Gili Gede is an island just off the south-western tip of Lombok. Little did we know that it was to be our “home” for about a month. Our main reason for stopping here was to get to Mataram to extend our visas. On arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of western boats left at the “marina” (really just a number of moorings), and thought it might be a good place to leave the boat over the wet season.
First mission – extend visas. Marco went to the nearest boat drop-off and pick-up spot on Lombok, right across from our anchorage at a village called Tembowong. He met a group of guys that run various little businesses from there, and organised for someone to drive us to Mataram the next day. Junaidi, our driver, was to become a good friend over the next couple of weeks.
The drive to Mataram took about an hour and a half. The boys were excited to travel in a car again, and I enjoyed seeing more of the Lombok countryside. It’s a really lush, fertile island, probably the greenest island we’ve seen so far. What also struck me was the number of mosques – many still being built. Even the tiniest traditional villages with wooden huts had big ornate mosques, with elaborate concrete work. We passed Lembar, a big natural harbour, with many ferries coming and going. There is a lot of construction going on there too – roads being widened and improved, ferry terminals being extended etc. Lombok is definitely growing!
Mataram itself is a big busy city. No high rise buildings, apart from the gigantic turrets of the huge elaborate mosques. Junaidi negotiated his way through the traffic and got us to the large Immigration office. My heart sank as we entered – it wasn’t the quiet empty office we experienced in Labuan Bajo, but was buzzing with a good number of locals and lost-looking tourists, either queueing or sitting patiently and waiting. I mentally prepared myself to spend the whole day there. Surprisingly it was actually a fairly quick process. I filled out the 4 sets of forms (which do take a while!) while Marco and Hasan (Junaidi’s brother who had agreed to be our “sponsor”) went off to make the necessary photocopies and buy official stamps. We handed the whole pack in, had to wait about 15 mins to get the receipts and were told to come back 3 days later to collect the passports. In and out in about an hour and a half – hooray!
This called for a lunchtime celebration. Junaidi took us to his favourite local eating spot for some traditional Sasak (Lombokonese) food. We ordered an array of dishes, including whole roast baby chicken, beef rendang, roasted eggplant and kangkung. Wow, Sasak food is HOT! Such awesome flavours, with a strong chilli kick from all sides. The whole roast chicken really was a whole roast chicken – including claws and head. Unfortunately Joshua discovered the latter a little late – after he’d devoured the brains! Mmmm!
Mataram actually has a couple of modern malls. We’re not really mall-people, but after months of buying food from little tokos, markets or roadside stalls, we were keen to stock up on some luxuries. The supermarket was big and impressive, and we filled a trolley with tomato tins, pasta, olives, cream, cheeses, yoghurt, Weetbix, coffee beans etc. With a fully laden car we eventually got back to Gili Gede, exhausted but satisfied with a productive day.
With the visas sorted, our next focus was whether we could leave the boat here. The wet season was almost upon us, the winds were starting to turn northerly and afternoon thunderstorms were becoming more frequent, which makes sailing difficult and unpleasant. If we could find a safe place to leave the boat for a couple of months, we could head off somewhere. There were only a couple of free moorings, and we were directed to one by the marina. Marco wanted to dive to inspect the condition of the mooring – and was in fact busy getting his diving gear on when the tide turned and we noticed ridiculously strong currents which were pulling us (and many other boats) in strange directions. Before we knew it, we were dragging – right across the bay, heading for the Lombok shore! The engines did nothing to ease the tension on our stays, and Marco had to jump overboard and cut the mooring line to stop us eventually dragging into land! We dragged about 200m – what an ordeal! Thankfully we were on board and it was daytime! We went back to our anchorage spot and felt much more comfortable there.
This put serious doubts in our minds about the adequacy of the moorings. Marco dived many of them over the next couple of days, and was alarmed to find that they were just barrels filled with cement (that roll, obviously). The mooring lines were covered in sea growth and couldn’t be inspected properly. Even more alarming was watching the marina staff dragging our mooring back, ready for the next ignorant sailor to pick up. Marco had numerous discussions with Ray, one of the 5 owners of the marina, but we came away with the sense that the moorings were of questionable integrity.
In the meantime, we started exploring Gili Gede. It’s a fairly small island, encircled by a 11km path. I managed to drag the menfolk off for a number of walks, which gave us a good sense of life on the island. There are a number of small traditional villages, interspersed with a couple of small, tasteful resorts or villas. The Gilis to the north of Lombok are pretty touristy, but these southern Gilis are still undeveloped and are apparently the “next big thing”. We found a really pretty place called Tanjungan Bukit, owned by a French/Indonesian couple. They have a lovely little wooden deck amongst bougainvillea and coconut trees, where you can relax on bean bags and enjoy French crepes, or a glass of wine (what a treat!). We went back for dinner to enjoy the almost magical atmosphere created by myriads of hanging lights, and the delicious chicken rendang.
Another favourite was Palmyra Indah on Lombok, right opposite the moorings – owned by a very kind Frenchman. The view from the deck is stunning, and the boys played badminton and pool whilst I enjoyed a glass (or 3) of cold white wine.
The villagers on Gili Gede are really lovely, always ready for a laugh and a chat. Many of them would pass us on their boats when their kids went to school, or as they’d head off to work or fish. Marco really hit it off with a guy called Lan. He is from Airtowa, a small village on Gili Gede which consists of 10 families, all related. We ended up getting to know them all really well, and spent many afternoons and evenings in the village. The boys have had such fun with the kids there – playing soccer, swimming, rinsing off at the well in the jungle, drying themselves by the fire, teaching each other English/Indonesian, playing on iPads (theirs, not ours!) and dancing to Indonesian pop music (Bergek is the big thing in Airtowa!) Us adults sat on little covered chill-out platforms near the houses, drank endless cups of coffee (or sugar water?) and chatted.
We were invited to have supper in the village a couple of times, and I had an informal lesson on Sasak cooking. They use a huge pestle and mortar made from volcanic rock, and smash all kinds of fragrant ingredients together – including lots of chilli (and a teaspoon of MSG, unfortunately). The fried eggplant was my favourite, and I think I’ve managed to replicate it fairly well – much to Noah’s distaste (he hates eggplant). It was really special to sit cross-legged on the patio and enjoy the array of dishes that our hostess had prepared. Noah somehow ended up with an exorbitant amount of chilli-basted kangkung, and whimpered with streaming eyes that it was the hottest meal he’d ever eaten. We were sent off home with a bowl of spicy fried clams / molluscs that they’d picked off an old wooden boat at low tide that morning. We didn’t quite know what we were eating, but they tasted good.
Meanwhile we were still exploring options regarding the boat. Our Airtowa friends suggested we beach it in front of their village. This sounded like a great option, except that there was only a little gap in the reef which would make it tricky to navigate. They also suggested installing our own mooring in front of their village. The neighbouring village also offered their beach, and Marco met with the Kepala Desa (Head of the Village) and elders to get their official approval. We thought we had a great solution, until Ray got wind of it and said it wasn’t allowed, and that he’d report us to the authorities if we followed this route. The villagers were not impressed with a foreigner (Ray is Australian) deciding what could and couldn’t be done in their village. Marco met with the Harbour Master in Lembar and he had no problems with us beaching the boat – however, we were still unsure of the official law.
Ray eventually agreed that we design a mooring we’d be happy with, using various bits and pieces that he had available. Marco put together a design, involving 2 concrete-filled barrels, and 2 screw-poles for back-up security. This was installed, and we finally moved onto a mooring we felt comfortable with.
However, our joy was short-lived. Only 2 days later we experienced an afternoon thunderstorm with winds of up to 40 knots. Our mooring held, which was comforting, but 2 other boats dragged theirs – the one narrowly missing our neighbouring boat before dragging hundreds of metres up the channel! What does it help to have a strong mooring when you’re surrounded by others that may smash into you? There have been promises that the other moorings will be reinforced, but we’re still left with big concerns – plus our insurance won’t cover an unattended boat on a mooring. The options here are so limited, and we’re trusting that we’ll be led to make the right decision.
And so, Gili Gede has become a bit of a “home” for us. It’s a pleasant place, with calm waters and friendly people – and life carries on whilst we try and sort out the future. We’ve managed to do a lot of schoolwork, and Marco has done some engine and boat maintenance (which never seems to end), whilst dealing with all the politics. The boys have had friends to play with – mainly from the village, but also 2 young boys from a yacht moored nearby. We made friends with a Dutch couple who were moored / anchored here, and Marco and Ben have spent hours discussing electrics, engines, moorings and life in general. Josh recently celebrated his 10th birthday in the village – which is probably a birthday he’ll never forget (look out for his blog post coming soon). In between keeping 3 hungry boys fed and the boat in a liveable condition, I finally managed to finish the painting I started back in Rote.
We are all a little frustrated, but the silver lining to our extended stay is that we’ve really connected with some of the people and been invited into their lives. It’s something you don’t get when you’re just a tourist passing through – and is something we’ll remember and value forever. Kami tidak lupa!