“Gili Meno? So you’re going to Shanti Gili”, said someone I talked to at Bali Spirit Festival a few days before I left Ubud to take a break from civilization at Gili Meno, the smallest and loneliest of the Gili islands. Although concerning the Gili islands, “lonely” still means quite touristy, I was looking forward to a time off from the busy hustle and bustle in Bali. I was expecting to see nothing but birds, geckos, fish and turtles. Well, it wasn’t exactly like this. But still a very special experience.
Gandalf in The Shire: A Tropical Version
Just one hour by ferry from Bali, the Gili Islands are a very popular destination for travellers in Indonesia and they all have pretty much the same size and landscape. They are small enough to walk across the island within one hour and provide a postcard view of white sand and turquoise water. However, Gili Trawangan, or “Gili T” as many backpackers call it, is considered as the party island and Gili Meno as the quietest and less crowded one, while Gili Air is something in between. After a few weeks in Bali, I felt that Gili Meno was what I needed, as much as I appreciated the surf hipsters in Canggu and the spiritual hippies in Ubud. I wanted something far away from people under the pressure of dressing cool and showing off their ripped yoga bodies. I wanted Shanti Gili.
What I found was peaceful indeed. But as soon as I had arrived at the Gili Gila Hostel, the place I booked to stay in for the next three days, I felt like being in a tropical version of The Shire in Middle Earth. Instead of the busy streets full of cars and scooters that I had got used to in Bali there were only horse-drawn carriages and from the outside my hostel room looked like a hobbit hole! From the inside, it was so small and cave-like that I actually hit my head a few times when I got up from the bed, so I felt a little bit like Gandalf in Bilbo Baggins’ home (although being only 1,65 m/5,4 feet tall I am already quite hobbit-sized myself).
After having started this three-day-trip to Gili Meno by myself, by the way, I soon got company again. Not only because the lack of wifi in the hostel makes all the guests surprisingly sociable, so every night we all sat together having Mie Goreng and other traditional Indonesian dishes delivered from the little “warung” (=restaurant) next door. I also had a surprise guest. Melanie, the girl I had met in the hostel in Ubud the week before and I had spent a lot of time with during Bali Spirit Festival, came to visit me on Gili Meno. We had first said goodbye at Padang Bai because she had booked a hostel at Gili Air. But after one night there she took a boat to come over to Gili Meno the next morning and after she had not caught me in the hostel, she made it to find me without phone and wifi on this tiny island by just walking along the beach. Thus, the old-fashioned way of meeting friends actually still works.
A Playground for Adults: The “Pippi Longstocking”-House
“This is a playground for adults”, was one of the first thing Melanie said when we arrived at Gili Gila Hostel, and added, in reference to one of my favourite children’s book: “It looks like something Pippi Longstocking would live in.” Effectively, this hostel is the invention of the crazy and creative mind of a Frenchman called Sebastian. When he showed us around, he also told us that he is planning to expand the hostel and, among other things, he wants to create an adult size baby bed. Each room looks different, but they all have one thing in common: They look like something a child would want to hide in and play in, built by a man who still bears traces of this child in his mind, built for people who never lost the connection to their own inner child.
There was my room, the private single room with the hobbit door and no windows. There is the dining area that is usually located in a pool to dip the feet while eating, but when I was there, there was no water in it because the pump was broken. There was the big net in the upper floor that you could lie on looking down to the dining area. There are many little ledders to climb up and sit somewhere to enjoy the view across the village. There is a lifting block to send drinks from downstairs to the upper floor. And there is even a game console to play Mario Kart on. The wooden hands under the entry door that look like a monster trying to grab you when you enter are probably your childhood nightmare, but except for that, Gili Gila Hostel is the incarnation of your childhood dreams.
Gili Meno: Shanti Gili or Crazy Island?
Other backpackers in the hostel taught me some words of Indonesian while we were enjoying a breakfast of tasty French crepes with condensed milk and lime that Sebastian prepares every morning for his guests. According to the guys I talked to, “gili” means nothing but “island”, while “gila” means “crazy”. Thus, the hostel’s name can be translated as “the crazy island” – a very telling name. When Melanie and I went out in the village to have dinner in one of the little restaurants, the owner asked us where we were staying. When we said “Gili Gila Hostel” she rolled her eyes towards the sky looking a bit frightened. “Ghost house”, she whispered, shaking her head. My explanation for this odd reaction is that Sebastian’s unique style of architecture must scare the natives on the quiet and mainly Muslim island a little. Like the house would call evil spirits or demons – or just too many dirty and free-spirited hippie-backpackers, although they are probably not considered as bad as they spend their money in the natives’ restaurants. Maybe Gili Gila transforms shanti island into a crazy island?
Of course, shanti, peace, is still a dominant feature of Gili Meno. Because, as mentioned, there are no motorised vehicles. Because it is very likely to be the only guest when going to one of the few local restaurants. Because most tourist rather go to the neighbour island and the ones who decide to go to Gili Meno also appreciate the silence. You need a flashlight when walking from the beach to the village after sunset because the roads are rarely lit. Therefore, you see millions of stars at the sky. And instead of Bali’s noise of scooters and people shouting you hear nothing but a concert of crickets, birds and geckos. While snorkelling, we also discovered another world on this island I had not known about before because it is located under the surface of the water. A world that is quiet and slow and peaceful with fish and turtles slowly dancing and playing. So, yes, this is shanti island. And still, this hostel made my experience on the island a crazy and remarkable one. Shanti Gili Gila.
Now it’s Your Turn: Win 10 % Discount in Gili Gila Hostel
Sebastian’s unconventional ideas are not only limited to his hostel’s architecture. He also promotes a special kind of contact between past and future guests. Thus, he encourages guests to leave a small present or a note for the next guest in the locker. Furthermore, on the arrival everyone gets a little handmade bracelet with the logo of the hostel for free. When leaving the hostel, the guest is encouraged to give it to someone else and when this person arrives at the hostel with the bracelet, he or she will get a 10 % discount. Therefore, I am going to raffle off my bracelet here. So if you are planning a trip to Gili Meno and you are interested in staying in Gili Gila Hostel, this is your chance: To participate in the competition, send me a message with your name, email-address, postal address and the keyword “Gili Gila” via the contact form, my Facebook page or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entry deadline is the 10th May 2017. I will announce the winner a few days later and you will receive your bracelet via post until the end of May.
PS: Even without the discount, a stay in Gila Gila Hostel is pretty cheap. For my private room I paid around 9 Euros per night. Beds in dorms are even cheaper. And the best thing is: Crepes for breakfast are included!