Gili Trawangan was one of the first places I visited on a trip to the Indonesian archipelago nearly 20 years ago.
At that time, there was thankfully only a bamboo culture on the island and most of the accommodations would serve you three, very basic rice meals a day (that was fine for lunch and dinner but not so great for breakfast – I like my cornflakes and eggs!).
There was no air-con, no fancy swimming pools, and the shower water that came out in a trickle was as salty as the seawater (perhaps because it was seawater?)
But the island still had those special ingredients that made it a true tropical paradise: crystal-clear seas, fine golden sands; and a vibe so mellow it made it easy to forget all the bullshit going on in the “real world” outside.
But that’s all changed.
Well, perhaps not all changed. Because the sand is still fine and golden. But apart from that, pretty much everything else has changed - and wonderful old Gili Trawangan has been transformed into a sort of island version of Kuta – paradise island for the pikeys.
No longer is the main stretch of beach peaceful and quiet – it’s now covered in bloody deckchairs and tables! Arrrggg!! My wife (Indonesian) was aghast. Have we really come all this way just to see a beach that looks a lot like a busy traditional market in Jakarta? WTF!
And quiet? Did I say quiet? Hahaha! Well, it would be if it wasn’t for the booming sound systems competing against each other on the beach. And whilst I have nothing against people wanting to enjoy a beer, the last thing I want to see on the beach is discarded Beer Bintang bottles thank you very much.
Gili Trawangan: before the deckchairs moved in
The road to destruction pretty much began when high powered speedboats started to take tourists directly across to Gili Trawangan from busy tourist locations in Bali (Kuta, Sanur etc) a few years back. The trip by speedboat only takes an hour and a half, and as the trip has been heavily promoted there are plenty of takers. Now loads of speedboats do the trip and prices have fallen considerably too, adding to the demand.
This compares to a grueling day trip in the old days when you had to do it the hard way and go across from Bali to Lombok in a rusty old ferry (or fly).
So no wonder the number of tourists visiting the Gili islands has increased exponentially in the last few years!
You may well say that’s the modern tourism industry for you. And you’d be right. Because tourists can choose where they go. I don’t have to go back to Gili Trawangan – and I won’t. And I’m sure many others won’t either.
But what is really unforgivable is the entire destruction of Gili Trawangan’s once pristine reef.
This has happened because there has been no control of the “house” boats that pretty much put down anchor the entire length of this part of the island as they bring tourists in, take them out, and deliver supplies like food and water.
You could ask why these boats don’t anchor at the island’s specially built pier further up the island, but nobody on Gili Trawangan has. Nope, cos that would make it more difficult for the tourists. And because the tourists have the cash, it wouldn’t be in the “interests” of the island’s mass market tourism business, would it? So no such policy exists and the result is the entire destruction of a once very fine reef. Sad. So very, very sad.
Anyway, it’s no fun swimming or snorkeling here anymore. The boat traffic is almost as bad as Jakarta’s road traffic (that’s saying something!), and if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on around you every five minutes or so, you run the risk of having a very nasty collision with one of the boats.
Nope Gili Trawangan ain’t what it once was.
Hell, I’m gonna miss those salty showers!