life after 5 months on a tiny tropical island

My oh my, where has the time gone!?! I have officially lived on this island for 5 months! I can barely believe that because time has literally flown by. So many things have happened and I felt like it was about time I seek out some wifi, take advantage of my sick time, and write it all down!

Incase you haven’t been following me, I will fill you in. My boyfriend and I moved here from Mexico 5 months ago with an original plan of staying in Bali and finding work as scuba instructors there. Well I guess the universe didn’t have that planned because Bali’s Mount Agung started erupting a week before we arrived and managed to evacuate the two biggest dive towns on the island. So, we spent 2 weeks exploring Bali, handing out our CV’s, speaking with dive shops and moving around the island because Bali doesn’t feel much like an island, I mean, it’s HUGE. Anyways, as beautiful as it was we decided that maybe a smaller island vibe was in fact what we were looking for and took everyone’s advice to look for work in the Gili Islands . The Gilis are located in between Bali and Lombok (another island the size of Bali with a volcano).

The minute we arrived on Gili Air we fell in love with the quiet and tranquility of the island. Although Bali is mostly Hindu, Lombok is predominately Muslim and so are the Gilis. There is at least 1 mosque on each island but Lombok itself is deemed “the land of 1,000 mosques”. You can hear the call to prayer 5 times a day starting just after 5 AM and there is a loud speaker on the island that announces it. It takes a little getting used to, especially if you live really close to the mosque. Although no where on the island is safe, I sleep pretty soundly and can only hear it if I’m outside!

When you first arrive you’ll notice the flat little sand islands against the back drop of Lombok, this huge mountainous island that towers over all the Gilis. All the local boats boast a similar shape with 2 outriggers on each, all different colors dotted along the reef. The tide here is incredibly extreme and exposes the reef for almost a kilometer sometimes twice a day depending on the moon. The islands themselves are quite dry but Gili Air has a fresh water reservoir beneath it which helps irrigate crops on the island and allows some things to grow.

The only mode of transportation is by foot, by bicycle, or a “Gili taxi” or “cidomo” which consists of a horse drawn cart and 1 driver. I can tell you, from experience, that this is quite the ride while you’re bumping along these tiny roads. These drivers are known for going extremely fast as well so if you’re not in the horse cart, you better get out of the way! I’ve jumped to safety more than a few times. They equip the carts with bells and you can hear the horses and bells coming along, but it takes awhile to train your ears that the sound means, “get the F out of the road!”

I cannot tell you the exact population of Gili Air but I do know it has the biggest local population. It is a good mix of the other 2 islands- Gili T and Gili Meno. Gili T is known for it’s party culture and has the biggest total population, not only locals. Gili Meno is known for it’s chilled out beach and honeymoon vibe. Gili Air is a happy medium between the two. Gili actually means “small island” in Sasak, the local dialect of Lombok and Air in Bahasa Indonesian means “water”, so it technically means “small water island” which is pretty fitting. They named it Air because of it’s reservoir. The Gilis didn’t become developed until the 1970’s when fishermen from Sulawesi started creating small settlements after their travels. By the 1980’s it had caught on as a tourist destination due to Bali’s merging popularity.

bali map

Do you see the 3 small islands off the NW coast of Lombok? There I am!

Now do you understand why I haven’t written publicly much these last few months? I’ve been writing a lot for myself but it is honestly such a chase to try to get good wifi that I prefer to live in the moment and stay disconnected instead of posting most of it publicly. Some day!

Another daily occurrence is island wide black outs. It happens a few times a day most of the time and makes the whole island dark. Sometimes they can last for 8 hours at the very moment you need to use the ATM or cook something. Although it doesn’t stop me, I now have candles all over the house and the minute the lights go out I don’t even flinch, I grab a lighter and start walking around. At least I can still cook because the stove runs on propane, I only need a few candles around my work station! I like the quiet nights where the power is out and I can do laundry by headlamp and read on the balcony. I’ve learned to make sure the electronics and battery packs are always charged and ready so when it happens we have a working speaker, music, a computer for saved movies and whatever else we might need.

There are cows and horses on the island. They all have owners but they basically roam free. Chickens are EVERYWHERE and are probably the most dangerous part of my daily life because they run in front of your bicycle tires like they’re trying to kill themselves! I’m telling you, watch out for the chickens! Victor and I always make, “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes. Lately they have all been having babies and there’s little peeps everywhere. There is a new rooster located directly next door to us, which apparently has no regard for what time of the day he decides to kick off, so that’s been fun lately. My favorite island horse is named Beyonce, she is a baby still with a little bit of a temper. Quite often you’ll see her running full speed down the beach road with her long line dragging behind her. She’s usually just looking for a nice patch of grass but she’s known to be a sassy lady. There are also lots of CATS so I’m in heaven! Cats everywhere! I’ve adopted my own adventure cat, named Botas, and helped with the cat clinic in November where they come to the island to vaccinate all the island cats. Unfortunately you won’t find dogs on the Gili Islands as they are considered dirty in Muslim culture. From what I’ve heard, all the ones that were here ended up poisoned or dead.

Gili has been the sweetest blessing! I have truly enjoyed this little island and taken the last few months to really disconnect, jump into my job, and enjoy my surroundings. Although the reviews on my part are wonderful, there are a few downsides. Despite my month long battle with ringworm, which grows rampant in the soil and spreads by *gasp* cats! I have managed to have it, not have it, have it, not have it, for almost 4 months now. Athletes foot is also common because people never wear shoes and it’s the same bacteria as ring worm. The spiders here are the size of my hand and you’ll find them frequently on your walls which took V some getting used to! I have become a pro spider catcher, and Botas also loves to chase the cockroaches and spiders out of the house.

Living on a tiny tropical island sounds great at first, but there are definitely some disadvantages that aren’t always forseen in the beginning! Regardless, I absolutely love it here. I am thankful to be barefoot and in the ocean every day. I am thankful for the beautiful reef I’m surrounded with and the people who have come into my life since I arrived on this island. Now that our work visas are through, we have another year to look forward to here! And then, who knows!?!

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