One of the great thing about the Gili’s Islands is how active the dive centers are into conservation. Of course you think that is a given, but it actually isn’t. Fishermen for decades have been using home-made bombs or dynamite to kill fish quickly. The problem is this destroys the reef and also all the breeding habitat for the fish. Therefore after a few years there are no fish for them to eat. So locals seeing the problem created a marine sanctuary, outlawing the use of bombs and paying the fishermen not to use those techniques. The damage was already done to the reefs, so work had to go into recreating them. So all around the three Gili islands they have been building artificial reefs. How they do this is they weld metal wire frames shapes out of re-bar, creatively done in the shapes of sea animals; fish, sea turtles, lobsters, etc. They then place hunks of living rock on it that contain various species of coral. Then the dive centers supply a very low-level of electrical current at their own expense to the coral, which promotes growth. At this point it looks like how I described, giant metal wire frame animals with rocks attached, but in a decade or two, it could be new coral reefs with thousands of fish and sea life living there where there was only broken coral before. An interesting fact on this too is that when they had horrible hurricanes and storms, or the El Niño effect, the artificial coral reefs with the electric current did much better than the original coral, and recovered quicker. For more on this check out this website. http://www.gaiadiscovery.com/marine-life-latest/gili-trawangan-ecotourism-and-coral-reef-restoration.html
The other thing they have done is create sea turtle sanctuaries and breeding centers. Sea Turtles climb up on to the beach to lay their eggs. They dig a one meter hole with their fins, then deposit 70 to 190 or so eggs in the hole. Six to ten weeks later they hatch and dig their way up to the surface. They crawl down the beach to the rolling surf, then paddle like crazy and disappear for a decade or so in the ocean. The majority of these guys die, either from people collecting the eggs, birds eating them as they come out, fish, crabs, hell, just about everything eats baby turtles. So volunteers go out, collect some of the baby turtles, raise them in big tanks till they are big enough to fend for themselves, then release them into the sea.
The amount of sea turtles off the Gilis is really just unbelievable. Just about every time I went swimming I would see a turtle. Yvonne and I woke up at six in the morning and decided on a swim. We walked ten feet out, I shoved my head under the water to clean my goggles, and if we had walked one more foot further, we would have stepped on a turtle. He was about three feet long, just munching away on the coral. Another time I spotted one near a giant metal frame lobster, so I followed him for about an hour. I would swim down and he would look at me, then continue his business with out a care in the world, ignoring me like I wasn’t there. As he was eating he startled a lion fish that was hiding in the coral, he swatted at the fish with his flipper, sending him spinning away. Every time I went in the water I saw turtles, it was amazing.
Back on Gili Trawangan we decided to chill out and go back to our old bungalow, but alas, you can never go back. Our biggest concern was that it might be rented out, but that turned out not to be the problem at all. We talked to Adi and he said the cops had come and shut him down He had all the mattresses shoved in his bike rental business. The owner after twenty years of sitting on the property had decided to take action against the people who had used the land all those years to create their own businesses. Of all the rotten luck, so we had to take a bungalow closer to town for more money, and less quality.
That night we decided to splurge and have a nice dinner, a really nice dinner. I was exhausted, and feeling a little under, so we needed a pick me up. We chose a nice spot on the beach, and looked through their fresh seafood of the day. They had all the goodies, and some really nice looking lobster. Lobster out here is not like Maine lobster, with two huge claws. Their lobsters do not have the really huge claws but have claws similar in size to their feet, so really you only get to enjoy the tail. In New Zealand they call them crickets. Thus far every meal I had on the Gili’s was under ten bucks, and delicious. We asked the price of Lobster and he told us $5.80. I picked the biggest one, asked three times the final price, and was told same thing, so screw it, I could not walk away from that deal. Well first thing off, they bring me the lobster and it’s under cooked, almost raw. Now I hate to do this, but how the hell do you not know how to cook lobster, so I sent it back. Well they tossed it back on grill, and the second go around it was cooked, but a bit over done, not that good at all. It was kinda rubbery and fishy tasting, really disappointing. Well what do you expect at that price, so we relaxed and looked at the waves.
After a bit the staff were kinda standing over us, giving us weird looks, just kinda looming. Finally one comes up to us and asks if they could close the tab cause it’s getting late. Of course, no problem. Well we were flabbergasted when we got it. We both had to look at it twice. They wanted over eighty dollars for the lobster, surely there was a mistake. Nothing on their menu was more than fifteen bucks. The waiter was no help, so we called the manager over. He apologized, but said that his staff would never mis-quote us, and that was the price with a smug look on his face. I said no that was not the price, and it wasn’t even cooked right, I had to send it back. I was willing to pay for the thing, but no way in hell that much. Well he’s like you ate it, so you must of liked it. I offered to pay cost, but he did not budge. This went on for ages,Yvonne got mixed in too, stating that price is ridiculous anywhere in the world. Hell it was more than I’ve paid in New York city. By this time all the staff are surrounding us, threats are being tosses at us, even calling the island police in. At one point it sounded like physical threats were being issued, but he said it was just a miscommunication, they would never threaten to kill us. I said go for it, cause they were trying to rob me blind. This just went on forever, but I finally got them to break when I said they were going to get bad reviews on trip advisor. This made him finally drop the price by twenty or so bucks, still the most expensive lobster I had ever bought. Needless to say, this pissed me off so much that I was shaking, and had lost all interest in staying on this island. But I had taken sick with a fever, so it was a few days before I felt better. We knew we only had a few days left before we met up with my friend Mark in Kuala Lumpur, so it seemed silly to go anywhere.
In the end, we couldn’t get the bad taste out of our mouths, so we decided to try a new island, Gili Air. We hopped on the morning boat and headed over with no plans. Sometimes leaving is the best thing you can do. We loved Gili Air, we got a great bungalow cheap, and loved the atmosphere. It’s so much more laid back then Gili Trawangan. Plus we knew Niko lived on Gili Air, so we had friends there.
We rented bikes and rode around the island slowly, stopping where ever took our fancy. Gili Air is very rural, with farms and even forests on the North side, and very sandy roads. There were all these great little restaurants with thatched platforms just a few feet from the sea. We would get a snack or a drink, and relax for an hour or so. Some places had pools, so then we would have a nice swim, then go to the ocean to snorkel, then swim again. It was really rough I tell you. We made plans to meet up with Niko and his girlfriend for dinner the next day.
We bumped in to Jessica from the Aliikai at one of the pools and we all planned on meeting up for nice meal. This time we did not get ripped off, but had a great dinner party with a large group of old and new friends. There was a loud forty something heavy American guy with a three-week old beard and a little rough around the edges. So of course he could be from no where else but Philly. He made fun of the Tigers when he heard I was from Detroit, saying something about the World Series. “What the hell are you talking about World Series, they have not been on that since 84.” Funny what traveling does, not that I am a sports fan at all, but I had no idea they were in the series this year, lol. Though I am sure most my friends and brother would not have been surprised by this.
He had been traveling for five years now and being from Philly rules the day, so he couldn’t let a soft ball like that one go. So my next obvious question is “How the hell can you afford to travel for five years?” It is after all, the question I get from everyone for my little trip.
“That’s easy, I won a game show which gave me a large chunk of money, then won some poker games which kept me going, and now I’m writing a book about my life, cause I know my fifteen minutes are up, and I want to keep up with my lifestyle.”
Then he pulls a flask out and says this is how I can party with you all on my budget. Cheap Indonesian whiskey, more like gasoline than anything else, but does the trick. When he gets a place he negotiates a low price for the room, and when they agree to that price he says now how much cheaper do I get it for staying a month. Brilliant! His place was cheaper than ours, and he had a pool. What can I say, after that I have to respect the man, living the life, and willing to think out of the box to continue, even if he was an Eagles fan.
Well, after a switch up to another bar, on which jazz and magic mushrooms seemed to be their selling point, the whiskey started pouring. Yvonne owed Niko a shot after polishing the last of his bottle, so the spirit hit all of us. Round after round started coming, and more good times were had. After the last round Niko had to ride his bike home in the dark and we had to get ready to leave. So it was a sad farewell to some new friends. Niko is one of those people who cares so much about everyone around him. It was really great to have met him and I am sure our paths will cross again.
The next day we rode the speed boat out and caught our flight in Bali. With Indonesia in our rear view mirror, I was really looking forward to the next stage of our journey, catching up with my best friend since fifth grade.