There are two places so far that have stolen a piece of my heart, one is Edinburgh and the other Gili Trawangan. Two completely different places with starkly varying temperatures and terrain 🙂 From this I can only infer that I love the mountains and beaches alike.
Gili T is this small island in Indonesia which you can cover in an hour on a bicycle and still spend more than a week here. It has two neighboring islands called Gili meno and Gili air, each about a fifteen to twenty-minute boat ride away from the other and very easily accessible for 10-15k IDR (50-75 INR). Gili is such a cute little place where automobiles aren’t even allowed so you still see horse carts and bicycles as the main mode of transport.
I had my first scuba diving experience here and it was undoubtedly the best part of my trip. Here I am, a non-swimmer who’s been so scared of the water that I can literally count the number of times I went into the ocean during my two years in Goa, and I’m talking about scuba diving. Despite this, I spent about 50 minutes in the water and came up with more than half a tank of air. My instructor Steve says that’s because he was doing all the swimming for me 😛 but I like to think that it was due to my ability to remain calm and breathe normally :D.
Indonesia has a few active volcanoes one of which decided to erupt the morning that I decided to go diving. This caused quite a big earthquake and a tsunami in the Sunda Strait. This is pretty far away from Bali and Gili so there wasn’t an issue here but there was an earthquake in Gili too that morning. So the panic began long before I even went into the water. A big shout out to Steve from Uber Scuba who did a great job of convincing me that even if a tsunami did come, I would be better off underwater.
First things first, scuba gear makes breathing very uncomfortable since it blocks off your nose. However, it’s the only way to go underwater so you need to just bite the bullet on this one (or in this case bite the regulator to breathe :P). If you can manage to breathe through your mouth for about 45 mins without panicking underwater you’re good to go.
We started off with 5 of us wanting to do the dive but 2 had to back out because of health issues. There are forms to be filled out which ask you if you have heart issues, blood pressure etc and require you to get clearance from a doctor if you do have any of these. So 3 of us stepped into the pool to try out our gear and learn a few things from Steve which would help us manage underwater. While trying the gear out in the pool one person backed out because it was a little difficult to breathe and she wasn’t that accustomed to the water (the rest of us had gone snorkeling the previous day which was amazing and had gotten us a little bit used to the water).
And then there were two!
We got through the rest of the training which taught us how to deal with water going into the mask and other emergency situations which might occur underwater. We took a quick break for lunch after which we headed out to sea. So I was supposed to sit at the edge of the boat and then fall off BACKWARDS as professionals do in order to start the dive! I hated this part but did it all the same. Once in the water, I did freak out a little because I was just all over the place but then eventually straightened up and was ready to go. So he takes us down and I can’t see a thing beyond a few feet which doesn’t seem right. The boatman dropped us off at a 40m depth point which wasn’t at all ideal for beginners. So I had to get back up on the boat and do the back fall from it with the heavy equipment all over again! And no it wasn’t easier the second time around. It’s also extremely annoying to make your ears pop underwater. The pressure closes them out every meter you go down and you can’t proceed without opening them up.
This time we are in shallower waters so I can at least see more than just Steve’s face. The water is so clear and the corals so pretty that you get lost in all of it. I spotted seven turtles, a bunch of Moorish idols (Gill in “Finding Nemo”) and a whole lot of other fishes which were just so pretty. It’s a whole other world down there and you can’t help but fall in love with it. After my first snorkeling experience in Thailand a few years ago I kicked myself for not knowing swimming. After the second at Maldives, I kicked myself harder for not learning yet. This time around if I don’t then I’m just the biggest idiot ever. If I want to enjoy exploring the mysteries of the ocean and fear it a little less I have to learn how to swim.
On surfacing, I feel a strange sense of accomplishment and thrill at having completed the dive. I sit quietly on the boat on the way back letting it all sink in, feeling so at peace. I don’t have any photos of what I saw underwater but I know I just need to close my eyes and I can picture it all so clearly which immediately makes me calmer and at peace.
As I sit here in a speed boat which is taking me away from Gili, I know I want to come back and experience to the fullest everything the island has to offer. I also know that the ocean must be respected because this was the scariest boat ride of my life. The sea got pretty rough probably due to all the calamities around and I started praying really hard. Seems funny now but after that boat ride, the water activities planned for the rest of the trip were canceled 😛
You really do marvel at nature in times like these. It is so inexplicably beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
The beginners dive cost me 950,000 IDR which is around 4500 INR. All the diving schools charge the same on the island so as to not engage in cut-throat competition and in turn provide low-quality equipment which sounds fair. It’s a pretty reasonable price and completely worth it.
There are some cute stores in Gili where you can get your dose of shopping and some nice restaurants by the beach. Things must be called out for what they are though otherwise it would never change with denial and so I must say there was a bit of eve-teasing and catcalling by the locals which did ruin the beauty of the place.
But I would still go back so here’s to Gili and another round of diving soon.