The Gili Islands with baby
After our short stay in Bali we took the fast boat from Amed Beach and its beautiful volcanic black beaches for the Gili Islands. The Gilis are a really bizarre phenomenon in the backpacker’s world; a mix of local muslims swimming fully clothed with loud western tourists and backpackers ready to party and lay on the beach in bikinis. We walked in the car-free street with the call of the prayer in one ear and some euro-pop music in the other. We passed women in hijabs sipping on fruit juices and then got offered ‘’fucking fresh magic mushrooms’’ a couple metres away… in a country that puts drug traffickers on death row I still don’t get that one. We stayed on Gili Air – apparently the most family friendly of the three islands – and also did a day trip to Gili Meno.
We stayed at Santay Home Stay on Gili Air for 250,000 IDR (about AU$25) a night. We had a nice room with a second mattress for baby and enough space for her to play. As was the case everywhere in Indonesia people were very nice and helpful with the baby and she even got the meet a few local friends. Eating on the island was easy. We had some amazing gado gado and urap urap, but the ikan (fish) was the real highlight. Again we found that it’s not worth paying a big price to eat in fancy resorts and restaurants as the food was often average and expensive. Plus the buffets I saw in some resorts seemed a bit suspect to me. The best warungs were found inland and our favourite was Warung Bambu – the gado gado was creamy and delicious and the martabek (kind of giant eggrol!) tasty and filling.
There is not much to do on Gili Air! We spent an afternoon cycling around the island – about 5 km – but did pretty much nothing else than snorkeling, swimming, and lazily sipping on smoothies and beers. One time we saw a giant monitor lizard… other times we saw a few cows and cats (but no dogs). I suppose one of us could’ve dropped the cash to do a diving trip with one of the many diving shops around.
Desperate to do some kind of activity we took a ferry to Gili Meno – check the timetable if you do it as there seems to be only one public boat per day (35,000 IDR each direction) and it left on time at 8:30 AM and came back at 4:20 PM sharp. There wasn’t much to do there either! Known to be a honeymoon island, Gili Meno is far less developed than Gili Air but still not as remote as advertised. The beaches are great and the snorkeling is better too. We got to see some turtles at the small turtle nursery which made our daughter smile.
Great but not fabulous
The Gilis were a great place to visit but… It wasn’t as fabulous as described in some traveling guides. Perhaps coming from Australia I wasn’t that impressed with the quality of snorkeling and the state of the beaches. Or maybe there are simply too many people on the Gilis which makes it hard to encourage a sustainable tourism industry. I found the beaches full of rubbish, despite the advertised efforts for cleaning, often swimming in plastic and nappies. We tried really hard to reduce our rubbish but it’s not easy with the need to buy multiple plastic water bottles. I had read that it was possible to fill up water bottles… but forget it – it’s nearly impossible to find a water point, and we asked for it. On Gilli Air there were still a lot of places being constructed. On Meno we passed a few abandoned resorts. I am not sure what the Gilis will look like in 10 years but I would not be too optimistic. It makes me sad to be – as a traveler – part of the problem.
Still, we had good time on Gili Air, enjoyed the car-free streets, watched the horses, got lazy, and played on the beach. It could not have been easier with the baby but 4 days was long enough. Would I recommend it? Hummm… no not really. I believe there are far better places to go.