Three Swedes have barely moved 15 metres in eight days. It is an impressive feat for any self respecting tourist but on Gili Trawangan, self respect is not something you either seek or find.
Chalek, Andreas and Louise sit in a pool bar over the fence from their bungalow, sipping Heineken and playing guitar.
“So have you gone snorkelling yet? Apparently it is great snorkelling here,” I ask.
Chalek smiles. “We went once. It was ok. We prefer this,” Chalek takes another swig of his beer.
Up and down streets paved with a muddy blend of sand and dirt, tourists from around the world trudge. What they are searching for is not clear because on Gili Trawangan there is not that much to see.
To your left, a bar. To the right, a restaurant. A little further down the road, a different kind of restaurant, one that serves more hallucinogenic fare to the thousands of punters that land here every week.
What they look for is not clear. Robi and his five friends have not come far. They were all born and now work on Lombok, just a half an hour boat ride away. But the Gilis offer something a little different.
“A getaway,” Robi says in-between sly drags on a mild cloved Sampoerna. “It is good to come here, it’s peaceful and hey,” Robi shrugs, “it’s fun.”
I feel I must agree. There are few places in the world where the express intention of the destination is to engage in the activity of nothing. And nothing can be very relaxing. But after three days of it, you can’t help but feel a little exhausted.
When the lights go down on Gili Trawangan, the pavements become a little safer. The taxi service, served by elaborately belled up horse drawn carts, disperses. Now the traffic is bronzed, burnt and boozed Europeans.Here nationality stands out a mile away.
Three Finns with fluro yellow back-to-front caps stumble in front of me blurting random hilarities to each other in a bastardised Finglish. I know they are from Finland.
“Hey you,” one turns around and stares at me. He throws his arms up in air. “Finland!”
I nod and smile politely.
For an island with such a renowned reputation, Gili Trawangan is subdued most nights. However, every night without fail you can hear the thump of live music from Sama Sama. The bass lines of Bob Marley building with each step.
On stage is a six piece band. They were practicing this afternoon. The lead singer sits on a stool with tight black jeans and dreadlocks waving his hands and tapping his feet with each beat.
It’s good music. I look over and see Chalek. Almost incredibly, he has moved perhaps 200 metres down the road and resettled himself in with another Heineken.
He smiles and raises his half drunk green bottle in my direction. I feel strangely out of place with nothing in my hand to echo his sentiment. So I go to the bar.
After some convincing, the vessel which is handed to me is not German pale ale. But a paper cup, with a straw and some black muck. It tastes of a strange combination of dirt and banana and black muck. My favourite.
After a few songs, they invite their friend Indiana on stage.
What follows represents one of the most melodically incongruous but strangely pleasing arrangements of music I have heard: An apparent Native American Indian, dressed in full Apache regalia including tomahawk, singing and dancing traditional American Indian songs with a reggae band in the tropics of Indonesia. But it worked. And now the muck is working. The blend of atmosphere both internal and external is intriguing.
Though people end up here for different reasons, more often than not, the intention of the trip is the same. Nothing.
Ashleigh has been teaching in South Korea for two years. After that it was time to get out. After university she got out of Canada, and now she is here. Beer in hand, friend by her side. “I am enjoying life really. I’m not sure if I want to go back to Korea but at the moment I’m not thinking about that. At the moment, I’m just travelling.”
Indiana has finished his set and he is awkwardly clapped off stage. He resumes his spot at the back of the bar with his blonde American partner. She looks like what Pocahontas would have looked like if Barbie had franchised her as an Aryan image of her former glory.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” my Aussie compatriot, Beau says, gesturing toward the couple. “But good.”
Down on the beach is something else altogether impromptu. Midnight dips are not the most novel idea in the world, but thousands of miles from the bustle of Jakarta, swimming in the pitch black of the Gili Sea seems pure genius.
However in the present state, the climbing of moored boats and jumping off their framing into the inky water below is probably not the most intelligent pastime, but that does not mean any less enjoyment.
Richard, another Australian chum, clambers aboard and hoists himself up onto the flimsy roof. He jumps, woops and disappears. A pause. His head breaks the surface and his face is contorted. “I got spiked.”
We swim ashore and look down at his foot. Three black holes stare back. The heartbeat races.
One of the band members is found close by and he comes to inspect. One exclamation and two words that any self respecting tourist never thinks they want to hear: “Awww Fire Fish.”
Cue expletives. And then some other words.
“Here tie this around your leg.”
Fire fish sounds nasty but there is no emergency service on Gili Trawangan, apparently just this zonked out reggae freak with a piece of coral in one hand and lime in the other. He proceeds to systematically beat Rich’s foot and squeeze on lime, presumably for taste. It looks awfully impressive and half an hour later it seems it is. Rich is still alive and I am still laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Rich stumbles home, plonks himself on his bed. Hopefully to wake up and do nothing all over again.