Gili Air and Bali

Just got to Gili Air today, one of the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali. I had heard about how amazing they are from two separate people, so I decided to give them a try.

There are three Gili Islands about two hours away from Bali by the fast boats. I chose Gili Air because it sounded like there are some people and restaurants, but laid back enough and not over developed (relatively speaking) compared to Gili Trabagan and also not too rural and quiet compared to Gili Menos. So, a couple interesting facts about the Gili Islands:

• There is no motorized transport allowed on the islands. The only vehicles are horse drawn carts. A rare bit of foresight on how to keep the level of tourist development manageable and also protect the island’s ecosystem.

• Gili Air and Gili Menos do not have freshwater in the island plumbing. Only salt water. So after swimming in the ocean today, I showered with salt water in my hotel room. I noticed that the soap does not lather all that well with salt water, but I do feel clean now. Gili Trabagan just opened some kind of freshwater plant, but I don’t think all the hotels are connected to it yet.

• There are no dogs on the islands. Weird but true. Especially considering the number of stray dogs on Bali. I don’t know why this is the case.

• Apparently the islands are so tiny that you can walk around each of the islands in about an hour. I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.

Anyway, I got to my beach bungalow today (only $30 a night!!). The place is cute, but we will see how I handle the lack of A/C and open air deck with day bed and hammock (and mosquitos!)

After I checked in, I went to the hotel beach side bar to get lunch. The staff are super friendly and I met this chick from Denmark who will be here 4 or 5 months working in my hotel as part of her hotel management training (all expenses paid!) I thought it was a cool gig, but would get soo bored being in Gili Air for 5 months. The laid back vibe is cool, but I would have picked some place like Ubud or Chiangmai or Oaxaca. Some of these cute towns with a lot more to do.

Well after chatting with her for a bit, she invited me along to go snorkeling with her and her friend (a local) who can show us lots of stuff that we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I ended up going with her and it was awesome. My hotel happens to be located on a beach with amazing coral reefs and fish. The guy pointed out huge turtles – the kind in the zoo that are over 100 years old. We also saw a snake, clams, and other cool plants that close up when you touch them. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went.

Before arriving here, I was in the town of Ubud on Bali, which is apparently where Elizabeth Gilbert from “eat pray love” spent a lot of her time in Bali. I didn’t know that before i got here, but I can see why it’s a popular place. It’s more inland and has beautiful scenery with rice fields everywhere, art classes, organic food, slightly cooler weather than the coast and it’s very navigable.

I booked this relatively new hotel called In Da Lodge – my brother who doesn’t write me that many emails felt compelled to email me a one liner about the name of the hotel and how I am “really slumming it now.” I can’t argue about the name and it’s definitely no Marriott, but I really liked it. The staff were awesome and fun to hang out with at the hotel bar at night. One of them took me on a little tour of the surrounding areas of Ubud on his motorbike.

Bali is the only island in Indonesia where the majority of people are Hindu. It’s interesting observing how the practice Hinduism versus Indians. A few notable things: most of the Hindus in Bali are not vegetarian, as compared to india where most are vegetarian. They follow the caste system here, too. For some reason I thought that was only an indian thing, but it’s one of the ugly aspects of Hinduism that is followed here, too. I was talking to the hotel staff at the Lodge last night and the caste thing doesn’t seem as strict as in India. They have these little offerings everywhere that include flowers and incense on a banana leaf placed on the floor in door ways and all around the homes and shops. That must be a Balinese thing, as it’s not done in India. They sacrifice animals in their religious ceremonies at times – again, must be a Balinese thing as Indian Hindus do not sacrifice animals.

The Balinese food is delicious. Hard to describe, but there is coconut in everything, which I love. And it is a bit spicy, too. I am wondering why I never found Balinese food in NYC. Or maybe it’s more like Indonesian food that I should be looking for. They serve a lot of fruity lassis here. I have been having 1 to 2 lassis a day. Probably not smart for my weight, but delicious.

Ubud also has a famous yoga place, the Yoga Barn. I had planned to take a yoga class of two, but Bali is the most humid place on earth (according to me) where they seem not to believe in A/C of even fans. So I nixed the yoga idea because I will die of the heat in their open air pavilion. However, they have this organic restaurant where I ate lunch one day. And I had the most delicious banana lassi ever. I should try and get that recipe.

As you can see, I am enjoying myself, though starting to feel ready to finish my travels soon. And to not be in tropical weather anymore! I extended until the end of December, but probably won’t be traveling much longer than that.

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