The day we arrived in Gili Trawangan was bit a hectic and stressful, but the relaxed vibes of the island quickly took hold once we spent a few hours there. We had booked a private room at a wonderful hostel called Gili La Boheme, but due to a computer error they never received our booking and didn’t have the space for us. Having to honor our booking, they put us just down the street at a much more expensive and luxurious homestay, so we got the best of both worlds with a private, quiet room away from the party, but the hostel environment open to us just down the road if we wanted it.
On our first morning in Gili we were eager to jump in the water again and went diving as soon as we could. The diving was gorgeous, albeit slightly less lively than the Philippines. The water around the Gili islands is ridiculously clear and calm, so it is a prime location for new divers to get certified. There are many coral reefs (although they aren’t very healthy) and the water is so warm that one doesn’t need a wetsuit. Every shop on the island churns out certifications like a factory, which means that every dive site is crowded and shallow.
The water is utterly packed with turtles, though. Many years ago, the Gili islands were a popular nesting ground for both green and hawksbill sea turtles. Locals used to dig up the nests and eat or sell the eggs, which wasn’t too big of a problem since there were so many. However, with the growth of tourism beach real estate became more and more valuable and less available, and the party atmosphere means there’s flashing lights all along the beach every single night. Lights on the beach confuse the turtles (since they have poor eyesight). They only lay eggs at night, but the artificial light makes them think it’s day time and then they don’t create nests. Locals saw the problem when it formed, though, and created a turtle conservation program. Nesting areas are protected, and the nests are dug up so that the eggs can be safely incubated. The baby sea turtle are raised and fed in tanks by the beach until they are strong enough to go out to open sea at which point they are released. Since the hatchlings are allowed to swim and gain strength in tanks before venturing out, they have a much higher survival rate as compared to when are left on their own.
This has made the water around the Gilis rich with turtles. We saw six on our second dive at a spot called “Turtle Heaven”, and even got to witness one posturing to be cleaned by the cleaner wrasses. At the end of the dive I saw my first hawksbills sea turtle, which I’d never gotten to see before. So beautiful! Unfortunately, my second dive was hampered by a lot of ear pain. For those of you who aren’t divers, here’s the lowdown: you know that pain you get in your ears when you dive down in a pool? That’s pressure. There’s a simple solution to that problem, val salva. Plugging your nose and blowing. It equalizes the pressure and immediately relieves the pain. But, if you’re congested, you can get a block in your Eustachian canal which inhibits your ability to equalize because the air can’t get through. That’s exactly what happened to me, but I went down anyways since I could equalize by swallowing. The pain was bad when I got out of the water, though, and stayed bad for a couple days. It kept me from diving, and put a huge damper on our plans for Gili T.
You couldn’t keep me out of the water, though. With the inability to dive, I decided I had to snorkel. For two days in a row we spent many hours floating a top the coral reefs at the north of the island, so much time that my friends Dan and Jen and even Keenen were a little exhausted with the whole thing. What can I say, though? I love the ocean, it is my passion, my life, my paramour. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to float in the crystal clear, luke warm waters around the island.
The rest of our time was spent staring at baby sea turtles at the conservation project headquarters, chatting with other travelers, teaching Jen and Dan about science and learning from them about English and film, and eating and relaxing in pools. We even spent a night out at the bars, dancing for St. Patrick’s day and downing dangerous vodka joss shots. Our last day on the island we biked around the entire tiny thing and enjoyed one of the famous Gili sunsets. A lot of travelers say they are the most beautiful ones in the world, but I think this might have something to do with the psychedelic shakes you can get at the reggae bar by sunset beach. Our time in Gili was ultimately relaxing and did a great a job at reminding me just how deep my love for the blue world goes.