I had barely heard of the Gilis (gili meaning small island in Sasak, a language spoken by populations in Lombok, Indonesia) before I decided to stay a week on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three main Gilis. If anything, I had heard of Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three, known for its nightlife and party culture.
I was approaching the end of my travels, which had been chock full of non-stop movement, chaos, and activity, and the more relaxed I could be, the better. I’m not normally a sit-on-the-beach-and-chill type of traveler, but that particular week called for some deep chill. Also, let’s be honest–I picked Meno because I discovered a place called Eco Hostel there, which happened to have a few canisters of paint and a couple of brushes, and I had the opportunity to make some art for them. It cost 85,000 rupiah to get to Gili Meno from Lombok by boat.
In addition to being a tiny, quiet, island–you can walk around the entire perimeter in about an hour–it was still low season in April, and many of the businesses were closed for a period. As safe and peaceful as it was, I would still sometimes get this eerie feeling walking the paths at night with my headlamp past a bunch of empty or near-empty restaurants and resorts.
Many of the locals keep cats as pets, but there are also quite a few wild ones roaming the island. Occasionally, in the dark, my headlamp would catch a bouncing set of glowing eyes. Sometimes I felt like Alice in a tropical Wonderland.
The roads and paths are primitive, because they don’t need to be anything more. This is a typical path that circumnavigates the island:
The main means of transport around the island are bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, or simply walking. I did see a few motor scooters, but I could probably count the total number on one hand.
I was lucky enough to have this scenic vista overlooking the clear, turquoise waters as my workstation.
This image is the end result of my labor. There was an older, faded mandala already painted into the boards (some of the petals are still visible) but I got the OK from the manager to refresh it and give it a new splash of color. If you are reading and happen to be the original mandala artist, I am deeply sorry, let me take you out to lunch!
It did tend to be scorching hot on the balcony during the day, so I would either have to wake up before 7 to work on it, or wait until the sun started to set to go up there. I also kind of like the fact that the art can only be enjoyed at certain times of the day, like a gem hidden above everyone’s heads, waiting to be discovered. The designs are inspired by images I came across during my stay in Java: the shapes of the Borobudur Temple, the faded pastels and dot work of batik fish paintings. I loved the idea of taking a few images from previous travels that impacted me deeply, and spreading it to new lands the old fashioned way: through manual labor.
Eco Hostel, besides giving me the opportunity to leave my creative mark, is simply an incredible place to stay. There are a few private rooms (and tree houses!) available for guests, but a typical dorm is an open air room, equipped with mosquito nets for protection. If you prefer to nest in a hammock, there is a section for hammocks you can sleep in, also protected with nets.
Sorry not sorry: Eco Hostel only uses compost toilets, which save water and transform waste into something that is actually useful for the earth. When used properly, they remain clean and don’t smell bad, and come with the satisfying feeling that you are contributing to a regenerative lifestyle, even if in the smallest way. Also, all of the showers supply salt water, which took me a moment to get used to, but after a few days of bathing (and of course taking a daily dip in the sea) it did wonders for my skin.
The common area is airy, spacious, stocked with books in multiple languages, and is furnished with comfy beanbags and hammocks. I easily spent hours hanging out here, sometimes socializing but mostly reading or dozing. It is basically a big, breezy outdoor patio with a roof so that if it rains (which is a rare occasion) you stay comfortably dry.
Breakfast is included in the price of your stay and includes a piping hot mug of tea or coffee and two pancakes (bananas and chocolate syrup optional). The pancakes are delicious, but I have to say, I usually opted for eating out for brunch, as I prefer more savory flavors in the morning. A local favorite place to eat is called Warung Pak Man, which is less than a 10 minute walk from the hostel. One of my favorite options there is the nasi campur (mixed rice) which cost 25,000 rupiah (or less than $2 USD).
A trip to the Gilis would not be complete without a snorkeling adventure!
As a volunteer, I was able to borrow the hostel’s snorkel gear for free. It is available for guests to rent at a low price, and guests get first pick of equipment. Snorkeling was a daily activity for me. One popular thing to do is search for sea turtles–which, sadly, I did not spot during my whole week there. I did, however, witness a myriad of other stunning underwater phenomena: shimmering schools of fish, coral, a bright yellow eel. The water is crystal clear, so it’s like snorkeling in HD!
If you ever find yourself in Lombok & the Gilis, Gili Meno is where it’s at for rejuvenation and relaxation. And if you choose to stay at the hostel, you will undoubtedly meet some rad, Eco-conscious people from all over the world!