Riding the Cidomo in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.
Riding the Cidomo in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.
Just last week, I was in Gili Trawangan, a small island in south central Indonesia east of Bali. If I could take an elongated personal retreat, this would be the place I choose. You can circle the whole island in a few hours by foot or even shorter by bike. There is no motorized vehicle allowed on the island, so you’d get around by walking, biking, or riding a Cidomo, a horse-driven rickshaw.
It’s a WONDERFUL place to be. I could seriously live there for a few months, living the simple life. Wake up, walk, eat, work a bit, snorkel or dive, and hangout with the locals or the multitude of foreigners who visit or live there. Next day, rinse and repeat.
Where exactly is Gili Trawangan, you may ask. I’ll show ya.
These are the islands of Bali (left) and Lombok (right), for orientation purposes. To find Gili Trawangan, we’d have to zoom in to the west side of Lombok. It is one of the three tiny islands just above Mangsit in the picture above. You’d have to take a boat from Lombok to get there, which you can charter for a very reasonable fee. Here they are, enlarged.
The water was super clear! It was like swimming in an aquarium, and I dare say, better than Hawaii. Even better was the price – $10 for 4 hour-trip! Shoot. You could go everyday for a week and it would cost the same as one snorkeling trip in HI. Four hours, three snorkeling sites around the three islands, plenty of aquatic life and turtles. On the second day, we chartered a private boat to snorkel for 2 hours. Cost: $50. Heaven. (Except in heaven this type of thing would be free).
When they dropped you off at Turtle Point, you know, the point where the turtles are, some of the guys also jumped in to help you find the turtles and yell out when they find them. Local snorkeling guide – pure awesomeness.
In the pursuit of turtles, we got stung by a million of tiny jellyfish. Maybe not a million, but definitely in the hundreds. You couldn’t see them, but it felt like you were being pricked all over your body while swimming. I felt like Marlin in Finding Nemo.
2. Scuba Diving
There are plenty of scuba dive shops on the island, with an abundance of certified dive instructors from around the world who are living the chill type of live on the island. I tried scuba diving for the first time. Kinda scary. Probably because it was too short: ~30 minute in the pool, then off to open water. I freaked out a few times, especially in the beginning. But then underwater, you just gotta rein in the panic attacks. The biggest turtle I saw was during this dive, but I was too stressed out to savor the sight. But I’d do it again.
Many hotels have bikes you can use for free. I found it really relaxing to bike along the path around the island, with the sunset on the horizon. I loved it! No cars, no pollution, no noise, except for the horses.
4. Enjoy the Island Life
It was just…so…chill…
5. Mingle with People – Local and Foreign
Gili Trawangan didn’t feel particularly Indonesian because there were so many foreigners there. It felt like there were more foreigners in sight than the locals, and thus a bit disorienting. But seeing some of these guys was awe-inspiring. They were the backpackers, the teachers in other Southeast Asian countries taking vacation, the entrepreneurs who could work from anywhere in the world, the diving instructors. A good number actually lives there. In my country! I was so jealous.
Jealousy turned into inspiration. Now my brain is churning ideas on how to live that way too…
In conclusion, Gili Trawangan was awesome. The best part: everything was so cheap, especially when converted to US$! There were vacation packages where you could island-hop all the way to Komodo Island for $30/day. Ridic! Next time, I’ll do this.
Indonesia – most fascinating travel destination on earth.
There are many ways to be a tourist. For example, one can remain in one’s own vacation bubble, as is necessary sometimes for recovery and rest from daily toils, or one can break through and be immersed in the world and culture on site.
I tend to like cultural experiences and usually try to discover the lives and customs of the local people. What is their reality like? How do they think? Et cetera, et cetera… I can’t pretend that I immerse myself completely, like those who would walk on foot and visit neighborhoods, shops, and houses, but at least I can ask questions to the people I interact with and to the local tour guides.
But in Bali, it is very hard to ignore its cultural and religious artifacts, since they are simply in sight everywhere you turn. Temples are ubiquitous, and the locals’ belief system is visibly displayed not just in their Hindu ceremonial precessions, but also in their architecture and daily customs. I would say it even dictates Bali’s economy and weighs in on Bali’s social progress vis-à-vis modernity and secularism.
For example, every morning the Balinese put out sesajens, or small offerings composed of flowers, rice, and salt in bamboo leaf trays all over the place. You would find them by the streets, statues, in front of houses, restaurants, counters… basically everywhere. These offerings, in oversimplified terms, are to please the gods and prevent their wrath upon them.
Every house and building in Bali has its own altar, whether small or big, which is put at the front of the house near the entrance gate. Bridges would have statues of some manifestations of Hindu gods on both sides of each end, to protect the space and prevent evil spirits.
Many statues, poles in buildings, pillars, and even trees would have sashes of a particular kind around them. The motif is called poleng. It is a piece of cloth with black and white squares, a symbol of balance, akin to the Chinese yin and yang. But it’s not just any generic notion of balance; it particularly symbolizes the balance between good and evil. The alternating black and white signifies good and evil that coexist everywhere; one cannot be present without the other.
This concept, it seems to me, is very Hindu, for a lack of a better description. The three main deities that compose the Trimurti in Hinduism (kind of like the Trinity), Brahma, Wisnu (Vishnu), and Siwa (Shiva), are the creator god, sustainer god, and the destroyer/transformer god, respectively. The destroyer god is feared the most, but he is not seen as evil, since his work is necessary to get rid of old things and transform them to a newer state.
Though I do not subscribe to the Hindu belief system, I admire its cohesiveness and pervasiveness in the Balinese society. Believing in something means that their whole lives revolve around it and it’s publicly displayed, even if their motives may be combined with fear of the gods. Their religion is not a private matter. It dictates how they spend their money, their daily activities, how they deal with birth, marriage, and death, and every aspect of life. There is not one thing that is purely secular. Take the economy, the emblem of development and modernity. If every building needs to have an altar, it means that every building project in Bali must needs to budget to build the altar, no questions asked. It is not a small matter, optional, or of a low priority, because in their minds, they simply would not tolerate an unprotected house or building.
It is refreshing to see something that is systematic and consistent in a world that is increasingly subscribing to a buffet style belief system. In a way, this is the kind of integration that I yearn for with my own belief system. I mean, the fact that every house has an altar is so mind-blowing to me. What would it look like if every Christian had the same regard for sacred things in their houses… to see their belief as central and pivotal to daily activities…