Thursday, August 8, 2013

Diving Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno, 3 days, from Gili Air

August 5-7, Blue Marlin Divers, Gili Air, Lombok
My logged dives #1230-1234

By boat to Lombok via Rinca

We got a cabin on a Perama company long distance boat from Labuan Bajo to Lombok, leaving August 2, or so we thought.  Actually we met at the Perama office at 5:30, waited for an hour, and were conducted to the boat which was in harbor. The plan was to have dinner on board and spend the night in our cabin, and the boat would leave at 5:30 in the morning for Rinca.  The price of the cabin was expensive, $200 each, but we thought it would save us $35 on the hotel price at least, but our cramped cabin, barely enough room for two bunks, was open air with slats for privacy (which we covered inside with towels) and was situated on a catwalk next to the common luggage storage. There were benches there which the deck passengers liked to sit on and talk (late at night) and of course everyone was constantly accessing storage. 

But the first night we had a different problem.  The boat crew had invited the passengers from the passage over back for a party.  The boat anchored in the middle of the harbor, the others arrived by launch, and a part ensued from dinner time to midnight.  We felt we had rented a tiny room just off a noisy bar, never our choice of accommodation.  We somehow managed to drown it out with Kindle white noise apps (modern travel :-).

The first stop on the boat's itinerary was to go see the dragon lizards on Rinca, and we went on a two hour trek where we did that. There were always some specimens sleeping near the kitchen (per Lonely Planet) and these were there splayed out like alligators in a zoo.  But we went on a guided trek of 2 hours and saw some baby dragons in streams en route, as well as monkeys.  

The most exciting part was where a large adult dragon came out in the trail and wandered down it, causing our group to yield to the side. The dragon slithered nonchalantly, forking out its tongue, and headed for the bushes on the far side of the path from where we were.  It was a dramatic encounter, memorable, as they are some meters long.

Here is the trail (Bobbi is wearing the red backpack)

And here is the dragon that came slithering down it, sticking out his forked tongue to sense the nature of the other biomass he detected nearby.  By the time this photo was taken, he was heading into the underbrush:

Hats off to John Hager who posted on Facebook some really interesting dragon closeups, from boat at the edge of the water (looks like you get what you pay for :-)

The boat continued to a snorkeling spot that afternoon, with the Komodo Divers boat coming into our anchorage and stopping behind us to do some diving on the reef we were snorkeling (seemed to be a good spot for dive courses).  The passengers fanned out on the reef.  No system was employed to keep track of the 30 people in the water, so I snorkeled and then Bobbi took a turn and I kept an eye on her while she cruised the reef some distance from the boat.  When she returned in the water I guided her to where the ladder was and when I went to that side of the boat, I saw that we had slipped anchor and the current had actually carried us onto the shallow reef.  No one seemed to have noticed, the same way that no one had noticed the dinghy had disappeared on the Wicked boat the week before.  I went to the captain and found him sleeping behind the helm. When I woke him up, comedy ensured.  He lept out of bed in one stride, in the next he was peering over the side of the boat, and the look on his face was classic.  Then he was yelling to no one in particular.  No one on the boat could do anything so they called their dinghy over from where it had been cruising the snorkelers and fortunately, that boat was able to pull us off the reef, and no damage was done (to the boat :-(( not sure about the reef )

We sailed that night.  The passage was a little rough early in the evening but smoothed out as we skirted the big island of Sambawa between Flores and Lombok.  In the morning we stopped at Moyo to take a short walk to a waterfall where locals showed us their stunts on a rope over the falls where they rode it out to its azimuth and let go, doing flips, or hanging on and propelling themselves right at the base of the falls.  It was a refreshingly friendly place with the locals holding the rope for as many tourists as wanted to have a go, as most of the 30 people on our boat did.

We continued to a reef at the west end of Sambawa for a final snorkeling stop, and then made the two hour crossing of the channel to Lombok, catching great sunsets over Rinjani volcano, which dominated horizon.  We arrived in Lombok after 2 days of boat travel and found vans waiting to take passengers to Mararam port or Singgigi. We opted for Singgigi, which turned out to have nice accommmodation for just $25 a night.  We arrived there at 11 pm and got online to arrange with Dusty where to meet him next day.

By boat (how else?) from Lombok to Gili Air

This is a quick shot of one of the horse carts that will linger in your memory after you have left Gili Air.  There is no obnoxious sound of motorcycle engines here, just bicycles and horse carts.  The street between the port and the harbor can get busy with the clomping and tinkling of horses and bells in the evening as boxes are ferried from port to retail outlet, but apart from bicycles, transport around Gili Air is on foot, 45 min. to walk completely around the island.

We were unsure where to meet exactly.  Dusty had a boat ticket to Gili Trawangan where we had all gone 30 years ago, when the reef there was intact, and it was a simple, laid back place.  Now it's become a party island so we had decided to choose between Gili Air and Gili Meno.  We were thinking to choose the less is more Gili Meno, but reading LPG at breakfast, we noted that it said booking during high season was essential so we thought Gili Air might be the best compromise. Meanwhile we were arranging at breakfast a shuttle to the port leaving at 8:45, and we were on that riding along the stunning beautiful coastline of Lombak while texting Dusty who was embarking from Bali and needed to know where he should get his ticket to exactly.  Our driver was friendly and had good English so I asked him and he said there were numerous places on Gili Air and Trawangan, so I txted Dusty to change his ticket to Air, and to make a long story short, we all arrived at the boat harbor from Lombok and Bali at almost the exact same moment, and through the wonders of modern telecommunications, were texting each other to a meeting point at the harbor.  

Everything after that was idyllic.  Gili Air is an amazingly laid back place. There are no motorcycles or dogs (with the exception of one pet we spotted, but he was well-behaved and didn't bark). Horse carts meet passengers at the harbor and for $7 fixed price will take you around until you find a place to stay. The island is surrounded by azure water and fine beaches, and rural lanes criss cross through fields with cows and horses, and rooster crowing is ambient there.

We were accosted by a man who said he had a house with two rooms for $30 and we followed him on his bike to the most ideal accommodation for a still active couple and their single son.  It was an apt with two bedrooms, each with double bed, kitchen, and bath in master bedroom.  There was a lanai out front with bamboo furniture, a leafy garden, and palms across the lane bright green under sunny skies.  It was not beachfront, but those places were $80, and we were 5 min from the beach, where we found neaby Blue Marlin Dive Center, where we were offered the best professional courtesy price of 25% discount so each of our dives would be just $25.

This led to a routine where we set an alarm for 7, had Lombok coffee in our kitchen, took our computers and gear to the dive center, stored the computers in lockers, waded onto the boats, went 20 min to Trawangan for the first dive of the day, returned to the dive center where I recharged my GoPro on my computer, and then returned to the boats for the shorter trip to a Meno dive site.  The third dive of the day was always right off Gili Air and we never went on that one, though I wondered if Trawangan divers did their first adventure dive on Air, and their last of the day close to home on Trawangan.

Once we'd finished diving we washed our gear and showered at the dive center and then wandered up the beach for lunch.  All up and down the beach, there were pavilions with cushions facing the water quite popular with beach goers, where good meals could be had for $4 for mains, and $3.50 for a large Bintang (or $1.50 for iced tea, or $2 for fruit juice). Most of these places had wifi, which was often the most disappointing part of the meal, but we tended to relax here in the shade and balmy breezes with the clomp of horse carts in the lane behind and just feel we were lucky to be in this magic spot.

Around 4 or so we'd take our dive gear back to the room and then sortie again in search of sunset happy hours.  The north end of the island had west views and again big bamboo couches where you could lay back and push any worries out of your mind while you watched the colors of the clouds and placid water go through electric orange and purple color changes. Dusk would usually find us walking on the beach, easier to walk there on the packed sand than on the loose sand trails ringing the island. We'd eventually find a place to have dinner, usually a table on the beach (getting tired of lounging in couches by then) for dinner with waves lapping, horses clomping with bells on, and stars bright overhead.

Our last night there, Aug 7 2013, was the last day of Ramadhan, with views of fireworks over Lombok and the boom of closer explosions as people set off colorful lightshows overhead of where we were dining. The celebrations and fireworks went on for hours after dusk, with sparkling burst lighting either side of our table on the beach for hours.

Diving Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno from Gili Air

Aug 5 - Sunset Reef, SW Gili Trawangan

This site took us in over sparse coral and great vis but not much to see in the moraine at depth, though the idea was to find something big down here.  Our dive guide Ari pointed out a slug and I filmed batfish flattened at a cleaning station.

Aug 5 - Soraya Reef, off Gili Meno

Soraya Reef, Gili Meno, was our favorite reef of all we dived - A black tip shark and a crocodile fish, nice reef, nice corals.  
Where is the crocodile fish?  You should be able to see him by the end of the video :-)

We saw the shark early in the dive, and the video didn't function, but I got this snap (snaps are not the GoPro's forte, and I had to zoom and crop to get this):

Aug 6 - Shark Point, NW Gili Trawangan

We found a turtle and a white tip at the start of the dive, and I swam around a bommie and found a big turtle there minding his own business.  We also found a cool nudibranch, and a scorpion fish - very nice dive

Turtle at bommie

Local dive guides worldwide usually know where to look for animals underwater, and can often spot a nudibranch or hidden scorpion fish when those not familiar with the site might miss it. Ari was pretty good at finding worms and snails in the sand and on the reef the size of a piece of thread. So it was kind of funny when we began our dive on Shark Point (of all places :-) when Ari was swimming along at the start of the dive, just starting to adjust to the slight chill, and almost swam right past a resting shark. Amusingly out of character for him, and here it is on video:

Aug 6 - second dive on Meno Wreck, Gili Meno

I tend to not like wreck dives all that much because unless the wreck is massive or historic (or the absolutely only thing to see in the area), they tend to take place in a small area which you can rapidly exhaust.  We started our Meno dive upcurrent from it and drifted onto it, along with a dozen other dive boats with the same plan, so it was crowded.  Once on the wreck, the fish were pretty.  Here's Bobbi exploring:

Aug 7 - Deep Halik, NW Gili Trawangan

Wed Aug 7 we dived Deep Halik, northwest Gili Trawangan, near Shark Point. Ari checked surface current and declared that all was well, but at 20 meters we were being swept through the channel all of us uncomfortable with it. There was nothing much to see here, or more accurately, we were moving too fast to stop and look around, though it seemed like a good place for sharks in the rubble valley and along the reef.  

We were diving with Andrea and his wife again, Andrea the rich Italian smoker who always surfaced at 40 min, and on this day, we waited till exactly 8 min for Ari to return after carrying out Andrea's safety stop and putting him back on the right dive boat. 

Before Andrea left he had held his camera in the face of a turtle, a little in the way of other photographers who were trying to get their own shots.

Andrea redeemed himself somewhat when he found a huge scorpion fish just before he had to surface, and while we were waiting for him to return an attractive moray emerged from one of the few bommies where we were.  

Ari found interesting tiny snails in the dynamited coral rubble but apart from all that, and getting some relief from the current in the last 15 min of our dive, our last dive on Gili Air was not as nice as the others.  Max depth 29.9 meters and time 62 minutes.

Time to leave

We were sad to leave our tranquil place on Gili Air, a 'homestay' cottage called Mangga, down an endearingly rural lane near Family Cafe just inland from Blue Marlin Divers. It was just $30 a night for two separate rooms, one for Dusty and one for the two of us, with kitchen with stove, a fresh water dispenser, and fridge, and a pleasant veranda out front, where on the first day of Eid celebrations we awoke to find a huge breakfast left for us there. Here we are checking out:

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