Gili T, Part 2

Sorry for the delay, folks. I finished this about a week ago and forgot to publish!

Welcome to the final post of my Indonesia recap!

It feels a little silly recapping the remaining days of our time in Gili Trawangan, mostly because there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. It was wonderful and relaxing, but not exactly action-packed.

Following our day in Gili Meno, we decided to take a walk around Gili T. This was both a wonderful and terrible idea. It was wonderful because Gili T is gorgeous and totally deserving of our full attention. It was terrible because we got way too late of a start and it was wayy too hot to be wandering aimlessly. To combat the heat, we developed a “stop-and-go” method of wandering.

Wander a little…

Image

Sip a little…

Image

 

Wander a little…

Image

Sip a little…

Image

You get the idea. We made it about halfway around the island when we turned around and headed back to our hostel. As much as I would have loved to have explored the interior of the island a little bit more, the prospect of being too far away for a quick dip in the ocean wasn’t appealing.

We spent our last day in the Gilis on a snorkeling tour. Mercifully, I wasn’t seated next to any French people on the boat. It was a crowded trip, for sure, and little instruction was given. If you had never been snorkeling before, you were left on your own to figure out how to seal and clear your mask. But hey, it cost less than $12 for a three-hour trip + lunch, so I’ll take it!

Unfortunately I don’t have much to share in the way of the colorful fish and enormous turtle we saw, but here are some pictures from the boat:

Image

Image

Image

That about wraps up my vacation recap (about damn time). We chatted with the guy who arranged our airport transportation the day that we left, and he mentioned that many foreigners extend their vacations into moving to the island. I can understand why. I also think that it’s a somewhat common phenomenon on islands around the world. I remember meeting people in both Belize and St. Martin who had done the same thing. Everything is slower, days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and so on.

I’m probably way too high-strung to ever permanently move to an island, but I would go back to the Gilis for a vacation in a heartbeat. Beautiful scenery, crystal clear water, friendly people…what more could you ask for?

Gili Meno

On our second day in Gili Trawangan, we decided to take a day trip to one of the neighboring islands. Gili Meno is quite a bit smaller than Gili T and less built up with restaurants and hotels. There are a few places to eat dotted along the coast, and a couple of homestays, but otherwise Gili Meno is a nicely secluded getaway. 

We got up early and started off with some breakfast on Gili T at this cafe…

Image

…with this view…

Image

Not a bad way to start the day (to say nothing of my cappuccino made with REAL espresso. The gods were smiling upon me, indeed).

By 9:30, we were on the boat to Gili Meno.

Image

The main reason we went to Gili Meno was to see the turtle sanctuary there. Having spent most of my formative years obsessed with turtles, I was eager to check out this attraction. Aside from it, though, we weren’t sure what else there was to do on the island. Upon docking, we started with a morning meander around Meno’s perimeter, hoping we’d stumble upon the turtle sanctuary along the way.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

As you can see, our walk was absolutely gorgeous. One thing that made me a little sad was all of the construction we passed along the way (not pictured, of course, because construction isn’t pretty). Gili Trawangan is already fairly touristy, and I suppose Gili Meno is following suit. It makes sense, given that visitors need places to stay and eat, but I also wish that it would stay as uninhabited as it currently is. 

Since we had been walking for awhile and still had not seen any signs of the turtles, we decided to cut through the middle of the island to see what we could find there. While there were no turtles, we did find Gili Meno’s mangrove preserve. 

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

This might have been my favorite part of our walk. We ran into no one except a couple wandering locals, and it was absolutely silent. 

As we emerged on the other side of the island, close to where we began our walk, we finally ran into someone from whom we could ask directions. She pointed us in the direction from whence we came, about 30 feet down from where the boat let us off. So we basically landed on top of the turtles and walked in the opposite direction. Which was fine by me, because it was a perfect start to the day.

Finally, we found our shelled friends swimming away in their pools.

Image

This operation was started to protect the turtle population around the Gili Islands, which has been slowly dying as a result of both humans and natural predators. They spend 100,000 rupiah (about $10) per day to feed, raise and release these turtles into the ocean. Although it may not seem like much, it is quite a lot of money by Indonesian standards. It relies almost entirely upon donations to stay up and running. It’s interesting, because it’s mostly tourist money that keeps this place in business. Yet it is also tourists who pose a large threat to the turtles in the first place.

We had fun watching the turtle scuttle around their tanks. I desperately wanted to hold one, but I had to settle for snapping a few pictures instead.

 Image

Image

Image

After seeing seeing the turtles, we were ready to settle in for some beach time. And the beach!

Image

Image

Pure white sand, crystal clear water…all these purity cliches are jumping to mind because the beach was simply that unspoiled and clean. It makes me want to tell everyone to come here and see it but at the same time, to stay away so that it stays perfect forever. 

Anyway! While on the beach, we were approached by a coconut-selling friend. We weren’t interested, but she sat down with us, chatted a bit and it took a whole 30 seconds for her to sell me a coconut. I figured it was only fair to sneak a picture of her while she worked to crack it open.

Image

Then I made Alex take 263+ pictures of me on the beach, holding said coconut.

Image

Now Alex with the coconut:

Image

Okay, I think that’s enough of that.

After the beach, we tucked into some lunch (excuse my foot)…

Image

…and a cold beer, oceanside.

Image

And with that, it was time to wave a sad goodbye to Gili Meno. Even my seat next to Monsieur Grenouille, who chain-smoked his way back to Gili T on the crowded afternoon ferry, could not rile my relaxed mood. Gili Meno, je t’aime!

Gili Trawangan

Picking up where we left off…

On Monday morning, we had an early morning pick-up for our boat ride to Gili Trawangan. I sat next to a Dutch “coffee” shop owner who told me all about his trade and kindly offered me one of his warm beers. It was 7:30 am. Yes, I was on vacation…but I think a solid rule is that you should have at least one cup of coffee before you start drinking alcohol in the morning. 

On the boat, I braved windy conditions to snap a few pictures in the open air:

Image

Image

And with that, I quickly ducked back inside. While the idea of sunning myself on the boat was appealing, I figured I probably didn’t need to get a head start on my sunburn before I even got to the beach.

We arrived shortly thereafter on Gili Trawangan, which, along with Gili Meno and Gili Air, makes up a trio of islands off the coast of Lombok (yet another gorgeous island in Indonesia). Gili T is the largest of the three, but is still very easy to get around. There are no cars at all on any of the three islands. Instead, you walk, bike or…

Image

…use a good old-fashioned horse and carriage. We actually had no need for this mode of transportation during our stay, but it still was fun to see all of the horses.

Despite the fact that Trawangan is the “big” island, we were able to find our hostel just from wandering around. We had only a vague idea of where it was located and no map, yet with a little exploring (note: rolling suitcases do not fare well on dirt roads) we found it fairly quickly.

Image

Image

Our room is two doors down on the right.

Now. This location was beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. However, with the remoteness of a location like Gili T comes certain…quirks. Fresh water is obviously a limited resource on any island, and so we took a whole lot of saltwater showers. This was assuming we had water, because one night we came home a little bit too late, and the water had been shut off for the night. Unless you’re staying in a five-star resort, actually, you can expect that such will be the case. It’s a bit of a reality check when water is something to which you don’t give much thought. I actually became homesick for my cold (freshwater) showers back in Malaysia. Who knew?

After we checked in and dropped our bags, we did exactly what anyone would do upon landing in a tropical paradise: find the beach.

Image

Image

No words needed.

I also was able to fulfill one of my tropical island dreams of drinking a coconut. Happy as a clam!

Image

After lunch, we took a dip…

Image

As blissful as it was, the sun was hot and we had gotten up very early that day. So we packed our things and headed back to our hostel for a siesta…

Image

…but not before snapping a picture of my boat! 

It was great to wander around the island and soak up the laid-back vibe. I noticed this in traveling to both St. Martin and Belize, and it really is true: island time is slower than normal life time, even for the people not on vacation. No one is in a rush, and no one cares if you enjoy your coffee/juice/cocktail in a restaurant for 20 minutes or 2 hours. 

Image

Next up: our day trip to Gili Meno, which somehow managed to be even more gorgeous than Gili Trawangan.

Bali Beginnings: Kuta

I was fortunate enough to spend the past week on a lovely vacation to Indonesia, of which I knew just about nothing before going. Sure, I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love and wished myself its exotic locales (Italy, India and Bali), but all I knew about Bali was that it was a great place to fall in love with a wealthy Brazilian man. 

We landed in Denpasar, Bali late Friday night after a long day of traveling. Not wanting to go too far, we booked a hotel near the airport in Kuta. Kuta is known as the shopping/partying capital of Bali, and doesn’t have a whole lot of cultural high points (unlike, say, Ubud, which is definitely next on my Bali list and puts the Love in Eat, Pray Love). It was a great place to relax and hang out.

Kuta is beautiful, which is why it has become so touristy. The beaches, even when crowded with people, are expansive and offer plenty of space to dip your toes in the Indian Ocean (3 oceans down, 1 to go. Though I think I’ll not be dipping my toes in the Arctic). Although we didn’t spend very much time at the beach during the day, we took in gorgeous sunsets both nights that we were there.

Day One:

Image

Image

And Day 2…

Image

Image

Image

While our evenings were spent sipping beer at the beach (tough life, I know), our days were spent wandering the streets of Kuta. There is some great shopping to be done here, although I mostly just browsed. As much as I like haggling for a bargain, the street hawkers were relentless. They would follow you, tug on you and sometimes outright intimidate you. My personality does not fare well with these types. There were times when I would have liked to have looked around a shop or street stand a little more, but became too frustrated with the aggression of the sellers. I did purchase an owl tank top, pictured above, for $4. But only because the lady was nice, and pushy in a somewhat friendly way.

The streets of Kuta:

Image

Image

Image

Image

My favorite part of Kuta was our opening vacation activity, a three-hour spa treatment at Murano Spa. Normally a package like this would go for $200-300 at home, but not in Indonesia! For less than $25, we received massages, body scrub, a flower spa bath, and hair treatment. It was absolutely heavenly, and I could not get over how reasonably priced it was.

The spa:

Image

Image

Image

I enjoyed the couple of days that we spent in Kuta, but I probably don’t need to go back. I would, however, love to explore some other parts of Bali. After our time in Kuta, we took a boat over to Gili Islands, which are located on the east side of Bali. I cannot wait to tell you about them either, because they were some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. Pictures and post to come!

Puteri Mart Food Court

There’s a big area blocked off behind our local grocery store/market with a sign that says, “Puteri Mart Food Court,” which I’ve always wondered about. It only opens at night, and until last weekend, I had never been. Now when I think of “food court,” I think of a mall with Wendy’s, Mickey D’s, Auntie Anne’s and the like. As you can probably guess, the Puteri Mart Food Court is a little different. 

It turns out, the PM Food Court is the place to be on Saturday night (I actually think that it’s open every night except Friday, which is when the night market on the other side of town is open). There were food stalls, a mini mart with beer and other drinks, and – get this –  a karaoke stage. I couldn’t have asked for more excitement!

Image

Image

It was a little empty when we first arrived, but quickly filled up.

Naturally, I also took this as an opportunity to try more food. First up:

Image

Chicken something-or-other? Sure, I’ll take two!

Image

Image

It had a nice spicy-sweet glaze on top, which turned out to be quite yummy. To be washed down with…

Image

…bad Asian beer! Although it was nice to enjoy a beer outside (atypical, given the Muslim culture and the fact that most people don’t drink), it did make me pine a little for Keegan Ales and other delicious beer at home. 

I was still hungry for a little something else, so I wandered over to another Chinese stall, where a little boy was behind the counter with his mom. Upon seeing me, he shrieked and dove behind a chair (as I’ve mentioned, not too many foreigners around). Anyway, I ordered bao (which is the Chinese word for it, which Alex told me before I went over and ordered, which totally impressed/confused the lady behind the counter). It’s a steamed, bread-like bun that can be filled with a variety of things. Mine had pork, onions and some other stuff(?). It was okay, but I wouldn’t rush back to get it again:

Image

I asked the woman if I could photograph some of her other food, which also looked interesting:

Image

I was too full to try anything else, but there’s always next time! 

So we enjoyed our food, drinks and terrible karaoke…

 Image

I was tempted to get up and belt out a few songs, but I’ll use the excuse that all of the songs were Chinese and I didn’t know the lyrics. Alex does know Chinese, so he really has no excuse. 

There aren’t many places to “hang out” near where we live, so it’s nice to know that you can go somewhere outside, have some food and drinks, listen to music (I guess…), and chill out. I don’t need to go every week, but I would definitely go again.

And now I will be going on a little hiatus for the next week and a half or so. Alex and I are leaving for Bali on Friday, to spend the weekend, and will be going to another island in Indonesia next week. I’ll send some virtual sun your way, and recap when I return!

Desaru Beach

When we lived in Busan, Alex and I were admittedly quite spoiled by our proximity to Gwangali Beach. Only a 10-minute walk away, we spent most of our summer weekends there (and lunch breaks, and days off). It was one of my favorite things about Busan, and possibly what I miss the most.

Here in Malaysia, it’s beach weather just about every day…but we do actually have to drive to the beach. A couple weeks ago, we took a mini roadtrip to Desaru Beach. The 45-minute ride was lined with beautiful palm trees, and would have been quite relaxing had there been no other cars on the road. See, this was my first real taste of Malaysian driving (as a passenger). Driving here, in addition to being on the opposite (cough, wrong) side of the road, does not involve the use of blinkers, stop signs or passing lanes. It is perfectly acceptable to pass uphill, around a curve, and without signaling. I was pumping the imaginary breaks for other motorists the entire time, and eventually took to staring down at my phone to avoid the anxiety of looking out the window. That said (and this is no reflection on Alex’s driving, which adhered to conventional rules of the road quite well), I was slightly surprised and extremely thrilled when we arrived at the beach safely.

Here’s one picture I managed to snap during a brief moment of serenity:

Image

Desaru Beach was a renowned resort town in the 80s, but its popularity has since waned. It’s strange, because there are several enormous resorts still in operation– but with very few guests. I suspect it’s a popular destination for Singaporeans at certain times of the year, but the beach was wide open and dotted with just a few locals when we were there.

So we swam, read, relaxed, got a weird sunburn (courtesy of spray sunscreen and a windy day), and photographed more palm trees.

ImageImageImageImage

Image

After we were sufficiently crispy, we sneaked into one of the resorts for a late lunch and drink. Behold, my melting margarita:

Image

One of the best parts about sitting on the beach as the sun went down was actually feeling a little chilly. Of course, I didn’t bring a sweater or anything with me, because I haven’t felt anything even resembling “chilly” since arriving here. But it was nice to feel the breeze off the water and cool down a bit (and cue everyone rolling their eyes/virtually throwing things at me from home. Spring is coming, guys!)

It was a nice to get away from the crowdedness of our town/neighborhood for the day and get some fresh air. Even better that it was ocean air!

Pasar Malam [Night Market Wanderings]

Every night all over Southeast Asia, pasar malam, or night markets, pop up in different cities and towns. On any given night in Malaysia, you can find these night markets throughout Johor Bahru and its suburbs. Our town, Puteri Wangsa, happens to host one of the larger pasar malam on Friday nights. We had gone for the first time a couple weeks ago, and returned last weekend for second look.

Here you can find everything- street food, fresh produce, clothing, household products, and even expired/discounted OPI nail polish (that one made me do a double take). I thought fondly of my cousin and her nail polish obsession as I pored over the 2RM bottles of color (about $0.61, Jaime. Don’t worry, I’ll stock up for you!).

The range of stalls and the number of people were a feast for the eyes, and Alex and I were a feast for the eyes for everyone else (not too many other foreigners here, and by that, I mean no other foreigners here). But we bargained with the best of them, chowed down on some local food and soaked up the buzzing vibe of the pasar malam.

ImageImageImageImageImage

We tried that mystery juice during our first visit…a mystery because we did not see the giant pile of sugar cane on the ground. Anyway, we passed it back and forth, saying things like, “I think I like it,” and “I don’t think I like it,” and “I just can’t decide,” before finishing the whole thing. I think ultimately we settled on “didn’t like,” because if you have to think so hard whether or not something tastes good, it’s probably a no.

ImageImage

These juices, though! These juices looked so tempting and refreshing, but of course, I had no idea what anything meant (as I now curiously Google Translate each flavor, and congratulate myself for not randomly selecting jagong, which is corn juice). So, I chose the bright pink one from the first picture:

Image

Watermelon! Yum! And for about $0.30!

Next, we sidled on up to the chicken satay stand at the end of the line. The conversation went something like this:

A: How many should we get?

Me: I don’t know, maybe three?

A: Okay, so six or seven altogether?

Me: Um…three to split?

A: Oh.

As it turned out, we probably should have bought the entire stand because this chicken was so good. I noticed when we had visited the first time that it was the most popular satay stand, despite being a little far from the action. For good reason!

ImageImage

I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but three skewers was definitely in the 2-3RM range.

We were still hungry, so Alex picked up some mee goreng (fried noodles) from the place we had gone during our first visit. I abstained, because the innocuous-looking fried rice on the end was so spicy that I could only eat two or three bites before throwing in the towel.

ImageImage

So, with Alex satisfied, we set off in search of a little something else for me to eat. But what? The choices were so abundant that it was nearly impossible to decide…Image

…not quite in the mood for mystery fried foods…

Image

…the smell of durian makes me sick to my stomach…

Image

…okay, getting closer to something I might want to try! We found a Chinese food stall, and I was intrigued by these:

Image

These are zongzi, a Chinese dish in which sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice, but that name is significantly less appetizing) and various meats/spices are wrapped in up in a neat little banana leaf (or bamboo leaf, or lotus leaf) package. There are tons of variations to this dish, depending on where you are in China (or Malaysia), but this one was filled with rice and BBQ pork. I really liked it, though it took me a few bites to decide. Despite having lived in Asia before, I’ve never had “real” Chinese food. With such a significant Chinese population in Malaysia, though, I’m sure there will be more Chinese food to come.

After picking up our last munchie of the night, we headed back home. Our market runs from four or five in the afternoon until ten or so at night. Some pasar malam stay open until the wee hours, and I’m sure the food is especially great after imbibing a couple Tigers. Just a hunch…

So, party people, if you found yourself at the Puteri Wangsa night market with me next Friday, which food/drink would you most like to try?