The Gili Islands are three tiny patches of sand of diminishing size, situated a swim from the coast of Lombok and and stone's throw from Bali. I headed here by ferry from Nusa Lembongan, via the port of Padang Bai. Doing this journey with a bus-full of fellow Europeans, it certainly felt like being back in Thailand; no real sense of adventure. But the islands had been highly recommended by friends who'd been in the past few years. I imagined they'd developed much more, so wasn't expecting too much.
It was probably a good thing I hadn't. We pulled up at night off the coast of Trawangan, the ferry idling to fight the current roaring past us as a small craft approached to take us to the beach. The prow of the smaller boat was merely a foot above the hissing waters trying to push it away, and the jump from boat to boat was a bit hairy. One slip and I reckon I'd have been back in Bali by sunrise.
We approached the beach, the gangs of promoters waiting to take us off to their restaurants and guesthouses. The first one I viewed was a sight: stained walls, damp ceilings and a lamp with no shade...I wouldn't have left a dog in there. I stifled a laugh when the guy asked me how many days I'd be staying; it would have been prescient of him to ask me to calculate my remaining time in his company in nanoseconds. He was desperately asking guests to vouch for his place as I walked off.
A friendly-looking guy stopped me further up the beach and asked if I wanted to see somewhere new and clean? I informed him he wasn't wrong. He took me off the beach, and up a small sandy street to his family's place. Secure and clean, this would do. Off the main drag, the only noise came from the horse-drawn carts they use as taxis on the islands; there are no cars or bikes.
Settling in, I got chatting to three Serbian and Croatian girls next door. It was then that we met a fellow I instantly named Spaceman Dave. He'd introduced himself as David, but the way he spoke...slowly and seemingly looking through you at a spot a few feet behind your head, ensured he got such a nickname.
"I am David. I am your friend. I get you good stuff. Mushroom. Marijuana. Cocaine."
"Cocaine? Here?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yes. I get you anything."
"And how much is that, then?"
The equivalent of around 600 quid a gram, it turned out.
"Well I'm off to South America soon, so I think I'll pass on that one...how much is the grass?"
He produced a bag full of twigs with a few bits of grass on them for around a tenner.
"Dave, I'm not 16 years old...that's rubbish."
He pulled out the musrooms.
"Good mushroom, take you to the moon."
"Not fussed about going all that way, Dave...but if they actually work and you can get me a bigger bag, we may do some business. You can keep the twigs, though."
I headed out later to pacify my growling stomach. Trawangan's main drag runs right along one side of the island for a good kilometer, bars and restaurants everywhere; the more expensive places being at the south of the island. I was informed that there was a party in the Irish Bar that evening. Oh great. I ate alone and then bumped into an English couple I'd chatted to on the way over. We decided to head to the party and see what it was like. Like being back on Siree Beach on Koh Tao, actually: shit music and a shit bar. We made the best of it, though, and were having a pleasant drink until I tried to get another round.
The bar was packed, and I was stood next to a guy at the bar when his mate decided to squeeze in between us. I steeled myself, and wasn't for being barged out of the way. As the barman came over, the oik started ordering his drinks. Bearing in mind I'd been waiting a good ten minutes, it's fair to say I was a little narked.
"I think I was next, mate...where's your manners?" I asked him.
"You what?" English. Silly fool with a pierced eyebrow and a ton of gel in his hair.
"I've been waiting to get served, and you just barge in. Can't you wait your turn?"
I ordered my drinks as he argued the toss, saying he'd been waiting too. I told him he'd pushed in and it was plain rude...no excuse. The guy was drunk, and moved to the other side of me with a smirk on his face. As my drinks came, he got his at the same time from another barman. "Did you get your drinks?" he crowed "I got mine..." I stood on his foot as he went to move away and gave a tight-lipped smile and offered a "So sorry."
I was still fuming when his mate started having a go.
"You were very rude to my friend." French.
"And you don't think pushing in at the bar was rude?" I challenged.
"You shouted at him. This is not good. Now he has gone away."
"Probably best for him" I returned "his behaviour made me quite angry."
"You should be used to this at the bar...this is how it is in England. I lived there ten years."
Now this was a red rag to a bull. I bristled.
"I don't know where you've been in England, Francois...but we don't behave like this. We have a thing called etiquette when ordering drinks. You should know this, as it's one of your words. And don't fucking dare tell me how it is in England, as I was born there and have lived there 38 years."
I was actually beginning to enjoy this now.
"Look. We live here..." he started. I'd noticed his dive computer on his wrist, and the fact his mate had one. Divemasters or Instructors.
"You don't live here, Jean Paul. You're on an extended holiday at a dive shop. You're not a local. And besides...does this mean you reserve the right to push in at the bar and ignore people who have been waiting?"
He paused. "You shouted at my friend. You are rude..."
"Rude? Rude?" I laughed. "Don't talk to me about rude, mon ami...you lot invented rudeness."
I took the drinks and walked away, giving his mate the eyeball as I walked past.
Don't think I'll be diving at their shop. Probably wouldn't be welcome.
I spent the next few days hanging out with the Serbs: Aleksandra, Maya, Ivana and Milicia. They'd moved up the beach to where it was much quieter, away from the crowds. The locals up there were far friendlier, too...and I met a cool Malaysian fella named Black. He lives in Sweden, and we got along famously. Myself and the girls had done some very mild mushrooms one night and retired to their beach later for a smoke (I'd haggled for some half-decent weed which worked but stank of amonia)...we ended up getting stoned til the early hours together, and Black joined in. We got an older local guy extremely wrecked, he was struggling to play his guitar and laughing away.
Having had enough of the noise of Trawangan, the drunken westerners and the rip-off prices, myself and the Serbs decided to try Gili Meno the next day.