salsa, swing, …” So folks, here it is— the only two moves I know of bachata. Ahhh… Gili Air.
So, if this last Indonesian blog seems a little hodge-podge, that is because my impressions are rich.
Bali and Gili Air meant rest, rejuvenation and renewal. A dip into very different cultures. Affordable, interesting, beautiful, exotic and with amazingly kind people. If you have spiritual questions or fears, this is a safe place to explore and grow. (And the boat ride back was fine, by the way.)
And now onto Australia to catch a permaculture design course that got canceled in Bali because of the darn volcano!