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GJ BLOG

A personal adventure travel blog

Filtering by Category: Indonesia

Gili Meno - paradise or prison? You choose...

Christian Anderson

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...

Dive days and lazy evenings in Komodo National Park

Christian Anderson

My temporary home, Bayview Gardens Hotel, sits on a jungle covered hill above the port - a handful of cottages built on terraces hacked out of the hillside, linked by steep jungle paths and each fronted with an amazing wooden terrace to admire the world-beating sunsets. Adrian, the owner, is your typical Dutch ex-hippy, now married into an Indonesian family and your welcome pack tells the story of how the hotel grew from a simple home to a neat little outfit employing 40 local people and family members. For four days and three nights life settled into a perfect routine - halfway up the overgrown path to my room a whiteboard and pen hung from a tree for guests to pass on their breakfast timings and preferences. Dive days are early ones, so just after dawn two flasks of hotwater for coffee plus fresh fruit, toast and an omelette would appear magically on my terrace table. Sit down, admire the view and watch the town and port come to life.  Breakast over, I'd wander down the path to snag a passing Ojak with a simple nod and drop down to the dive boats clustered around the warped and ramshackle jetty. Away by 7.30am, it was a couple of hours each way to the dive sites - plenty of time for safety briefings and studying the fish books.

I'm a novice diver, so Komodo NP was a pretty steep learning curve. Dive sites were typically in the lee of exposed seamounts - from the metre or so of rock which emerged out of the blue, two innocuous lines of moving water on the surface extended in an inverted V away from the islet downstream to the current, between which it would be slack, in theory...  In practice, not quite so calm - underwater at Crystal Rock, kicking against the current for no more than 25m to reach the shelter of a large boulder had me working at 110% effort for the first time underwater - an experience which bordered on the scary as I struggled to get my heart rate down and breathing under control. At Tatawa Kecil we surfaced into a current running like a motorway in one direction, with another group of divers no more than a few metres away departing equally quickly in the opposite direction. It was easy to see why Komodo was famous for "misplacing" dive groups. If you're lucky they'll find you a couple of days later, trying to avoid being Komodo Dragon fast food The exception was Manta Point - we dropped into a flat, featurless undersea desert, drifting lazily through water hazy with plankton and the odd outcrop of coral to break the monotony. Every few moments a pair of huge manta rays would emerge from the gloom, mouths open as they fed, impossibly graceful and completely without menace despite their size and otherworldly appearance. They would pass by and disappear again into the murk, leaving us alone once more. A good day...

Dives over, lunch would be grilled fish, rice, salad and a cold coke as we chugged back to port - plenty of time for snoozy sunbathing and arguments as to exactly what kind of Floral Wrasse wandered by us on the reef. Back on dry land and, as the shadows lengthen, it's showtime on West Flores - sunset.  Wherever you are you're going to get a great one but, if there's a choice, then grab an ojak and get out to Paradise Bar on the edge of town. Each night was the same but different - impossibly varied and vivid colours changing minute by minute before reluctantly leaving the stage to an equally beautiful starry night - you could conjure up Avatar level CGI and still not improve on this.

Then, it's shower, dinner (Fish kebabs at Pesona restaurant highly recommended), a few more large Bintangs and back to the whiteboard on the tree - what do I fancy for breakfast tomorrow...