The Gili Vibe

Here I am, sitting in my home office in the southernmost tip of Germany, looking out the window at the snow falling. It is April. I cannot be farther removed from my happy days on the Gilis, a place I came to love, a place where I met friends that are still good friends today. A place also where I unfortunately lost some good friends… A place where I met and fell in love with my partner in crime, the mother of my children, my wife.

The place to which I am now, finally, also returning. This time with a family. A wild, two-year- old son and a newborn daughter, who I still need to meet as she’s currently rather unwilling to leave the cozy confines of her mother’s womb. Returning to a place I loved, sometimes hated, but most importantly, a place that has never left my heart since I first jumped off a boat and felt the Gili sand between my toes.


What makes the Gilis so special?

The Gilis and I

The funny thing is, there’s a shift, it’s been going on for a long time. All three islands evolve over time. I first set foot on Gili Air, 25 years ago. There were 4 bars, 3 dive centres and every now and then, electricity. In the evenings we chilled, if we wanted to meet people for drinks all we had to do was jump on our bikes and check at which one of the 4 bars everyone was. The other 3 would be closed. The way back would be more adventurous as there were no lights to light the non-existing roads through the island but we always found our way. And picked up some lumps and bruises every now and then…

Trawangan was, already then, the party island, which we would occasionally visit for a night if we felt like ‘really going out’. This was usually good fun and always ended with a sore head and a rather unpleasant boat ride back to Gili Air the next morning.

Meno then, was always the rather quiet, mysterious one where as legend went, nothing really happened and apparently honeymooners sat under a palmtree and declared their undying love for eachother. However, the few nights I spent there were surprisingly pleasant and also ended with sore heads and an unpleasant boat ride back to Air. We discovered there was life on Meno.

Over the years though, coming back to the shift, the islands seem to morph into each other a bit. Gili Air seems to resemble Gili Trawangan more, Gil Meno looks more like Gili Air twenty years ago and Trawangan, well Gili T is Gili T, just more of it. The thing is, even though this may seem the case it’s not exactly what is happening here. They are still the same islands evolving at their own pace while keeping their own distinct character. Not one turning into the other.

Altogether, I’ve lived on the Gili’s twice with seven years in between for a total of five years. Mostly on Gili Air where I’ve left a big chunk of my heart, but also on Gili T, where I left a big chunk of my liver, and now, I’m going to Meno. With a family of my own. This time after a nine year break. I can’t wait to see how the islands have evolved, how the feel is. What the vibe is these days. How they’ve evolved.

The biggest question is, what’s going on with the Gili Vibe, is it still there, has it changed…?

So what's this Gili Vibe then?

Your big question though still is, what on earth is this Gili Vibe? This may not have been satisfactorily explained by yours truly in this writing. With a reason though, come find out for yourself. Spend some time there, have a few sore heads, sit on a beach for no reason, look at the stars, go dive, fall in love, live….

And come to Meno if you want to meet me. I will be there for a while.

Ok, first and foremost, before you can understand the Gilis, you need to know one thing. It’s not one place. There are three islands and they’re different. They each march to the sound of their own drum but still there is that distinct vibe on all three of them. The only way I can explain it is, they’re like siblings. Each an individual with their own specific traits, their own character but still they all come from the same genetic makeup and they do all share the same DNA. Not so strange if you consider the local population, they actually do all have a shared ancestry. Maybe that is what’s at the root of the vibe this island group radiates.

To get a feel for the islands don’t make the mistake to just hop over from Bali for a few days. Take your time, rather spend a few weeks if you can. Get to know the locals, get to know the expats, who came and never left. Figure out which island fits your character the best.

Are you the party animal, looking for action, maybe hop off the speedboat in Trawangan. Want to chill, hang out at a beach bar and maybe, just maybe go party when you feel like it, check out Gili Air. Feel more like chilling, enjoying the sunset, maybe dive or snorkel a little bit and still not miss out on beach bars, try Gili Meno.

7 best things to do on Gili Meno

Gili Meno – the central Gili. It is also the smallest and most quiet of the three. Imagine the Gili Islands 10 to 20 years ago before they became one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia. This is what you’ll find in Gili Meno. At some spots on the islands you’ll feel like holidaying on a private island. Other places are busier and you’ll discovery a chilled-out beach life and the opportunities to mingle with other travellers. Meno isn’t quiet for its lack of beauty because it is arguably the prettiest of the three. Meno’s beaches rank in the Top 10 of Indonesia’s best beaches with enchanting white sand that continues into the clear waters that surround the island. You can’t really go wrong in choosing your place to stay based on the best beach in front of your door because frankly speaking, they are all quite stunning.

Gili Meno has less accommodations available than Gili Air or Gili Trawangan but still plenty to choose from. Divine Divers has a pool but a lot of the accommodation options don’t, so keep that in mind when booking. The central part of the islands hosts some hostels for travelers on a budget but the most common type of accommodation you’ll find are basic bungalows and homestays. Those are also mainly located in central Meno. On the beaches you’ll also find upper class or even luxury hotels such as Mahamaya or the Bask which is scheduled to open in July 2022.

You will find no motorized transport on Gili Meno same as on Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. You’ll get to enjoy unknown silence with cicadas chirping rather than honking motorbikes and good air quality. If you don’t feel like walking, you can always rent a bike or have a cidomo (horse card) drop your luggage at your hotel.

There aren’t loads of restaurants on Gili Meno, but a number of really nice seafood places and small family-run warungs to choose from. Some warungs are centered around the harbour area, but there are some lovely eateries on Sunset beach as well (our beach!). Some of the best warungs can be found deeper in the center of the island.

Gili Meno is one of the few places in the Bali-Lombok region where you can truly feel remote and away from mass tourism. No matter if you are planning a day trip or spend a few nights it will be a unique and worthwhile visit. If you have no idea what to do with your time on Gili Meno, please find our (totally biased) guide with the best things to do on the island:

1. Diving

The three small Gili Islands on the north west coast of Lombok are popular with scuba divers from all over the globe.They are also one of the best places in this world to learn how to dive or take advanced diving lessons. These are the reasons why:

  • Variety of dive sites – 20 different dive sites with a great variety of marine life from big stuff to macro, it’s all here. But not only that, the topography of the various sites is interesting and you’ll get to dive on sloping reefs, pinnacles, wrecks, drop offs and the biorocks, a famous artificial reef project.

  • Dive conditions – you’ll find warm water and great visibility all year round. In December and January the water might not be as clear as during the rest of the year but we are still talking about 15 meters viz. This is still better than in many other places on a good day.

  • Location of the dive sites – a diver’s heaven! The Gili dive sites are very close by and easily accessible. Especially Gili Meno with its central location has very easy access to all dive sites around the Gili Islands. Other dive centers have a 10-to-15-minute boat ride to reach the great sites on the west coast of Meno. It only takes Divine Divers 2 minutes. We are often the first ones to jump in the water and don’t have to share the dive sites with other divers.

  • Suitable for all diving levels – beginners to dive pros will find challenges. Whether you’d like to learn how to dive or do an introduction to tech diving it is all here on the Gili Islands. On the Gilis you’ll have the prime chance to learn to dive with almost no weights since you won’t have to wear a (thick) wetsuit. You’ll become a better diver by practicing buoyancy with your breath rather than you BCD.

2. Snorkeling

You can dive, freedive or snorkel to enjoy the magic of the underwater world of the Gili Islands. Not saying one is better than the other, we think it is best to combine. While you’ll get a top-down view when snorkeling, you can be really close to corals and fish while diving. Some of the best-known snorkel spots around the Gilis are located off Meno. This makes Meno without question the best island for snorkelers. It offers easy access to all those amazing underwater sights such as Turtle Point, the Bounty Wreck and probably the most photographed spot in Indonesia – the Meno underwater statues.

Every day dozens of boats bring snorkelers to these beautiful places on multi-stop snorkel tours. To explore them from Meno, you can either book a tour with an agent or directly with the operator, charter a private boat or simply walk into the sea with your own or rented snorkel gear. Please be careful to not step on corals on the reef top. If the tide is too low it is better to wait for high tide to avoid damage on the fragile marine life that surrounds the beautiful island paradise.

  • Turtle Point is located off the north east coast of Gili Meno. You’ll best recognize the snorkel spots by the tour boats that stop there. If you’d like to approach from the shore, simply swim towards the boats. Within minutes you’ll probably see your first turtle. On a good day, this won’t be the only turtle you’ll see. If you stick to simple rules, you’ll get a lot of time with those magnificent creatures because they don’t tend to be scared of people. Watch and don’t touch is the most important one of those general guidelines. Even if it might be tempting, refrain yourself from taking a selfie and keep a distance of two meters.
  • Further to the west and conveniently located in front of Divine Divers (hint!) is another beautiful snorkel spot. It is not short of turtles and you’ll get to see Meno Wall drop to the bottom of the sea bed. On a good day and a current that takes you south you’ll be able to drift along the entire west coast of the island, taking in all of the snorkel spots that are explained below. Do not approach this drift on a current that takes you north. You’ll overexert yourself trying to swim against the current. In that case it is better to enter the water further in the south and drift to the north.
  • The biggest attraction is surely the Gili Meno underwater statue park. The installation named “Bask Nest” consist of 48 human sized figures in a round formation referring to the circle of life. The artist is Jason deCaires, a British environmentalist and eco-artist who is aiming to raise awareness of the threatened underwater ecosystem. The intention of the statues park is to educate guests about the underwater world and to rehabilitate the reef through the concept and designation of the sculptures.The Bask Nest is located in shallow water at around 5 meters in front of Bask Resort. The Gili Meno Underwater Sculpture Park surely is one of the best snorkeling experiences the Gili Islands have on offer and we highly recommend it. Not only can you take really cool pictures but it is awesome to observe how corals are slowly covering the figures which are becoming the new home to marine life.
  • The Bounty is a wreck – not a ship wreck but an old jetty that sank in a storm many years ago. It is located south of the Bask Nest, covered in hard and soft corals and a delight to divers and snorkelers alike. The top of the wreck is located at about 6 meters (tide dependent). While you won’t get to enjoy all the tiny macro life that has settled on top, you’ll still get a pretty amazing overview.

3. Explore the island

Meno is small. It is about 2 km long and 1 km wide and it only takes about 90 minutes to walk around the island. Walking is the best way to explore all the different beaches and you’ll discover unique little places along the way. You can stop here and there for a cold drink or hang out in a bean bag or hammock while letting the day pass. Don’t forget to visit the center of the island and the village with its distinctive charm. As in the rest of Indonesia you’ll encounter mostly friendly people. Don’t expect paved roads leading up to the village, you are on Gili Meno!

If you are done with walking and just want to get from one place to the other, we recommend you to rent a bike. You’ll have to step off the bike every now and again if the sand is too deep to cycle through but that is all part of the fun.

4. Watch the sunset

If you happen to stay on the island overnight there is no better way to spend an evening that watching the sun set from the western shores of the island. Conveniently located on sunset beach, Divine Divers beach bar Bubbles is just the perfect spot to watch the sky kiss the ocean every evening. It might be better to arrive before 5pm to pick a good seat on the beach. On clear days you won’t only see Gili T and the endless ocean turn red and pink. You will also get to watch Bali’s mighty Gunung Agung in the distance get ready for the night. Don’t be discouraged on days where there is no sun. You can witness the most unreal sky with blue, purple and pink hue even though the sky is covered in clouds. The sky color gets really vibrant for 5 to 10 minutes before it turns to night time. So don’t leave before dark.

5. Chill on the beach

Sit back and relax. It doesn’t get more tranquil and laid back than Gili Meno. With all that soft and white sand that surrounds the island, turquois  water in all directions, it would be a shame if you wouldn’t dedicate at least a day to extreme beach bumming. Work on that tan of yours, chill underneath a tree, find a swing and take one of your most liked Instagram shots. If you are after a bit more activity, then rent a canoe or have a drink in a beach bar. Stare out at the sea and simply enjoy the moment.

6. Visit the Gili Meno turtle sanctuary

A trip to Meno is not complete without a visit to the turtle sanctuary. The sanctuary consists of several pools with small turtles. A dedicated team works hard to protect the endangered animals. About 500 turtles hatch at the sanctuary per year. Here they are kept for the first 8 to 12 months of their life. Once they have outgrown most of their predators that might harm them at a juvenile age, they are being released into the sea. This significantly increases their chances of survival. If nature takes its cause, only 1 in 1000 turtles reaches adulthood. Once fully grown, a turtle can reach a diameter of 1,5 meters, even though the green turtles at Shark Point are surely bigger than that. In addition, they can get as old as 90 years.

7. Get one on one with mangroves

The saltwater lake is a unique natural landmark on Gili Meno. It spans an approximate 6 to 8 hectares and is located near the mid-western half of the island.

It takes about 10 minutes to walk there from the harbor. Nature lovers can take in the serenity of the lake, with purposely built shelters that provide resting spots suitable for birdwatching. The lake and its surrounding area are a mangrove ecotourism region. Once a dry-season salt production site, this shallow lake is now thickly bordered by a lush mangrove forest that extends to the island’s western coast. Mangroves promote the biodiversity of the environment. Mangroves not only act as a nursery for fish and other marine life but for terrestrial insects (not mosquitos!) and birds. Besides the common (insect) suspects, each species of mangrove has its own leaf feeders and wood borers.

Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary

The Gilis are known for their large number of sea turtles on the surrounding reefs and have even been dubbed, ‘Turtle capitol of the world’. A name that’s definitely not wasted on this group of islands!  You are basically guaranteed an encounter with at least one of these magnificent sea creatures whether you go snorkeling or diving.

 

Turtles are very stable and have been around forever. But they have problems adapting. When humans came along, turtles came under serious threat.

Turtles are very stable and have been around forever. But they have problems adapting. When humans came along, turtles came under serious threat.

The Turtles of the Gilis

You’ll find two different species of turtles roaming the azure waters around the islands, green turtles and hawksbill turtles. You can easily tell them apart as they are rather different in appearance. Green turtles, first of all, have a more rounded shell which is usually kept very clean. Yes, they actually groom themselves! Second, they have a more rounded snout than their counterparts. The Hawksbill actually derives its name from the birdlike beak they have. Their shells are also more jagged and often covered in barnacles and sea moss.
Green turtles live mostly on a diet of seagrass with which they play an important role in keeping the eco system healthy and functioning. Healthy seagrass provides for an excellent nursery for many fish species while at the same time it protects the coastal areas from storms.
Hawksbills prefer using their ‘beaks’ to scrape the algae of reefs which also in turn helps the reefs to stay healthy. Both species, each in their own way, perform a very important role in the reef eco systems. Protecting and cultivating them is a must.
Unfortunately, both of them are on the list of endangered species, hawksbills even as critically endangered. However, on the Gili Islands the world is still a little bit more in order as both species seem to thrive there. The question is, why do they thrive on the Gilis and struggle elsewhere around the world?

Why is there so many turtles?

We may find part of the answer with the local population itself. About 200 years ago, fishermen from Sulawesi arrived on the Gili Islands. They began to form temporary settlements because of the abundance of fish in the surrounding sea and also the presence of fresh water on Gili Air. After a while they chose to stay there and the current population consists of mainly their descendants and some ‘fresh’ arrivals from Lombok itself.
Fortunately for the turtles, the local population that now inhabits the islands, unlike their Balinese neighbors, didn’t develop a taste for turtle meat. So, they have been mostly left alone.
Also, throughout the years multiple efforts have been made to stimulate their numbers around the islands by means of turtle sanctuaries. One such sanctuaries is currently on Gili Meno where a team of dedicated people works to ensure the Gili turtle population stays healthy. They hatch around 500 eggs per year and only release the ‘turtle babies’ once they’re a few months to one year old. Turtle releases take place every few months. You can be part of a release which involves a small fee which is donated back to the turtle sanctuary.
Growing them to a certain size gives them a much better chance for survival. In the wild usually only one in a 1000 survives to reach adulthood. As these odds seem staggering, it’s all part of nature’s design as every year when the turtle eggs hatch they provide many other species with a necessary supply of food. Many fish, birds, lizards feed on the hatchlings and as brutal as this may seem, it all plays a role in nature’s never-ending circle of life. Once they manage to reach a certain size they’re more or less safe from most predators. Although tiger sharks do have a taste for grown turtles and the jaws to deal with them. Fortunately for the turtles but maybe unfortunately for the divers, we don’t think tiger sharks have ever been spotted around the Gili Islands.

The Sanctuary

The Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary is located on the south-east beach of Gili Meno, just a short walk on the beach from the main jetty. When you get off the jetty just turn left.
It’s easy to find the hut and its numerous pools with turtles in different stages of their ‘young’ lives. The sanctuary is usually open to visitors seven days a week from 9am to 9pm. Well worth a visit and the staff there are more than happy to answer any questions you have about these awesome marine creatures.
Don’t forget, they rely heavily on donations to keep their project afloat so they will be very happy with anything you can spare. Whatever you give, it’s a really small price to pay for helping ensure the Gilis stay the turtle capitol of the world.

What are Biorocks?

What are Biorocks?

Have you heard about the famous biorocks? Biorocks are the key element of a hugely successful reef restoration project. The Biorock process was developed by Wolf Hilbertz and Thomas Goreau, a Jamaikan and German team of marine biologist and architect. Creating a biorock involves passing a mild electrical current through a metal frame which is placed on the seabed in a place where it is intended to grow a new coral reef. Actually, the process encourages the electrolysis of seawater. Electricity is used to promote the growth of calcium carbonate and other minerals, which build up on the surface of the metal.

“Our past, our present, and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depend on what we do now.”

 

Hard corals quickly attach to this material. Alternatively, they are being attached to it manually.  Thanks to the electric current and the base minerals, coral growth is accelerated by up to four times. Once the structures are placed in the ocean it usually only takes a few days for fish to find it interesting and stick around. The new artificial reef of hard corals usually attracts a lot of marine life to settle in. Biorock structures are in place in Indonesia, the Maldives,  Papua New Guinea, the Seychelles, Japan, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The biorock process is being promoted as a way to rehabilitate damaged coral reefs in all tropical areas.

Biorock reefs turn infertile dead and dying areas into pristine reefs full of fish in just a few years. This is also true for regions where natural recovery is impossible. All that’s needed is water that is not too hot, muddy or polluted. Even when other coral on natural or artificial reefs dies, Biorock corals continue to thrive. Thus, the biorock technology doesn’t only make the reefs grow faster, it also protects corals against bleaching events. Bleaching is caused by warming sea temperatures which in turn is a result of global warming. Coral reefs all around the world have suffered massively from high water temperatures and are threatened by further warming. Corals growing on biorock reefs have 1600% to 5000% times higher survival rate during a bleaching event and could help not only the restoration but also the  preservation of coral reefs worldwide.

Why do we need biorocks on the Gili Islands?

Luckily, we still find beautiful coral life on the Gili Islands but some areas around the Gilis were subject to destructive fishing methods in the past. The fishing methods included dynamite and cyanide fishing. Thankfully those times have passed but there are still threats to the coral reefs. Even though anchors are unaccepted and illegal in the Gilis, they are still used by unregistered snorkel tours and import boats in certain parts of the islands. An anchor, once dropped leaves an area of destruction. Unfortunately, the Gilis were also affected by the two major bleaching events that followed el Nino in 1998 and 2016. Unfortunaltely severe el Ninos have an increased frequency and more durable corals are needed to stand tall against a warming ocean. With help from coral restoration and biorock technology in the Gilis, more corals will survive these threats. This again sustains life underwater, provides oxygen and protects beaches from erosion.

Who is in charge on the Gili Islands?

On the Gilis Island, the Gili Eco Trust has established a large number of biorock structures to promote coral restoration. The Gili Eco Trust was founded on 2000 by the dive shops on the Gili Islands to financially support SATGAS, a local initiative to protect corals on the Gilis. In 2004, Delphine Robbe, coordinator of the Gili Eco Trust, brough the biorock technology to the Gili Islands. Since then, more that 150 biorocks were placed in the water around the Gili Islands, fostering a lot new coral reefs and a vast array of fish. Since 2006 the Gili eco Trust hosts biannual biorock workshops. Some of the older structures have by now collapsed under the weight of corals. Newer structures are still standing and you will also find research plots with coral nurseries. The biorocks shelter a lot of marine life such as giant frogfish and schools of razor- or shrimpfish. These Biorock structures shelter plenty of life including giant frogfish and small schools of razor- or shrimpfish.  Cuttlefish, octopus and scorpionfish are also abundant around the biorocks and they are one of the best places to find ghost pipefish. Biorocks are absolutely awesome on a night dive but also day dives are usually full of surprises and beauty.