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  • Gili Islands Indonesia by Chris Ansell 2009

    Another month, another break. Well, this break was actually spread over two months (the end of December and the beginning of January) but you get the point. Working for Super these past fifteen months I feel like I’ve been on as many holidays as all my friends back home put together…which may actually be about fifteen! Our final break before the two-month sprint to the end of the semester took place as the sun was setting on 2010. Eleven days to venture as far and wide as we desired….

    I have always spent New Years Eve on an island. Most have been spent on a medium sized island called United Kingdom. One was spent on a super big island on the other side of the world from my home but not too dissimilar nonetheless; Australia. Last year was spent on a pretty small island in the shape of Ko Lanta just off the west coast of Thailand. This years was spent on by far the smallest island to date however when I found myself on Gili Meno. (The name Gili even translates as “Small Island”). Meno is one of three islands just off the coast of a slightly larger island, Lombock, which itself is off the coast of an even larger and well-known island called Bali (it is to here which you would fly into from Thailand to reach the Gili’).

    The transport system on the Gili’ is reasonably simple to understand and negotiate. There are no traffic lights, round-a-bouts or even tarmac roads for that matter. Indeed, you will find no cars or motorbikes. Even police are absent! Instead horse-drawn carts line the side of a sandy track under the shade of palm trees close to where the long-boat arrives and departs with it’s twice daily hoard of people sporting Deuter and The North Face backpacks (or little pink handbags in the case of one unlucky passenger cruelly made to carry his girlfriends Christmas present for the entire trip). Not that transport is required at all. By foot (minus the bags) it is possible to stroll the circumference of each of the islands in less than two hours. And dependant upon which of the three islands you find yourself, you will discover a varying number of little cafés/restaurants/bars and bungalow accommodation. Gili Air is the closest island to Lombock and the smallest too. Here you will be met by only a handful of locals trying to persuade you to spend your time in their bungalows. Mr. Lucky of Lucky’s Bungalows will suggest coming with him as “you will be able to watch the sun set every evening in the cool breeze that you don’t feel on the east side. Do you like to smoke? We have if you like!”. “But his are 150,000 per night. I give you 80,000 with breakfast” counteracts Mr. Mussan of Mussan bungalows. Our budget makes our choice for us and after satisfying Mr.Lucky with a promise to head over to watch the sunset on the west side with him later we set off to lay our heavy bags down(and of course our not so heavy little pink ones).

    As with a lot of the small islands found off of the Thai coast, accommodation on the Gili’ is rather basic. The electricity doesn’t function the full 24 hours of the day and you must get used to brushing your teeth and showering using salt water (fresh water accommodation can be found but obviously at a higher price). For New Years Eve we decided to change islands having spent two days on Gili Air already and with a flight back to reality quickly approaching. John and Janet took the early morning long-boat (a fifteen minute voyage) across to the middle of the three islands Gili Meno. Brittney and I failed to make the crossing without getting a little wet though. We found ourselves 20m under the oceans surface with flippers on our feet and tanks on our torsos! Scuba diving here is world-renowned and at $35 a dive, is an opportunity tough to pass on. I was down for just fifteen minutes because of equalizing problems but saw some stunning coral in this short time. Brittney got full use of her tank and saw some giant turtles along with a plethora of other fascinating looking fish. We made a quick detour to the largest island Gili Trawangan (known as the party island) as this is the only one with an atm machine. After paying the scuba people (who very kindly wavered my payment due to the problems I experienced) we were dropped off on Gili Meno to join up with John and Janet who we found gazing out to sea sipping on Avocado shakes. After some great seafood “Nasi Chumpor” for lunch we set out in search of a bar to sink some happy hour beers and watch 2010 come to a close. Our last supper of the year was a healthy affair and consisted of some nutritious vegetables such as onions, peppers and mushrooms. A tropical storm created some epic scenes on our walk home where pitch-blackness suddenly changed to bright whiteness with everything becoming illuminated. On those sporadic occasions the place appeared as a Tim Burton film set. Lightening crashed down, fireworks shot up and thunder deafened us all. A monumental end to a holiday and a magnificent beginning to a new year.

  • Bali by Brittney Johnson 2010

    I am very fortunate to live in a country with many holidays and to work for a company like Super English that allows it’s employees to take full advantage of those times off. My school was closed for Christmas break, so my fellow teachers/friends and I decided to take advantage of the super cheap promotion on Air Asia. We scored round-trip tickets from Phuket to Bali for $120. Thailand is such a strategic location for cheap holiday trips! Other schools in Surat Thani were not closed for the entire Christmas break, so I felt very lucky that we had that time off. Christmas and New Year’s are my favorite holidays, so I was excited to be able to spend them with close friends! Janet, John, Chris and I left December 27th, early in the morning, so early that we decided to sleep in the airport that night. Needless to say, we are budget travelers.

    Bali is an island in Indonesia. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population than any other country in the world, with approximately 202.9 million. However, Bali is a Hindu island. So, it’s totally different than it’s neighboring islands. Bali is kind of like it’s own country. They have their own language and religion. Even the archicture is very different than other Indonesian islands. It’s a truly fascinating, beautiful, charming, spiritual place. The people are incredibly friendly, warm, English speaking Hindus. You can hardly pass a Balinese person without them giving you some sort of greeting or asking you a question. They are genuinely interested in knowing you.

    As soon as we arrived we had some errands to run in Denpensar, the capital of Bali. Then we headed north to Ubud. I’m sure you’ve heard of Ubud by now. It got put on the map due to the best selling book and now movie starring Julia Roberts, “Eat, Pray, Love.” It’s kind of a shame that it has become such a popular tourist destination. I was in Ubud one year ago, and although it was still touristy and crowded due to the high season, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was this year. However, Ubud still has tons of charm and uniqueness.

    As soon as we booked our homestay, being the budget travelers that we are, we began the search for some cheap, local food for our first meal. I had been raving about how good the food was to the others. They had high expectations. And I must say, the Balinese food did not disappoint them. We ate local, cheap food the entire time we were there. We could have decided to treat ourselves to an expensive, nice, western meal, but we liked the local food too much. The local dish is called Nasi Campur. It’s different each time. It consists of rice, vegetables, beans, tofu, tempe, chicken, fish, pork, nuts, coconut, spicy or peanut sauce, etc. You get to pick what you want inside. Then they wrap it up in a banana leaf. All of that for about $1. There’s such a variety that you never get tired of it because you get different fillings each time.

    So, we spent the evening walking around town, eating Nasi Campur on our balcony by candlelight and washing it down with some Balinese beer. Then we went for some tea and shisha. The next morning we woke up to a delightful breakfast of Balinese coffee, banana pancakes, Jaffles and fresh fruit salad. We then got a taxi and headed up to the northern coast to Lovina. Some local people told us it was a really beautiful black sand beach town. The 3 hour drive was a beautiful ride through the central part of the country.

    We got a good deal on accommodation. That night we walked along the black sand beach and had a couple local beers and local dinner. We ate and drank on the beach. Lovina was nice, but we decided later that we would have rather of stayed another night in charming Ubud. We decided to leave super early the next day (5am) to start the journey out to the Gili Islands. The Gili Islands are not part of Bali, but are part of Indonesia. They are tiny islands off of Lombok. We ended up having an incredible New Years on the Gilis!

    After the Gilis we returned to Bali one day before our flight. We all agreed that we would like to spend our last night in Ubud. We couldn’t get enough of it! We got in early evening and found a decent homestay. Most of the homestays in Ubud range from $10-$20, and they all include breakfast. They all have a huge garden with ancient statues of Hindu religious figures. All throughout the day, people are setting out their offerings of various flowers, food, and insence in a bamboo basket. You can’t go very far without seeing a temple. Ubud is filled with art galleries, designer boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, local and western restaurants, stores with handcrafted items, markets, etc.

    Our last morning, we woke up early to observe the morning market scene. People were busy selling breakfast and Hindu offering items. We grabbed our last Indonesian food to go to have later on the airplane (since Air Asia doesn’t serve food or drinks on any flights).

    We spent one week in Indonesia and had an remarkable trip. I was just as impressed the second time around to Bali as I was the first time, one year ago. Even though we were on the go quite a bit because we wanted to see so much, it was still a relaxing holiday. It’s the Balinese way of life. There’s no rush. They take time to talk to people. I’m sure I will find myself in Bali again. And I look forward to it.