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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Atmospheric Rivers | Gili Air | Indonesia

Updated: Mar 25

Thanks for the warm welcome!

I'm assuming most people reading this will have experienced the call to prayer once in their lifetime. If not and you're confused by what I just wrote, the call to prayer is a summons for participants of a certain faith to attend a group worship or begin a required set of prayers. Muslims are called to prayer five times a day.


FIVE times a day.

That's right.

Dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening.


The actual 'call' is usually approximately five minutes long and normally blasted over an exceedingly muffled loudspeaker, so that it can be heard from great distances.


So... this loud, muffled call comes on FIVE times a day... and often, each phrase during the call to prayer is repeated one or more times.


Not in the Gili Islands.

Nope.

Here... the call to prayer seems to go on for days... and days.

It was incessant.


At first, I thought it was just me... but I asked around and everyone seemed to agree that it was an abnormally long call to prayer.


I was looking forward to the Gili Islands. I'd heard astonishingly wonderful things about them. I booked myself at a hotel in Gili Air and was envisioning a week of tropical bliss. Gili Air was one of the three Gili islands located to the east of Bali and off the coast of Lombok. I booked a hotel called the Banana Cottages, which was conveniently located between the white sand beaches and the hub of the village. It was going to be paradise... just me fluttering back and forth between the hotel pool and the crystal clear waves of coastal paradise.


Rain, Rain, Go Away!

That was my plan. I was euphoric.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Nothing.


Right?

Well...

Sometimes things don't go according to plan.


Especially this time.


My accommodation was pretty much perfect at the beginning. The bungalow had a double bed inside and a double bed outside, on the front patio. The setup confused me slightly, but perhaps it was meant to tempt me into slumber, depending on where I felt more comfortable. Considering the weather, I had no occasion to use the outdoor bed, but it was a lovely thought. Just steps beyond my outdoor bungalow bed was the elongated hotel pool, surrounded by palm trees, exotic flowers, beach lounges and colourful umbrellas. This too, would have been ideal, had the weather permitted me to use the pool on more than just a couple of occasions.


If you can't guess where I'm heading with this narrative by now, I will spell it right out...

The weather was atrocious.


The first couple of days were tolerable... but only for a small percentage of the day. There was more than one occasion that I had to run for cover to avoid being completely soaked. Unbeknownst to me until it was brought to my attention, front & centre, it was Indonesia's rainy season... which could aptly be renamed monsoon season.


When it rains here, it pours.

It really does.

And this wasn't the occasional burst of light precipitation either. This was a moderate to heavy downpour.


All. Day. Long.

100%.



Gili Air reminded me a lot of Koh Lipe in Thailand. There were no vehicles, apart from the odd moped, electric scooters, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. Bells and hooves and honks were constant and kept one on their toes. It could be a bit hazardous trying to manoeuvre your way through the narrow streets, all the while trying to avoid being run over by a bike or hit by a tiny horse.


It’s funny because I hardly saw any dogs on Gili Air. Maybe I didn't see any at all. Only cats. Where were the dogs?

Were there any dogs?

No...


*Here's an intriguing clip of me in my Banana bungalow bathroom...



Sammy landed on Gili Air the day after I arrived and it was so good to see her. again We certainly have had our share of ups & downs, travelling together, but I think that time apart brought us back together stronger and more tolerant of our differences. After all, we had survived four countries together and endured everything from attacking monkeys to swimming with sharks to the trials & tribulations of greedy tollbooths... and more. The Banana was full, so she was staying at another location, a mere 5-minute walk away.


The weather didn't seem to be improving and the prediction for the next 7-14 days was appalling. It wasn't even worth looking at the forecast because it just seemed to get worse. Regardless, we signed up to do another snorkelling excursion. The coral reefs surrounding the three islands made it ideal for seeing various species of fish... and sea turtles!


No sharks though, right?


This particular day on the water was the ONLY day in an entire week that we managed to escape a rainstorm. When I say that, I am not implying that we didn't have any rain that day. I just mean that we didn't experience any rain WHILE we were out on the water. We did not, however, escape the grey skies and the monstrous rolling waves.


Look at the marks on my face!

We also did not escape the drama... of which there was much... odd as it may seem... on a small boat... in the middle of the ocean... off the coast of the Gili Islands of Indonesia.


Very odd.


One of the guys on our little excursion was DRUNK! Sammy and I didn't notice it at first, but, while we were waiting to board, he was quite belligerent and the crew were contemplating not allowing him on the boat. They ended up turning a blind eye, made an exception and he did climb on with the rest of us... but only after purchasing a full bag of bottled beer at the local shop first. His intoxication was brought to our attention after a couple of abnormal incidents occurred. Everything was ok at first.


We all jumped in the water just off the coast of the second island, Gili Meno, and saw our first turtle of the day. It was such a harmonious encounter, being at one with the big blue and observing this graceful creature move through the water.


Everyone was so enamoured by the sealife below that we hardly even took notice of the rolling waves or the grey skies. The only thing that ruined my moment was the tightness of my mask, but I even managed to ignore that for as long as I possibly could. It was clearly too small for my big beast face and the top of the mask was digging in with a pulsating and violent pain, deep into my forehead. All I wanted to do was keep looking for sea turtles, so I was not impressed by this discomfort, inconvenience and excruciating agony.


Lucky me... the minuscule mask left an enormous red dent in the middle of my face. The pain was prominent for over a week.


I shouldn't complain too much. Due to the roughness of the sea, some of the passengers ended up so seasick that they either had to be taken ashore or spent the majority of the excursion vomiting over the side of the boat. Unfortunately, Sammy was one of those people... but her nausea didn't hit until near the end of the trip.


The next stop was the 'Nest'... off the coast of Gili Trawangan. The Nest is a circular collection of underwater statues meant to represent the bridge between the human world and the marine world. It was pinned as a must-see in the Gili snorkelling world, so it was no surprise to see the large quantity of boats at the site... and hoards of tourists flapping around in the water, above it. I don't think any of us escaped being smacked in the face at least once or twice with a hand or a fin.


The Nest was tough to see. Yes, there were way too many people to get a good look at it, but the water was also very murky. I tried being one of those people who can just swim down to the bottom of the sea like a mermaid, but despite my best efforts, I never seem to get further than a metre from the surface. I think I'm more of a buoy than a sea creature...


Once we'd all tried to see as much as we could see, we all got back on the board. Well... almost all of us. Everyone except the drunk guy.


Where was he?

He was nowhere to be found.


We waited.

... and waited...

... and waited...


The boat circled around and around and around... nothing.


This was beginning to cut into our snorkel tour time now. In the beginning, we had all been given strict instructions to keep an eye on our guide and our boat at all times. We were also all given approximate times expected to spend at each location. This guy was well past the allotted time frame and he just didn't care.


You could see the guides all frantically searching through the masses, trying to locate him so that we could all move on to our next stop. Finally, they found him, swimming along without a care in the world. Along with the help of other local guides in the water, they got his attention and beckoned him back to the boat immediately.


Quite obviously annoyed and horrendously inconvenienced, he climbed aboard, muttering under his breath and cursing us all. Any normal person in his position would have apologized profusely to the passengers for having wasted their time, but he chose to ignore us all instead. He simply did not care.


That was 'Drunk Man Episode One.'


'Drunk Man Episode Two' came at our next snorkel.


We were all having a lovely time splashing around in the water, admiring the colourful coral and the tropical fish. Each of us was in our own little marine world.


I was exceedingly proud of myself that afternoon... swimming by myself for a lot of the time... without buffers, in deep water and without too much fear of sharks. Yes, I will admit, I did occasionally cast a glance backwards to ensure nothing was approaching from behind... not that I would know what to do if it was...


Suddenly I spotted a turtle casually swimming up to the surface. I was one of the last to notice the turtle, but everyone else was circled around, observing this magnificent creature from an acceptable distance.


Except drunk man.

Of course.

Drunk man decided to swim right up to it, grab its shell and attempt to RIDE THE TURTLE.


What??? I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Even as I write this, I still cannot believe it.

He was RIDING the turtle.


I lifted my head out of the water and two of the girls on our tour had come unhinged. They were both very upset at his blatant disregard for marine life and disrespect for nature.


Not only did that 'touch' probably cause the turtle an abnormal amount of stress, but sea turtles are protected under Indonesian law and it's ILLEGAL to harass them. Grabbing it and attempting to 'ride' it is considered harassment, as far as I'm concerned. This guy should have been ashamed of himself.

He didn't care.


There was an awkward silence back on the boat. Very awkward. No one knew what to say or where to look...


Drunk man was dropped off on the shore of Gili Menos shortly after that episode. None of us could quite decipher whether he had requested this or whether he'd been expelled from the excursion due to his irresponsible and disrespectful behaviour.

Either way... the drunk man and his bag of beer were gone.

Earlier, when Sammy had begun to feel ill, I had encouraged her to vomit in that exact bag, not knowing it was full of beer and belonged to Mr. Rude & Reckless. Imagine if she'd saturated his bottles with vomit. That would have taken the drama to new heights.


Also... I didn't see one single shark.



Sammy left Gili island the following day, heading back to Bali for a few more days in Ubud before continuing to the Philippines. The weather was downright hideous on the day of her departure. If it wasn't raining, it was threatening to rain. Everything was miserable and wet. There were hoards of tourists at the pier, waiting impatiently to leave the island. Everyone was desperate for better weather somewhere else. I stuck around for two hours to see her off, but eventually decided to make my way back to the hotel... and out of the elements. When her boat finally did leave the dock, it probably should not have. The roughness of the sea mixed with ghastly gales was a lethal combination... and even the captain was fearful they might topple.


Hmmm....


Despite the apparent panic during the crossing, the boat did arrive safely in Bali. I was exceedingly grateful not to be going anywhere on a boat for the next few days.


A few more days...

So... that brings me to my boat.


I had no concrete plans after the Gili Islands. As I was in Indonesia for almost the entire month of March, I was on the lookout for something wonderful and adventurous to fill my days before I headed to Australia. I just had no idea what that would be.


Then I saw it!

A 4-day/3-night trip from Lombok to the Komodo Islands.

Perfect!

It was a bit pricey, but it was exactly what I was looking for.

The guy I was speaking to originally told me that the tour left on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Wednesday was ideal, as that was my final day on Gili Air. Nothing could have worked out better. I opted for the cheaper version with shared accommodation on the deck level... which seemed a little close for comfort with strangers, but also more of an experience. Then the narrative changed and there was no tour leaving on Wednesday. Some of the people told me it was full, while others insisted the tours only left on Saturday. I had no idea who to believe, but regardless, I had to wait until Saturday.



Fine. It was only three more nights. I could do it.

What was three more days in torrential downpour paradise?

I was positive it would improve though… right?

It had to.


No, it did not... and it didn't.

At all.


There was NO way that there could be THREE more days of thunderstorms.

Oh yes…

Yes, there could.


I extended my stay at the Banana Cottages and waited it out...

If I thought the weather was bad before, I had another 'think' coming.


And when it rained here… it poured.

It wasn’t like those temporary showers that roll in and they’re gone before you even know what happened. This was an atmospheric river…

IT TEEMED DOWN.


There was nothing to do except lie in bed, listening... and waiting... and praying for it to stop.



Through it all, I found a lot of great places on the island to eat. I met a lot of stranded travellers and bonded with them over our rainy-day grievances.


The Banana Cottages offered free breakfast, but in my 8 days there, I only took advantage of it twice. The food was decent, but the service was atrocious. I did put forth a real effort to support them, but each time I did, I felt cheated, ignored, annoyed or sick. I don't understand why they went into the hospitality profession, as none of them possessed an ounce of decent customer service.


My tongue is bigger!

On one occasion, I ordered a cheese sandwich. I don't know why I'm bringing this up... because I ordered a cheese sandwich and a cheese sandwich is exactly what I got. On a plate with nothing else, I received two pieces of stale bread that felt like they had been slightly toasted over a furnace, with one single, solitary slice of processed cheese in between them. Yep... a cheese sandwich.

The fact that it took 45 minutes to make left me slightly confused.


The wine glass pour was smaller than the size of my tongue, yet it didn't stop them from charging astronomical prices.


Nothing made sense.


I wandered in one evening and they all just sat there and stared at me. No one greeted me with a friendly smile... or offered me a seat or a table or a menu. It was like I'd accidentally witnessed something criminal and they were all trying to decide if they would let me go or kill me.


I just backed up and walked away. I'll eat somewhere else...


On my first day, I dropped off my laundry. The lovely lady at the front weighed it and told me the price, which I paid. She let me know if would probably be ready the following day... and it was. As I was walking in, I noticed the bag of my clothes sitting on top of the reception desk and I grabbed them. Suddenly one of the men from the restaurant came barreling towards me and ripped the bag of clothes from my hands.


What the actual f**k???


I stood there, obviously quite shaken at the violent intrusion. He looked down at the attached laundry tag that read 'PAID' and then shrugged and handed me back my clothes. No apology or glimpse of regret for his rude or accusatory actions. Did he think I was going to run off with my clothes without paying???


Slow your roll, dude... I'm here all week.


Ya... the staff at the Banana needed some customer service training. Badly.


The weather only got worse... People were stranded. Boats were being cancelled. Everything was gloomy and tragic when it was all supposed to be sunshine and roses.


Then on Friday evening, the unthinkable happened... MY BOAT TOUR TO THE KOMODO ISLANDS WAS CANCELLED.

Noooooooooooooooo.....

Please no! Please no! Please NO!!!!

I had waited so long!!!!

I had endured the crap hospitality of the Banana.

I had put in my time, rainstorm after rainstorm, holding out for the Komodo light at the end of the tunnel.

Say it's not so...!


But it was.


The Indonesian government shut down all the boats.


"When will they be running again?"

"Monday."

"Definitely on Monday?"

"Yes." "Ok... can I rebook for Monday?" "Maybe not Monday. We don't know."


Monday or no Monday, I couldn't remain on Gili Air. I was done.

They refunded me my money... but that wasn't even the main problem. I had much bigger fish to fry due to this little setback.


See, working around the itinerary of the Komodo voyage, I had gone ahead and booked accommodation in Flores for when it ended... and then a flight to Jakarta the following day... and then another flight from Jakarta to Malang... and so on. This wasn't just a cancellation of one thing in particular... this had the potential to be the dominoes of disaster.



So yes, the government was to blame for this alarming and unpleasant decision... but the airlines didn't care. They refused to even acknowledge it. I wrote so many emails and sent so many messages, begging them to consider either changing my flight date or changing my departure location. If I didn't receive radio silence, I got the runaround. Someone from one department would tell me that another department would be with me shortly... and on and on that goose chase would go. In the end, I was ghosted altogether... and lost a $200 flight.


So as not to financially lose out on all the other travel plans I had previously arranged, I ended up having to book another not-cheap flight from Lombok to Jakarta.


I was not impressed. Nor was I happy.


Luck was NOT on my side.


I left Gili Air that day. I had been biding my time and waiting for the storm to pass for LONG enough.



I caught the ferry to Lombok and it was there that I let myself regroup.

I slept, I walked, I lay in bed, I dipped in & out of the hotel pool and I ate...

That was IT.


A few times I felt guilty about not pushing myself to do more and see more of the island, but I just couldn't manage to pull myself out of my bad weather slump, despite the obvious improvement in conditions.


I think I had a wee case of traveller's depression. Most people encounter this style of collapse once they arrive back home after an extended vacation, but I dabbled with the drain of my extremely low emotional state right in the middle of my trip.


Blame the bidding my time. Blame the waiting game. Blame the rain.

Blame the storms.

Blame my tour cancellation.

Blame the boat cancellations.

Blame the flight loss.

Blame the beating my head against a wall. Blame the frustration.

Blame the call to prayer.


I don't know.

Blame it all.


But rest assured... after a couple of days of retreat in Lombok... I was 'right as rain' once again... and I realize how contradictory it is to say that, considering...


🙃



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