The world stopped when I was on a paddleboard in between two islands. My sun-kissed skin was gradually blending into a darker tone as four hours passed on the ocean. Gili Trawangan, euphoria in paradise.
A uniquely beautiful island in Indonesia, Gili Trawangan makes up one-third of the three exquisite Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Three tiny islands in the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
My experience was tailor-made to me. Twenty-four hours in Gili Trawangan, better known as the party island. Arriving on the pristine sandy beach by boat and hurtling my travel rucksack on my back, my dream had begun.
A half an hour fast boat ride from Padang Bai Port in Bali, I started to feel as though I had just stepped foot in paradise. I really had. After abruptly dumping my luggage in a local hostel, I made a bee-line for the picturesque shores.
Snorkelling. What more than diving myself in the turquoise waters. Upon boarding an almost pirate ship like small boat, we set off. I was about to immerse myself in the wonders of the coral and marine life in the spectacular underwater world of the Gili Islands. The water was pristine, glistening under my toes as I sat on the side of the boat. I took a deep breath, tightened my goggles and snorkel, and plunged in. The water sent shivers through my body. Underwater was crystal clear, quiet, peaceful. I flipped my body and dived down.
Swimming amongst schools of fish, the ocean felt as though it was all mine to explore. The solitude under the water as I swam away was enchanting. I felt entirely at one with the ocean. Up for breath, a glance to ensure the boat was still there, and back down. Snorkelling through miraculous corals, painted by earthy colours of browns, oranges and white. I was absorbed in an underwater world full of incredible amounts of life. I now understood how much of under the water is still undiscovered.
Snorkelling along the corals, in and out of the sea life, I took one last breath and dived. Bestowed upon me was a lone turtle. Gracefully floating through the ocean, I swam beside it. A momentary pause as we looked at one another before it swam away. We cruised together side by side. Twisting and turning. With my last breath, I stopped, floating as I watched the turtle drift away, and up to the surface, I came. With a push back onto the boat I travelled back to the shores.
Back on land, travelling the island is via bike or cidomo, a horse-drawn cart ride. I rented a bicycle and began my exploration to the other side of the island. Cycling along a path surrounding Gili Trawangan, I weaved in and out of tourists, locals and horses. The wind breezed through my hair and kissed my skin. I felt at one with the island.
I stopped by Pandawa Beach as the sun began to set. Once given my turn, I waded out to the swing set in the ocean, climbed upon it and gazed out to the open waters ahead of me. With the island behind me, I held onto the swing’s ropes. The sunset was enchanting. The water was still, the ocean breeze overwhelming my senses with warm air and a salty smell. As the colours of the sky faded into pinks and oranges, twilight began to set across the island. I stepped off the swing as I felt the warm sand between my toes. People on horseback rode softly through the shallow waters. The sunset was magical. Tranquil. Everyone was silent as daylight turned to night.
I cycled back around the other half of the island. To proclaim I had just cycled around the entire island was a fun achievement. My smile was beaming from ear to ear. Full circle. The night sky lit with twinkling stars and constellations. In the depth of the island off the main path, the Milky Way astonished in the sky. The first time I had seen it in all its glory. Euphoria and tranquillity flooded my body. My eyes were captivated by the wonders of the sky. My mind circled with ideas of how to be lost in the vastness of the galaxies above.
As the evening settles, I indulge in a classic Indonesian stir-fried rice recipe nasi goreng washed down with Indonesia’s finest Bintang beer. My entrancing day was near to complete. A quick stop at the local Irish Bar topped it off. On top of the table, dancing away to very typical of the time pop music and belting tunes at the top of my lungs. In front of me, everyone is engrossed in the atmosphere. Right behind me was the ocean. The contrast of my surroundings was astonishing. One side is the busy, bustling, laughter-filled bar. On the other side, a starry night, the pristine beach and soothing sounds of whispers as the ocean waves gently embrace the shores.
As the evening turned to morning and I arose in my hostel, I was ready to seize my last few hours in paradise. I clambered onto my paddleboard in the ocean and began my voyage to Gili Meno, the island set in the middle of the three Gili islands. In reality, the distance was much further than it looked, and the currents detoured me slightly. Nonetheless, I was fully committed to my goal. Right, left, right-left. As I paddled the board dipping in and out of swimmers, divers, and veering around boats, the hustle and bustle of the waters were comparable to Times Square in New York. However, further afield, the calmer the environment. Right in between the two islands, this is where I paused.
Gili Trawangan to my right. Gili Meno to my left. Lombok directly ahead and open waters behind. The world stopped when I was on a paddleboard in between two islands. I felt minuscule in the greatness of my surroundings. A spellbinding and surreal experience.
After a great deal of power, I finally made it to Gili Meno. I waded in the ocean, basked in the sun on the shores and appreciated the silence once more, this time on the honeymoon island. A short detox, admiring the views of unspoiled nature, and I was embarking back to Gili Trawangan. My power was running low, so after a brief pursuit standing, I found myself sitting down paddling my way back home. A four-hour round trip, I was back onshore. I had left a small slice of isolated paradise on Gili Meno as I returned to the busy but equally as mesmerising Gili Trawangan.
My rucksack on my sunburnt shoulders. A bottle of aloe vera in hand and a packet of Lay’s Rasa Rumput Laut (Nori Seaweed Flavour) crisps in the other. I stepped foot on the boat back to Bali and found my seat at the tail end, mesmerised by the wake. The islands fade into the distance as my twenty-four hours in the Gili Islands close. I was and still am completely hypnotised by this magical place.