#ShelinaTravels Day 4: Lombok’s Gili islands, snorkelling and private lunch

  • gili1Sometimes when you’re travelling, even your very high expectations are surpassed. Or, as my six year old commented after our long but exhilarating day “This was the best day of my life!” Since she is six, I can well believe it’s true. But at much older and more travelled than her I can still agree that this was a real highlight.

    We were collected promptly from our hotel lobby at 830am by a friendly driver and our English-speaking guide Arif. We had a comfy air-conditioned car. And both of them were excellent with our two girls, helping them settle into the car.  Arif outlined the day: a two hour drive to the harbour, where we would board a traditional boat, and then take a twenty minute ride to Gili Nanngu where we would do some snorkelling and swimming.  When we felt ready, we would travel by boat to Gili Sudak where we would have a seafood barbecue lunch, and do more swimming if we wanted. We’d return back to the mainland and be home for 430.

    Spoiler: I’ve never snorkelled! But I had brought along my burkini and my spirit of adventure!

    We’d packed towels, snacks and extra clothes, and the kids already had the swimwear on underneath.

    Two hours for a six year old and a two year old is a long time in a car, but the drive was beautiful. Lombok is green, very green. And it feels like you are driving through real every day life. We first passed through the capital Mataram, a small provincial town with low buildings.  The road then opened up to pass through small village upon small village, with single storey homes with laundry hanging outside, farmers in the fields, and children playing in playgrounds at their schools. It felt like we were really experiencing Lombok, not just as privileged travellers (which we are) but seeing every day life.

    Eventually we reconnected with the coastline and we could see across to islands scattered across the water.

    Our car pulled up at the beach and we all tumbled out in excitement: we had to collect snorkelling gear. We tried on masks for size as well as flippers.  Not the two year old of course.

    Sandals off!

    We padded across the white soft sand with the prickly coral that had washed up on shore. It was time to get into the beach island mood, as we had to walk through the shallow sea water to climb into the katamaran.  It was long and narrow with benches on either side. I gripped the toddler. The six year old wore an oversized life jacket.  The boatsman hoisted the anchor (“He’s like a pirate, mummy!) and the motor whooshed us away. It was glorious!

    The water was silver blue, to the backdrop of green covered mountains and paradise islands. The children giggled. It was hard to feel anything but euphoric with the fresh breeze and visual perfection.

    Gili Nanngu is how you would draw your own perfect desert island: white sand curving round the shore, actually clear water, and a gentle breeze. It has a small basic resort with about forty chalets. I don’t know why but I had been expecting our own private desert island, so the fact that there were some day trippers – perhaps no more than thirty or forty – was unexpected.

    There were several covered platform areas – in the typical Lombok style – where we left our stuff and our guide and boat crew waited for us. The husband and kids were ready to swim in no time, but as I had to change fully into my burkini I went to find the toilets.  It wasn’t great – smelly squat toilets with doors that didn’t close. It’s possible the resort was better, or the café that was signposted.

    But ooh-la-la, the water was exquisite. The perfect temperature. Absolutely clear. You could see the fish swimming around from above the water. The two year old giggled “fishies!” The six year old put on her mask and had a go at snorkelling. And she was off. All our video footage of her from the day is head down, body floating, her observing the sea life.

    So I thought I’d give the snorkelling a go. The first, second, fifth, tenth time I must admit I gagged. My instinct was to close my eyes and either stop breathing or breathe through my nose. But slowly with some concentration I finally managed it and boy, it was amazing! I didn’t want to do anything except swim and watch the fish. Silver ones with yellow tips; schools of hundreds of the tiniest black fish you’ve seen, flat fish… if our snorkelling had been at a higher level the guide would have taken us into deeper richer waters.

    Eventually at 1pm we were hungry and scooped up all our stuff and returned to the boat. From there it was another ten minute ride to Gili Sudak, another small island with perfect white sand beaches and clear waters. We went in our swimwear as we were, the warm breeze kissing us dry.

    We disembarked, our guide and crew helpful as always getting the kids off the boat and across the water. There were tables and chairs set for lunch and we had been advised we’d be eating here so we picked a table with a perfect view across the sea to the next island and settled down.

    Only the guide then came back and told us to follow him. To our amazement we were led to a traditional-style wooden chalet on stilts and were led up the stairs to the verandah. This, we were told, pointing to the private villa, was in fact where we were going to have lunch. The elevated height of the building meant the views were even more spectacular. We also had our own private space. And it was great to let the kids run around.

    There was more – the villa had a large studio inside, with tinted windows for shade and privacy. Inside was a double and a single bed, along with a small toilet, shower and sink. Everything was clean and neat. Even towels were provided.

    Having our own little private home even if it was just for a few hours made all the difference. We could even have had a nap, but of course the lunch and waters beckoned. People can and do stay here overnight.

    By the time we’d explored this wondrous delight of having a place to call our own, the first course for lunch had arrived: a traditional Indonesian soup with egg, sweetcorn and carrot. Boiling hot and utterly delicious. Just as we had finished slurping it down, the second course arrived and this was really an extraordinary delight: freshly grilled fish flavoured with lemon, garlic and turmeric (I think). We had two traditional rattan woven plates, covered with a neat banana leaf and a mound of rice. There was also a bowl of local stir fry vegetables. Everything was fresh (I think the fish was recently caught) and tasted amazing.

    What was great was that for our fussy little children they made up fish and chips which the kids happily munched down. It was also incredibly delicious. You could taste the freshness. And if this wasn’t enough a large plate of freshly chopped fruit arrived. Everything tasted incredible. Everything looked amazing. It’s not an overstatement to say it was practically perfect.

    Then it was off for more mooching around the beach, swimming and snorkelling. The clouds overhead were dark grey and there was intermittent thunder. However we were fortunate that the monsoon did not affect us today.

    As the afternoon passed, we knew that we’d need to eventually leave. I had heard nothing but laughter and delight from the children. From my part I’d learnt to snorkel and eaten a delightful lunch.  And my quota of Instagram perfect photos was beyond full.

    We needed to get ready to leave. With children it was a welcome relief to have a clean private place to dry them off and change them. And of course a clean western toilet to call your own is priceless. We changed, rested and freshened up. We prayed in the room. But then discovered a very cute little prayer area downstairs, on a traditional raised platform with a prayer mat.

    It was time to cast a farewell look at the unforgettable island, before returning to the boat for our final ride of the day back to the main harbour, and onward back to the hotel.

    The children smiled all the way home. And I left feeling blessed to have enjoyed this privilege; and wondering that if this idyllic place is something we can experience here in our lifetimes, then what on earth will paradise be like?

    Today’s trip was organised by Serendipity Travel. All opinions are my own.

    For more photos head to my Instagram page

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