Of the three most famous Gili islands, Gili Air represents the middle ground. Gili Trawangan is the backpackers target, with drinks deals and bunk beds galore. Gili Meno is the location known for its peaceful tranquility, and is most suitable for honeymooners and grey nomads. We picked Gili Air because it has a bit of a bar scene, but is not as hectic as Trawangan.
Air (pronounced eye-urr) is a wonderful place to relax with its pristine beaches, numerous chilled out Reggae bars, and clean air. Snorkelling is one of the main activities to be done on the Gili islands, and the tours circumnavigate the waters around the three islands. We’d wanted to snorkel again ever since the first time we did it in Koh Tao, Thailand. When the small, local company guaranteed seeing sea turtles, we could hardly have been more up for it.
After wading through knee-deep water (almost waist-deep for Katherine) to board the boat we’d be jumping from, we sat patiently as the guides hoisted anchor and we rocked off. The dubious-looking boat was glass-bottomed so we could see the clear greenblue shade of water that we’d be searching through.
This was the first time since we completed a Scuba Diving course in Koh Tao that we’d worn fins (some people call them flippers), and I was very excited. You can swim so much faster and it makes it much easier to follow interesting creatures you come across. I ended up with the most battered fins you’ve ever seen and they weren’t actually much longer than my feet. Still, I sucked it up as they were the only ones that fit and climbed aboard.
Usually when you jump in the ocean for snorkelling, there is none of the gradual acclimatisation of the cold temperature on your warm skin. It’s all wide-eyed, screwed -up faces and ‘ooh that’s cold’s as you take the inevitable plunge. Thankfully though, the Indonesian water was tropically warm making the initial descent delightful and exciting.
Following the guide, we hastily made for the closest corals and found them to be somewhat underwhelming. As is happening across the world’s oceans, the coral in Indonesian water is dying due to bleaching. The coral was cream, white, and sad looking but the marine life was still plentiful. What a relief!
The somewhat bulging group of snorkellers splashed, kicked, and flailed around – some more graciously than others – until the lycra-clad guide surfaced and pointed to a nestling turtle. Everyone’s interest was piqued and we all quickly followed him to find this turtle.
As you can imagine, this was not particularly pleasant. 50 people trying to follow the same creature in a small area of water led to some kicks-in-the-face and elbows-in-crotches. I can’t imagine the turtle was too pleased with the situation either. It was exhilarating seeing this beautiful creature in its own environment though, and to top it all off, an Indonesian tour company actually followed through on a promise they made.
ULTIMATELY, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
It’s a truism to say that for most of Asia, you get what you pay for. There is a reason things are cheap. This tour was the cheapest of the four snorkelling trips we’ve been on in five months of travel (as of January 2017). The boat was pretty ropey, the life jackets were well-used, and animal ethics weren’t too impressive (though they weren’t exploitative by any standards). They also moved the boat when we’d jumped in, meaning that we had to swim against a pretty strong current to get back on board.
Our tours on the Great Barrier Reef were more expensive, but they operated at a much higher standard. Having said this, the tour was worth the money that we paid for it, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The staff were friendly and helpful. The guide even got our amazing GoPro footage in our Indonesia highlights video. If you get chance to snorkel in Indonesia, don’t think twice just do it. The money is worth the experience of seeing natural marine ecosystems up close.
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