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travel: gili air, lombok

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This is one of my last posts on the Bali honeymoon. We spent one month traveling around the island – and off the island – that it took several weeks to recount the details of the experience here for you. On our last week in Bali, we decided to hop on a “fast boat” and head over to Lombok’s famous little islands – the Gilis.
We were not interested in the party scene, so we skipped Gili T – instead, we settled in at Gili Air and spent almost every day out in the ocean. We dove at least twice a day, sometimes three times, and experienced something new every dive. We are amazed at the beautyl of the corals, the fish, the diversity. It was breathtaking. Our dive operators were so friendly, and after realizing we did this for a living, they made sure we were given ample time underwater to explore. No quick 45 minute dive for us!
The one thing I wanted to see and experience more than anything in Bali was…..
the mandarin fish. My favorite little fish. The most beautiful fish in the world.
AND… we saw them! We did a sunset dive at the house reef in front of 7Seas Dive Resort. Our dive guide, who had dove with us every day, was so eager to help us find these fish. Equipped with flashlights, we dove in and dropped down onto the reef. Within minutes, we spotted them. They are so incredibly shy that we had to float perfectly still above the coral, using a red-light flashlight to observe them but not frighten them. They swam and danced underneath the coral, and then finally after about 30 minutes of watching, they emerged from the reef.
The mandarinfish has a very unique mating ritual. The male and female will dance around each other before connecting their bodies side by side and using only their pectoral fins (the ones on the side) they swim up above the reef as though they were only one fish. After this little dance, they dart apart and return back below. We saw 7 fish in all, and watched for at least 45 minutes.

Diving is not all we did on Gili Air. We also did a whole lot of nothing. The island was easy to circle in a couple hours; we walked the perimeter twice. There are no cars on the island, so we rented bikes, but the sand roads made it very difficult to use these in certain areas. We found several secluded beaches, so we laid out and soaked up the sun. We both came back pretty bronzed.
The food was not wonderful anywhere here, but we did find that Le Cirque was pretty decent, and they had delicious desserts. We weren’t that impressed by Chill Bar or Scallywags (which was definitely overpriced for the quality), both of these were recommended by the travel books. We really liked Coffee & Thyme for a quick little iced coffee and snack cake.
Gili Air was said to be the quiet island, but we definitely found it to be bustling with tourists too. We did make it over to Lombok mainland, but by a very unusual method. Well, unusual in that we never saw anyone else try it. We rented paddleboards and paddled across the channel to Lombok. We spent only a few minutes on the soil, but mostly we just wanted to definitively say we had “crossed to the other side” (of the Wallace line, it’s a science thing). Nerds, I know.
Lombok is part of Indonesia, and is Muslim. It was very different from Bali. The mannerisms of the service industry were different, almost as though they were trying SO hard to be just like Bali, but were just not quite there yet. We would walk along the dirt road, passing restaurants and bars and shops, and even just the slightest glance would result in being pelted by “Yes, please! Good food!” . I think “yes” and “please” were the most commonly used words in English for the Gilis.
Our trip back to mainland Bali was quite an adventure though. An unpleasant one.
We took a “fast boat” Ekajaya on the return trip, and it was horrible. The interior of the cabin was nice, the seats were comfortable, their was A/C and a movie, but the captain literally had no problem taking the most direct route to Bali – even if it meant taking wave after wave to the portside of the boat. The rocking was intense, and there were a couple times that I was certain we were about to capsize. I think the captain realized it too, as the boat when they come to a screeching halt and go dead in the water for a couple minutes. But that didn’t last long, we were soon back on course, back to feeling like I was not going to make it out of Bali alive. Too bad it didn’t end there. When we made landfall, we were supposed to have a shuttle back into Ubud, direct to our hotel. Which of course didn’t happen; we had to argue with the shuttle drivers since our Ekajaya ticket counter in Gili Air did not give me any receipt or shuttle pass. Thus, we had to pay twice for a transfer, and then pay for another driver to take us to our hotel. It was a nightmare, but we made it.
Word of advice, do not bother arranging for transport ahead of time. Your hotel in Gili Air will offer to do this for you, but you’ll pay double the price and you still are not guaranteed an easy process. Just visit one of the many ticket counters on the east or southeast coast, buy your tickets there. You can even wait to purchase your return once you arrive in Gili. We let the hotel do it all for us, we paid a premium price, and still had difficulties. Just some things to consider! I need to share these experiences too!
Overall, we enjoyed Gili Air – the beaches were exactly what I was looking for, the diving was wonderful. We would probably return again, but would only spend a couple days here. Our next trip to Indo will be focused on visiting the outer islands. But until then, I’ll just enjoy the island life on Puerto Rico!
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Chelsea is a marine scientist in Puerto Rico. Her interests include invasive species ecology, fish biology and ecology and marine protected area management. She is a co-founder of the only field course coordination company in Puerto Rico - Isla Mar Research Expeditions.

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