Five am feels dang early, especially after three days on an epic boat adventure visiting Komodo Dragons and swimming with giant Manta Rays. I’m exhausted but excited for our next adventure – the Gili Islands. VWish mini-mini van arrives right at 6:45am to take us to the airport in Labuanbajo on Flores Island.
Getting around Indonesia is a bit of a challenge, but Rick has booked everything perfectly – even having paid for our inter-Island flights on Nam and Wing Air at our neighborhood 7-11 in Bangkok. (Yes, you read that correctly. No on-line payment available with these tiny airlines so 7-11 handles the payment process.)
And, because of our early flight we miss our complimentary breakfast, but no problem, we can eat at the airport.
We arrive at Komodo International and get checked through security. Now breakfast.
In the entire airport. Are you kidding? An airport without overpriced food?
But wait. There’s a coffee shop! And a nice one at that. Looks like a Starbuck’s knockoff, all shiny and new. We’ve got this! Except that it is their “soft opening”. Available food consists of one item – plain white sesame seed buns. Perhaps this is a McDonald’s knock off because the buns are much like an undressed hamburger bun.
Alright. I will eat a plain white bun and we will dine on the plane!
And then we wait for our plane. And wait. The lady at the counter keeps telling us, “just 15 minutes.” We confer with a group of dreadlocked backpackers and they share horror stories of Indonesian airlines that were as much as 10 hours late. No reason. Just because. So we feel lucky when we board our 8:30am plane at 10:30am. We feel even luckier when they hand us what appears to be a box lunch!! And inside?
So, I will eat Oreos and we will have a meal once we land in Bali.
Our 30 person prop plane lands in Depensar, Bali at 11:30am. Luggage is on the slow boat and by noon Rick is trying to contact the car we hired to take us to our boat.
No luck, but no problem! We can be “chill”, right? We will take a taxi and hope we arrive by 1pm for our scheduled departure to the island of Gili Air. Since the taxi driver isn’t sure where we need to go, he calls the boat company to get directions and we are on our way. Luck! We arrive right at 1pm. On a pier. In Bali somewhere. He points us to the boat company’s shed. Thanks taxi guy! So glad he called and confirmed things.
Except we are at the wrong place. And the driver is gone. Now what? Lucky again because a nice guy, Mr. Key, knows a tiny bit of English (that he started learning when he was 7 – from tourists like us) and tells us that yes, this is the right boat company, just the wrong location. He, with the help of three of his friends, call the boat company and after what sounds like a very complicated phone conversation, and animated discussion with his friends, tells us that another driver is on the way to take us to the correct pier. It’s now well after 1pm – the time we are scheduled to catch our boat. So we buy Mr. Key and his three friends a Bintang (local beer) and join them on folding chairs for our liquid lunch and talk about how things have changed in Bali.
And, the driver arrives and says, please bring the beers in the car. Of course.
We drive an hour up the coast and catch the 3pm boat to our final destination, and a much-anticipated meal. First stop is Gili Trawangan, the noted party island, where 1,000,000 people get off the boat leaving just 4 tourists on board for Gili Air. Perfect. This is going to be perfect.
Eleven hours after our journey began, we are here! The final destination of Gili Air! Funky little island with quirky shops and cafes. No cars so we flag a horse-drawn cart to take us to our hotel. What? You’ve never heard of our hotel? Closer look at our reservation reveals….we are on the WRONG island. We are booked for Gili Meno, the smallest and least touristy of the three Gili’s. People have told us it’s boring and too quiet. This wasn’t our plan. Now what?
What else? Sit down at a cute cafe and order another Bintang and some real food and figure out the plan. What? We have to get to Gili Meno now? Last boat leaving at 4:30pm – which is now?? Ok. Pay, bag the food for take-away, and run to the tiny boat we have chartered because the regular shuttle boat has stopped running for the day. As the sun is going down our speedboat races across the choppy channel before the light is completely gone.
The boatman lands the boat on the beach with a crash and yells “hurry, hurry” as he literally throws our wheely suitcase onto the sand. He shoves off and is gone before we have waded out of the water.
And here we are on Gili Meno. We are alone on the Mangrove lined beach. We see a guy with a horse and cart and flag him for a ride. Our bungalow is on the other side of the island. We pass ladies with goods balanced on their heads and children yelling “hallo” to practice their English. The Call to Prayer as we trot by the dilapidated Mosque is the only sound beyond the hooves of our pony. We see an occasional baked brown backpacker, walking to their home stay.
Ten minutes later, we arrive at our beach bungalow, unload our things and look around. Jungle meets the beach. Paradise. We unpack our “take-away” meal and have another Bintang as we watch the sun set on this unforgettable day.