On previous visits to Bali, my prejudice has kept me from visiting the Gili Islands off the northwest coast of Lombok. It’s dubbed a travellers’ paradise, so my visions of stoned, dreadlocked, friendship-banded euro geeks gamboling about the place overshadowed the reported beauty of the three tiny tropical islands… and I guess the supposed lack of surf didn’t help.
Sofie really wanted to visit, so in an admirable act of generosity and compromise I consented to the trip. My lips, burnt to a crisp from over-zealous midday surfing in Bali, were raw and cracked, so a few days out of the water wouldn’t hurt anyway. We chose the quieter of the three islands, Gili Meno, and from the moment we waded ashore from the shuttle boat the serene seclusion of this tropical idyll enveloped us. Time warped and heart beats slowed and, in stark contrast to its near neighbour, Bali, the sound of silence generated by an absolute absence of motorised vehicles was deafening.
Sandy tracks circumnavigate and criss-cross this 2km-long island. The only transport is shank’s pony or bell-jangling pony-and-trap cidomos. It’s fringed with white sand beaches, protected from the surf by coral reefs, and the pure, clear water reflects blues of every hue imaginable as the tropical sky evolves and transforms throughout the day. The sun rises over the active volcano Gunung Rinjani on Lombok; tropical squalls pass as quickly as they appear; and azure clear skies give way to firey sunsets over Bali’s extinct volcano Gunung Agung. Snaffling a coconut-infused carrot-and-bean salad-like lunch of urap urap one stiflingly hot lunchtime, we watched as the awesome Rinjani coughed and spluttered into life, sending an immense plume of thick grey smoke into the atmosphere. Not a bad digestif actually.
A tempting right-hand reef point reels down the southwest coast of the island, an even better-looking one off Gili Trawanagan, yet my ravaged lips thwarted all but the briefest forays into the salt water. As it happened though, slowing down for a while – getting up with the sunrise and sleeping not long after sunset, and doing very little in between besides snorkelling the teeming outer reefs, lolling, lounging and sprawling sprinkled with delcious cheap local Sasak food – was enough to make me fall in love with this as-yet unspoiled tropical Eden.