The half-hour crossing from Bangsal across to Meno helped fine-tune the mother of all hangovers, so very happy to chill out and watch the luggage at a beach café within feet of where the boat had dropped us, leaving the hotel hunting to my buddies. This is a serious business - the Gilis are not cheap people - have a good look around and take your time. Home for the next two nights turned out to be Fantastic Cottages. They're not fantastic, but are perfectly OK - 100 grand gets you clean towels and a dark, fan bungalow about 75m back from the beach, with a banana pancake breakfast thrown in if you are prepared to search the houses near the cottages and find the owner to place your order. It's quiet, but not dead - sit out on your verandah for long enough and a four-foot monitor lizard will wander by looking for lunch.
Within a couple of hours, I'd decided Gili Meno was both simple and complicated – you just need to decide which Meno you want to see. I like islands - have lived on them all my life (Cyprus, Ascension, Jersey) and they are special places with unique human ecosystems. The problem is, what we might see as a tropical island paradise is just as likely to be seen as a prison by the locals - no jobs and fewer opportunities. How long before you feel like an inmate?
Couple this tension with Meno's small size and up-and-coming tourist rep and it soon becomes clear you need to stay on your toes here. The restaurants and bars all have a handful of berugas out front - open sided covered split-bamboo platforms with cushions and a low table, looking out onto impossibly beautiful beaches. They seem the ideal place to while away perfect tropical days with the love of your life, but no, this is Meno, so the berugas are there to keep prey within easy reach of the hawkers pushing pearls, scarves and, after dark, drugs. You’ll get asked to buy stuff a couple of hundred times a day, which gets tedious very quickly. Laundry is feckin' expensive too - most places start at a jaw-dropping 5000 per piece, and don't want to bargain. A lot of hunting around got us down to 3000 per piece, but that's as low as we managed. PS - avoid Jali Cafe for food - very average cooking with slow and indifferent service.
Keep the Rupiah steadily flowing and it will be all smiles - but stop being a human ATM at your peril. For the young Danes I was with a slight miscommunication regarding a private boat charter turned into threats and unpleasantness pretty quickly, so watch out.
But, If you can ignore the hassles, there is still a lot to enjoy. It's a tiny little place, circumnavigable in a little over an hour on scrubby little bush paths. Parts of the coastline are still undeveloped and a few abandoned resorts fill in the remaining gaps - all rotting signs and empty swimming pools slowly being reclaimed by the jungle.
Daytime the action is along the strip of bars, cafes and dive shops which line the South East coast. Bintang prices seemed to increase from North to South and always check to see whether or not tax is included to avoid 15% surprises when la cuenta arrives. Late afternoon, switch over the to the beach bar on the other side of Meno for sunset Bintangs and pre-dinner fried noodles.
In the centre of Meno’s neat little oval is a confusing local village - I walked though and around it looking for the internet cafe I knew existed, but which never appeared regardless of whichever path I followed. The village comes to life as the day’s heat dissipates into dusk - volleyball on the communal courts for the kids rather than playstation in the bedroom.
I left Meno with Fatima after two days - her to Bali for surf lessons, me to Jakarta and on to the Philippines. It was a cliche perfect tropical island morning, and my Canon overdosed on the perfect light and colours as our boat pulled away leaving my buddies on the beach behind.
I was glad to be leaving though and wouldn’t miss Meno’s expensive, pushy, watch-your-back atmosphere. What I would miss though were the people - Louise, Magda, Fatima, Iben, Jerry and Victor. Ahead though was another country...