I popped my head above the water to see Papaya was still swimming furiously ahead of me, the orange tip of his snorkel a beacon against the vivid blue of the sky. I’d lost the coral reef ages ago and had been staring at sand on the bottom of the ocean for the past five or ten minutes through my cheap, leaky mask.
‘I see turtles!’ Papaya cried, waving frantically from his position in the deep. His excitement rippled across to me on the waves but I was starting to freak out. How much did I want to see a giant green turtle, and how much did I not want to drown?
‘Come here, Becky, I promise I show you turtles, they’re just over here!’ He was pleading from afar but I was treading water, aware that the beach on Gili Trawangan was miles away in the other direction. Reluctantly I shook my head.
‘That’s OK, thanks anyway,’ I called, before turning around and flippering it back to safety. While turtles are very cool, I’m not about to die and get eaten by them.
I saw Papaya the next night. He danced up next to me in Tîr na Nôg (the grimy beachfront establishment that proves there really is an Irish pub wherever you land on Earth) and announced, ‘I saw turtles!’ A grin stretched across his face. ‘Lots of them. Huge big ones.’
When one of my best friends, Dacey, decided to come to Bali for my birthday we also booked a little side trip. It takes just three hours, door-to-sizzling-sand, from Ubud to Gili Trawangan and as we stepped off the speedboat in luminous sunshine along with hordes of shirtless men, I could tell it was going to be a happy birthday.
There are three islands making up the Gilis, just off the coast of mainland Lombok. I hadn’t heard much about any of them before I arrived in Bali. Gili Trawangan, at three kilometres long and two kilometres wide, is the biggest and most action-packed, but you can travel between the three quite easily on a small boat for about $3.
Some people are calling Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short) the new Ibiza, as you really can party around the clock. If you want to lose your mind on those ‘not legal but tolerated’ magic mushrooms, you’ve got it. If you want to indulge in a bit of skinny-dipping at 7 a.m. with a backpacker you’ve only just met, you’ve got it … though the Gilis, like Lombok itself, is Muslim territory, so it’s best to be discreet with that one.
You can also opt to do nothing. You can hire a bike and find a quiet spot and just lie there finding faces in the clouds.
**An excerpt from Balilicious – The Bali Diaries. Get it super cheap on Amazon!
(Thought it was apt, seeing as I’m back in the Gilis after a year! Gili Air is still as beautiful as ever.)