(2012 Winter Holidays in Indonesia, Mark C. Eades and Nick Carruthers)
For the past two-and-a-half weeks I and my friend and colleague from Shanghai, Nick Carruthers, have been traveling in Indonesia. Arriving in the capital city of Jakarta from Shanghai, we first traveled to Bali, then to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan off neighboring Lombok.
Bali is unique in that, unlike most of Indonesia, the island has remained predominantly Hindu. This difference was apparent immediately from the many Hindu shrines we passed as we rode by taxi from the airport to nearby Kuta, a convenient place to layover before traveling onward. Not surprisingly, Kuta Beach turned out to be a rather disgusting little tourist dive, full of spoiled young Australian surf brats and flabby middle-aged men on sex tours. It reminded me of a resort town in Mexico overrun by gringo college kids on Spring Break, a place from which to broadcast an MTV Beach Party (and where flabby middle-aged men on sex tours may also be found). Kuta’s only saving graces were the friendliness of the local people, and the daily religious practices of the people at the area’s numerous Hindu shrines (such as that in the photo here from our bungalows). Kuta is also haunted, however, by the bombings of 2002 and 2005, attributed to Jemaah Islamiya, an armed militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Southeast Asia. We arrived near the tenth anniversary of the 2002 bombing (the far more deadly of the two, claiming more than 200 lives), and stayed in tourist bungalows only a few minutes’ walk from the bombing site.
We left Kuta as soon as possible by bus and high-speed boat to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan, the third in a string of three tiny Gili islands (also including Gili Meno and Gili Air) extending from the northwest coast of much larger Lombok neighboring Bali to the east. For some years Gili Trawangan has been known as a backpacker party island, a reputation quickly fading due to upscale tourist development on the island. The sea is warm and clear, diving and snorkeling among the area’s major draws for tourists. There are no motor vehicles of any kind on Gili Trawangan, only bicycles and horse-drawn carts; and until recently the island was noted for having no police presence whatsoever. Reggae is the music of choice in many of the island’s drinking establishments and even among many of the locals, with Bob Marley’s messianic image prominent everywhere. Indonesia’s strict drug laws (including a death penalty for trafficking) apparently don’t apply to magic mushrooms, which grow plentifully on the island in piles of buffalo dung, and which local vendors harvest, wash, and put into fruit shakes for the tourists. In addition to the ubiquitous mushroom shakes offered legally at bars and restaurants, young men along the road offer marijuana as well as cocaine.
Despite the natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere of the island, the effects of rapid tourist development have made it a far less desirable place to spend very much of one’s hard-earned holiday time than it might once have been, and one soon begins to think of moving onward (click on photos for larger images).
View from beach on Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno in near background, Lombok and Rinjani volcano in far background:
Inter-island commerce, Gili Trawangan, Lombok in background: