“Ey brutha! Another one?!” yells a dark-skinned man in a bright floral shirt, waving his arm at us from across some sprawling trees illuminated by drop lights.
L and I rummage through our bags like desperate thieves, then hung our heads in sadness to find close to nothing. We had left the rest of our money at our hotel, Pearl of Trawangan. “Sorry Huru, we don’t have enough.”
He plucks our close to nothing coins off our hands, works his magic and returns to the shoreline with one more divine concoction of rum and fresh coconuts. “All good brutha,” he insists, joining us to watch the sun set behind Bali’s volcanoes.
Huru is one of the softly-spoken bar staff at The Exile on Gili Trawangan (T). Just a 1.5 hour boat ride from Bali, this island carnival with its rattling horse carts and colourful umbrellas hanging from trees offers white sandy beaches decorated with chill-out lounges, affordable home stays, yoga studios, and water activities that attract all ages. The Gili Islands – Gili T (the most developed), Gili M and Gili A – have a similar vibe: slow-paced and high-spirited with an air of warm saltiness. Bob Marley also appears to be God.
For $3-$5/day, you can hire a bicycle to journey around the islands, each loop taking no longer than two hours. Pedalling around, you’ll pass stalls selling handmade jewellery made out of dried up coral, locals offering “stuff to take you higher than the moon” (let’s not hold back facts), signs like “keep calm and just surf”, women carrying baskets of fruit on their head and young boys playing beach soccer or singing with their guitars. Hammocks and bungalows are dotted around the island providing secluded stopovers.
The one thing these islands should be most famous for, however? One of the most memorable sunsets and sunrises you’ll ever encounter will be here. I can’t tell you where the best vantage point is. Perhaps at The Exile over pulsating bongos played by groovy locals with dreadlocks. Or at The Mexican Kitchen with front row seats to a serene stretch of the turquoise sea against a purple, hazy sky. Or at Mowies while enjoying delicious European-style fare. Have you ever stopped to notice how fast the sun moves? L and I make it our thing to count down whenever the sun sinks beneath the horizon. “It’s going… 3, 2, 1… And it’s gone.”
Mother Nature sure casted a lot of love throughout these tiny islands but it’s the down-to-earth locals like Huru who make this paradise even more enjoyable. Ask them how their day is and you’ll receive a merry response like, “I’m DOUBLE DOUBLE good!” You’ll end up reciprocating, “Well then I’m super bloody fantastic.”
I wonder if these fellas get tired of the same scenery. I suggest to Huru, who’s never been to Bali, “You should travel across the water and visit the mainland one day! There’s so much happening, there’s more people for you to…”
“Too busy to go to Bali, my friend.” he interrupts, clasping his hands behind his head while stretching out on his bean bag. “I come here and make new friends every day. From Germany, America, Australia… They tell me stories, I tell them stories. This…” – he looks around as if to reaffirm his awesome reality – “is wonderful. No worries, my friend.” Huru with his big toothy grin is a shining embodiment of “full of life”.
He sits up and assists a group of Aussies in front of us with lighting a small hot air balloon. The lantern hovers and awkwardly waves like an infant taking their first step, then finally, graciously shoots towards the stars. Everyone on the beach raises their drink and cheers.
Slightly woozy, L and I peel ourselves from comfort and hop on our bicycles to pedal home under a bright moonlit night. We’ve completely played out a cliché of “long walks by the beach followed by sundowners amongst an idyllic landscape” but I let go of the guilty pleasure and close my eyes for some seconds, tilt my face towards the sky and embrace the moment. Oh, la dolce vita.
Where else in the world has reminded you of a life with no worries? Been anywhere recently that stole your heart a similar way? Write me a comment below.
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