The soothing charisma of Gili Air

by Jacob Jarvis

A carpet of white sand awaited me as the boat from Amed sailed into the harbour at Gili Air, my choice of the three famed Gili islands which neighbour Bali and Lombok.

Whilst descending the ship’s steps the feeling of life slowing down was almost palpable. On this tiny paradise, for the holidaymakers at least, stress, panic and pressure simply don’t exist.

Even the ticket sellers or bar promoters waiting for passengers to embark don’t seem to be bothered about pestering them. A local asked if I needed a place to stay, and when I explained I’d already reserved a bed he directed me to my hostel, assuring me it was great, and wished me a pleasant stay.

Meandering down the street it was strange to see how much everyone here seems to embrace the stereotypical hippy island life. Guitars are plucked unskilfully but enthusiastically, with friends and strangers joining in song. Couples and families paddle, while lone travellers work on their yoga moves. Linen clothes are on sale at every corner, and it seems impossible there are any left with the amount of them people are wearing.

I spent my first night walking around Air’s main strip before watching the sunset over the hills of its neighbour Lombok across the sea. As soon as it began to descend, the white light dimmed and turned to gold, followed by shades of orange and red, which embraced the silhouettes our nearest star sunk behind.

I woke up for my first full day on the island to the unique sound of Geckos in the trees around me, as I rocked in my bed, which hung on ropes from the ceiling, somewhat like a hammock. For someone who likes to grab the day by the scruff of the neck, it was hard to switch my mindset to island living. I decided to read for a while then headed down to the pool, where I took a leisurely swim before drinking a coffee.

Strolling round it felt like everyone was in limbo, as if the outside world was wholly irrelevant here. The internet runs as fast as dialup and the power cuts out intermittently all day. None of it seems to matter though.

I rented a bike and set off to do a loop of the coast. Shops and restaurants blended into an amalgamation of thatched wood roofs. Tanned touts half-heartedly offer shroom shakes and weed, or massages and food at the more upmarket places.

The crystal clear waves and the perfect pale sands put many more populated and famous destinations to shame, and each beach is as beautiful as the last. What struck me most though was how quickly I was back to my starting point, having circled the island in just over an hour.

Despite being so small, Gili Air has an incredible charisma, like the most boisterous member of a group of friends, whose personality brushes off on everyone within it. Even if you want to leave you’re at the whim of the Gili mindset. Boats to Lombok don’t run to a timetable they just set off ‘when needed’, as the sign says.

Though I’m usually filled with urgency, this almost hypnotic state of relaxation has truly entranced me. And, as I write this, staring out at the starlit waves ahead of me, I can’t imagine going back to the pace of the outside world.

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