Leaving Gili Trawangan & How to Experience Space Travel
4am: The morning prayer.
I am woke by the morning call to prayer distortedly recited through the loudspeaker of the Masjid Baiturrahman mosque. A drawn out “Allāhu” followed by an abrupt “akbar” (‘Allah is the greatest’) is repeated four times. This takes around 10 minutes. It’s pitch black I’m disoriented and not sure if I’m awake, in a dream, or dead. When I first heard the prayers 4 days earlier I thought they were beautiful in a haunting way. Now I’m just pissed. The prayer goes on for an hour and before putting my earplugs in I think — at 5x a day this is the 21st prayer I’ve heard. I’m able to fall back asleep quickly as I am now very good at sleeping through noisy islamic prayer.
7am: I’m awake.
And I feel great! I had been battling a stomach bug the last few days that while not debilitating was no walk in the park. Thankfully the worst had past. The previous night had brought rain which in turn yielded the most pleasant temperature of the last 20 days in Indonesia. I decided after breakfast I would have a long swim in the ocean followed by a long shower. There was plenty of time to kill. I had a good calm feeling about the day. That attitude would help me later on.
10:30am: Pack it up.
In the process of packing I found a new way to secure my guitar which protects it more when I place my pack down. Kiwi is already beat to shit with a nasty fret buzz on the higher strings. When I get a moment I’ll restring her and layer plastic strips like stairs under the saddle to gradually raise the action. I made my way down to the dock and played a few songs with some Indo guys while waiting for the fast boat back to Bali.
12pm: Still waiting.
Walked over to check on the boats status. Engines are busted, and being repaired. The boat will be here at 2PM. I’ve got nowhere important to be so this doesn’t bother be all that much. I took a seat on a platform on the beach.
There was a family sitting opposite from me waiting for the same boat. A young dark skinned boy was playing with a plastic tennis racket set. A neon blue paddle with a bright yellow ball. He was frantic and his mother was urging him with growing annoyance to settle himself. At one point the boy quietly makes his way to a pastey older man sitting next to me who happened to look and sound a hell of a lot like Michael Caine. The boy places the handle of the paddle on the mans knee and the english fellow looks down and calmly says “I’m gonna slap you.” Then he slowly looks across to the boys mother and even calmer says “I swear to god, I’m gonna slap him.”
Holy shit! I was in shock. My mouth half open trying not to draw to much attention to myself. I briefly thought I was going to witness some 1st world domestic violence in a 3rd world country. No, that’s just silly. Surely I was missing something. And of course it all made sense when I heard the mother reply with the same calm British accent that I had not picked up on earlier as it was of no consequence. I just didn’t put it together. Once I processed that this was simply a father annoyed with his son and not some stranger threatening a small child with violence I had a good laugh about it.
The boy continued to furiously bounce around and when the ball landed in my lap we started up a game. After a few volleys the Mark & Senedra smiled and thanked me for keeping him entertained. I told them “I’m not sure which of us is having more fun!” Though I’m positive at one point is was me. We got to chatting about our trips. Mark and I grabbed a Bintang.
Some Indo guys who looked like peddlers started yelling to us and said to follow them. Everyone was a bit skeptical and some were arguing with the two. I asked what was going on? “YOU WANT BOAT?! GET OVER THERE!” The guy yelled point blank at me. With my head tilted back and a slight look of “I smell shit” on my face I politely said. “I. Will. Not. Good. Sir.” And he stormed off. But I eventually followed because I was having fun with it all and had nowhere else to be. Of course when we got to wherever he was telling us to go there was no boat and they were on the phone trying to work up some scheme. Mark and I had another Bintang.
Along with the family of 8 and myself there was a group of 10 Norwegian exchange students and two young Danish guys. We are all chatting and it occurs that I’m the only one out of this whole lot that has nowhere to be. The family has 4 children and a hotel reservation with 3 days of holiday left. The Norwegians have a morning class in Bali. The Danish guys have a flight at 6 AM. Well… shit. I feel bad for all these folks. They have no choice but to trust these two suspects as they were the only ones offering any help.
Here’s what they came up with. Catch the 3 o’clock slow boat to Lombok. Take a one and a half hour shuttle bus from the slow boat to the slower ferry which will leave at 5pm. Supposedly. The ferry takes 4 hours and at 9pm there will be someone waiting to pick us up on the other side. Supposedly. The group will split and get on another hour and a half shuttle from Padiang Bay to Sanur & Kuta respectively. Putting us all where we need to be at 11:30 PM. Supposedly. The Danish guys both had a chipper attitude about the situation and I decide hell— these people are all stuck. I might as well go along for moral support and the adventure.
Now the only two things that concern me at this point are:
- I don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight and 11:30 is a bit late to go looking for accommodation.
- We spent 300.000 IDR on a fast boat ticket. This trip is now 6 hours longer and would have only cost 41.000. Everyone is aware of this and we would all argue with these two guys at one point or another about it. So it’s decided.
In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” or in this case… Buy A ticket. Take the slower, cheaper ride. Alright. Off we go.
3pm: Board the slow boat from Gili Trawangan to Lombok.
Slow boats in Gili are about 15 meters of long thin wood with one prop engine and seats facing inward on either side. When everyone is seated there is just enough room to walk up the middle. By my count there are 21 people in this ragtag group. Add 20 some-odd locals and we had our passenger manifest.
The slow boat reverses into shore and a long rope is tied to a stake anchoring it to the beach. This means boarding the boat you have to take a few steps into the ocean and when the waves break the water hits just above your knees. You have to climb onto the boat while its rocking back and forth and up and down. You are in a tight line with no room to step backwards or forwards until everyone else does. Oh. You also have 25 kilos of gear strapped to you. OH. That gear is comprised of 2k in electronics that — like most electronics don’t care much for water.
Alright, you get the point. It wasn’t as bad as I’m hopefully making it seem and eventually we were all crammed on this steamy boat floating towards Lombok.
3:30pm: Arrive in Lombok.
At the slow-boat dock there are 10 people trying to sell 11 different varieties of “Cup of Noodles”. The sky was looking pretty dark so we quickly pile into a van with 3 rows of seats. It’s the British family, the 2 Danish guys, myself and all of the luggage. It was so packed we almost had to hang the baby out the window… On second thought we probably would have chose a small piece of luggage. There was no AC in the van and when it started to rain we had to close all the windows. This didn’t last too long and once they opened back up it was comfortable. The ride was nice and we got to see a lot of an island I had no intention of going to. Bonus.
We were talking to the 9 year old girl about what life was like before the internet and she was laughing and asking us all kinds of questions. We lost her when we tried to explain what a pager was. That gave way to a long discussion about artificial intelligence that through me into wikipedia hole later that night. Then onto politics and such and before we knew it the hour and a half had passed and we were at the slow ferry dock.
5pm: Arrive at ferry dock.
At the ferry dock there are 12 people trying to sell 13 different varieties of “Cup of Noodles”. We spent a few minutes waiting for the 2 groups to sync up. The Indo ringleaders asked for our fast boat tickets in exchange for the ferry ticket. This is where people started to get really annoyed. We were trading a 300.000 ticket for a 41.000 ticket. Everyone was still holding onto the small chance that we might get some money back. Once the tickets get exchanged that would never happen. The other issue which no one could do anything about— once we get on that ferry we had to trust that someone would be there on the other side waiting to pick us up.
When we tried to board the ferry guards stopped us and said “finish time” meaning we had missed the 5 o’clock ferry and had to wait an hour for the next one. We still didn’t have our tickets. One of the Danish guys and I walked back to speak with the ringleaders who waited back at the ticket office. To our surprise one of them was now wearing the fast boat companies t-shirt. I still don’t know why he wasn’t wearing it the entire time. It would have made things a lot easier. He had his scooter helmet on with a cell phone wedged between it so his hands were free. He told us he would get us our tickets and to wait over at the dock.
The 6 o’clock ferry arrived and the group finally conceded it’s fast boat tickets in exchange for safe passage.
The battle was lost.
6pm: Board Ferry.
Most of us climbed up to the roof deck and took a seat on the benches. It was cooling down and the sun was about to set. I settled in with my headphones and cranked the tunes. The sunset was particularly nice. If you looked directly at it and then turned 90 degrees right or left you saw what you would expect— darker blue skies that gradually lighten towards sun. The interesting thing was when you turned 180 degrees there was a mirror of the colors waiting on the opposite side. Like an invisible wall was behind us reflecting the light. I’ve never seen anything like that before.
For the first time I thought — this is it! This is why I’m traveling. Singing reggae songs with Indonesians by the beach. Playing paddle ball with a 7 year old and making friends for a day with 21 strangers. Cramped slow boats and sweaty vans and conversations about artificial intelligence with Danish college kids. Traveling not to get somewhere, just to go. That feeling was worth four fast boat tickets!
When the sun was gone the sky was clear and there was no moon. Just millions of stars. I lay on my back with my pack under my head looking up. BOOM! That’s when I discovered how to experience space travel on earth. Alright I’m probably not the first. But hey I figured it out on my own and that’s got to count for something.
Pro Tip — Space Travel On Earth
- Find something with subtle motion, a steady vibration, and a spot to lay flat on your back and look at the stars. I did this on the roof of a ferry but I imagine the back of a pickup truck would work just as well— if not better.
- Pick a clear night with no moon in a place with as little ambient light as possible.
- Bring your best pair of headphones and a copy of the Interstellar soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
- Lay flat on your back. If there is any ambient light try cupping your hands around your eyes to block it out.
- Press play and strap in. If you don’t have time to listen to the entire album I recommend the tracks Stay (not S.T.A.Y.), Mountains, or Detach
- Keep your eyes focused directly in front of you and move your head slowly in different directions.
*Disclaimer: I was NOT on drugs when I came up with this.
If you aren’t simultaneously brimming with joy and shuttering with terror… You don’t have a soul.
11pm: Shuttle to Sanur.
The hour and a half drive home was uneventful and I spent most of the time reading John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument.
Found the first place I could with a room, air-con, and a pool. Had a swim and a big tasty meal of rice, egg, chicken and 3 different veggies for just under $1 USD at the 24 market down the road. I would eat my next 5 meals there and love every one of them.