The first thing we noticed about Gili Air was what we could hear, or rather, what we couldn’t. All motor vehicles are banned from the island. The familiar background hum of mopeds and street hawkers that we’d got used to across South East Asia was missing, replaced with bicycle bells, calls to prayer drifting over the palm trees, and the clip clop of hooves and the jingle bells on the reins of the ‘Gili Ferarris’ horse and carts. There was still no escaping from the all-too-familiar sound of the cockerel alarm clock, though.
At first, we’d dismissed the horse and carts as tourist gimmicks; you can walk around the whole island in a couple of hours. In fact, most tourists were on rented bicycles whilst the horse-drawn carts made trips to and from the jetty piled high with vegetables and other deliveries for the island’s restaurants and guesthouses.
Gili Air is the Goldilocks of the three Gili islands; not as loud as party island Gili Trawangan, not as quiet as tiny, back-to-basics Gili Meno, but somewhere in the middle. We’d walked around the whole island in under a couple of hours; a sandy lane runs around the edge of the island, lined with cabana bed cafes, beach-front barbecue restaurants serving up gigantic freshly-grilled skewers, and variations on the standard Gili Air accommodation – a handful of arched-roof thatched bungalows set around a small pool, complete with either fan or AC and dodgy internet.
The main activities in Gili Air are boat trips, snorkelling, or dive trips. Although we still didn’t bite the bullet and try diving, Gili Air looked like the best place we’d seen in Asia to try it for the first time. Lessons could be taught in English, German, French and Swedish, and began with sessions in a swimming pool to learn the basics. Snorkelling is incredibly easy here, just pick up a mask from any of the rental shacks and head out into the reef that surrounds the whole island. The snorkelling was good, but not the best in Asia. There were a few Angel fish and Parrot fish, but also a lot of dead and broken coral.
After a couple of days of hot sunshine and clear blue skies, the quiet lanes began to darken under gathering storm clouds. The crowds of people queuing for the boat to Bali had T wondering if everyone else had seen a weather forecast we’d missed (R was preoccupied with the novelty of being outside without an inch-thick layer of suncream), but given how many places were fully booked on our hunt for our final night’s accommodation, we decided the rolls of thunder in the distance weren’t worth worrying about.
We continued ignoring the gathering storm clouds until we got caught in a monumental downpour on the way to dinner with Simon and Marilyn. After meeting them in Moscow, and bumping into them in Luang Prabang, this was the last time our paths were going to cross on our trips.
On our last day, the rain had stopped but the clouds hadn’t budged, so we decided to skip the sun loungers and snorkelling and explore the inside of the island. Over the last few days, we’d seen a few tiny handmade signs for Pachamama dotted around the main path. With no idea what a Pachamama was, we decided to follow the signs into the centre of the island to find out. Mainly because Rebecca really liked the font.
Pachamama turned out to be a newly opened organic warung, with fresh juices, smoothies, salads, spring rolls and satay, and – crucially – a cosy underground circular lounge which was the perfect place to shelter from a final downpour, and catch up on some blogging before starting the mammoth journey that would take us back to Lombok, across to Bali and eventually to Sydney.