18 Jul Searching Our Souls on the Gili Islands
After realising just how tough long-term travel can be, we felt ourselves sliding into a depressed state in our hotel room in Kuta. We knew we needed to change things up, fast, so we cleared our workload and headed to Lombok and the Gili Islands for what was supposed to be a relaxing, soothing couple of weeks in the sun.
We flew to Lombok and spent a few quiet days in an almost deserted hotel on a hill. Each day dawned clear and bright and by midday we were chased off the beach by the scorching sun into the cool depths of the hotel pool. As we swam we could look out into the mountains and spot the roof of the multi-coloured village mosque which, along with a horde of roosters, woke us every day before dawn.
Arriving in Paradise – Our trip to the Gili Islands
The journey from Senggigi to Lombok was beautiful but long-winded. We were dropped off just short of Bangsal harbour and made to wait while a dodgy transport company tried to talk us into booking an expensive return journey with them. Eventually we simply walked the rest of the way to the harbour and stood in the fierce heat for the better part of an hour waiting for a boat.
When it finally arrived we scrambled towards the tiny wooden vessel, which was already crowded and bobbing in the shallow waves. I kicked off my flip flops and attempted to board the boat but as I stepped up the weight of my rucksack threw me backwards into the water while everyone watched in amusement – my patience was wearing thin.
The harsh journey was worth it though; as we disembarked on Gili Trawangan we were instantly captivated by the beauty of the island. It looked like every cliché of paradise – clear turquoise waters lapping against a carpet of white-gold. There are no motorised vehicles on any of the Gili Islands, so as we walked the dirt tracks looking for a place to stay we were passed by tourists on bicycles and locals driving horse and carts.
We’d heard that Gili Trawangan was a real party island, which isn’t our scene, so we’d expected to spend just one night there before heading to the quieter nearby islands Gili Meno and Gili Air. We were surprised to find however, that we liked Gili T. Although the beach could get busy along the main strip, you only had to walk for twenty minutes in either direction to find quieter, almost deserted stretches of sand; we also stayed a bit further inland and were never troubled by noise during the night.
Quiet Times on Gili Meno
After a couple of days on Gili T swimming, snorkelling and strolling around the island at sunset we headed to Gili Meno – or as close as the boat could get; we were made to disembark a good 50 metres from land and wade through the shallow, rocky water to get to the island. We were met with thick silence; there weren’t any locals waiting at the dock and the track around the island was deserted apart from a few other tourists from our boat.
We found a hot wooden shack with cold salty water to stay in for the next couple of days and tried to get used to this new quiet lifestyle – without an internet connection and anything other than the sea to amuse us we were forced to simply sit, swim, read and think. For the first time since we left England we weren’t rushing from one adventure to the next, obsessing over work or constantly moving. We were left to reflect on how drastically different our lives were now and to imagine how they would continue over the next few months.
Our subdued journey continued on Gili Air a few days later – it was then that Andrew got sick.
Tears, Fears and Illness
What followed was a horrible couple of days; in between throwing up Andrew lay in bed, waves of heat emanating from his forehead while I worried and tried to force him to drink as much water as possible. We somehow made it back to Gili Trawangan and although he stopped being sick, Andrew still looked frail and weak – worse still, he seemed quiet and miserable.
Things came to a head one afternoon as we sat in a café overlooking the picture-postcard view of the beach. We started to talk longingly about London, reminiscing about our favourite places; I was shocked to hear Andrew, who’s never been a big fan of the city, proclaim how much he missed living there. It was then that I realised something was badly wrong. How could we possibly be missing home and feeling so miserable when we were here on this beautiful island?
Being ill had given Andrew time to think – now suddenly the flood gates had opened and he was admitting all kinds of terrifying truths; how unhappy he felt in Indonesia, how much he missed working and having a routine, how he needed more mental stimulation and was contemplating a change in career – I was astounded by what I was hearing.
Throughout the more than eight years I’ve known Andrew, he’s always been completely sure of his capabilities and unafraid to try new things while I, by contrast, am periodically plagued by fits of self-doubt. It was deeply disconcerting to see Andrew now so uncertain, lost and concerned about the future. While I have a chronic tendency to worry and over analyse everything, Andrew is nonchalant to the very core and normally just takes life as it comes; he’s a staunch realist with the ability to cut straight through to the simple truth of the matter, which is something I’ve always relied on him for.
Now, not only did Andrew look different – pale and gaunt from his illness – but he sounded like a different person too, one who talked longingly about a life in the UK, getting a mortgage and a job; words that struck fear straight into my heart. I felt our shared dream of long-term travel was beginning to tear down the middle and while I was digging my heels in, determined to continue, it seemed that Andrew’s thoughts were already turning towards home.
It was an incredibly strange time.
We spent a long afternoon walking the entire circumference of Gili Trawangan, stopping occasionally to wade into the sea, all the while discussing how we’d ended up here and trying to figure out how we could continue.
How we Want to Travel
We emerged from our trip to the Gili Islands battered and bruised but with a clearer idea of how we needed to move forward. First and foremost – we want to continue travelling. Although we were thrown sideways by how mentally tough the journey became when we hit Indonesia we knew that we needed to push onwards. There are so many places we still want to discover but to make the journey enjoyable we agreed that we have to make some drastic changes to the way we travel:
We need to scrap our budget. In Indonesia we became obsessed with sticking to a strict, self-imposed (and slightly unrealistic) budget of £30 per day. To meet this target we missed meals, lived uncomfortably in hot conditions without air conditioning or hot water and skipped activities – it made us miserable. We came to the conclusion that we need to spend a bit more to make our journey more comfortable and stimulating. Ultimately, this trip shouldn’t be a test of how cheap we can travel, it should be about really experiencing and seeing the countries we’re visiting. If we need to spend more to achieve this than so be it; we’ll just have to stop and work sooner than we originally planned.
We have to spend time exploring. While we were in New Zealand and Australia we were constantly on the move, visiting new places, trying out new things and having adventures. From skydiving and glacier hiking to taking boat trips, snorkelling and hiking, we were getting the most out of every day and we couldn’t have been happier. When we hit Indonesia, however, we began to spend great chunks of time in one place to work and save money – travelling became boring and restrictive. In future, we need to make sure we spend plenty of time exploring the countries we visit.
We need to stay mentally active. While my freelance work, writing this blog and travelling has keeping me mentally active so far, Andrew hasn’t worked since February and has begun to get bored and restless. He wants to spend time on his own interests; improving his language skills and perhaps picking up some freelance translation work as we travel.
We have to make the effort to be healthy. I’ve no doubt that the poor diet we had in Indonesia had a drastic effect on our mood – we need to take time to eat healthily and look after ourselves. We also feel better if we’re physically active, so we need to get into the habit of exercising on the road.
We need to think about the future. Our savings and my meagre freelance earnings won’t sustain us forever. We need to think about our long-term career prospects and focus on creating a sustainable income that will allow us to continue travelling for the foreseeable future and stop us worrying about having to return home broke and homeless in a couple of years time. That means that sometime over the next few months we’ll need to settle down somewhere and work on setting the foundations for this ambition.
We need to move slowly and establish routines. While we’ve figured out that we need to get out and explore the countries we’re in, we also need to work on striking a balance between fast, exhausting travel and intensive periods of work or hanging around in one place. We need to find places we love to settle in for a few weeks at a time so that we can recuperate, work on projects and establish some of the routine we miss from our old lives.
We have to be honest with ourselves. We need to speak up if we start to feel unhappy and make sure we continue to talk to each other.
We want to return to Europe. We’re surprised to find that we miss the people and the culture back home more than we ever imagined we would. We’re grateful that some of our friends and family are coming out to visit us in Thailand later on in the year but we’ve also set a goal to return to Europe in the summer of 2014 to visit people back in the UK and spend time exploring closer to home before we decide which part of the world we want to head to next.
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