Of Indonesia's 17,000 islands, we visited four. You've gotta start somewhere, I suppose. Lombok's Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it is more commonly known, was one of them. But it felt more like two worlds than one.
The ubiquitous crates of Bintang beer that arrive stacked high on the boats alongside the tourist boats should give you some indication of one of the main activities on Gili T. Yes, it's not known as the party island for nothing. The highly party-going (ahem) Hagemanns, however, would be making a beeline for the peace and tranquility of the north side of the island.
Based on the best dive schools, and not the number of bars, you understand, Gili T was our island of choice. And the subculture certainly lived up to the hype. It must have been some of the best underwater life we have experienced, and the first place that R spotted some turtles.
Throw in the beautifully soft white sandy beaches, a sundown cocktail taking in the beautiful sunset over neighbouring Bali, the vibrant night-market, and a fabulous birthday location for R, and we were more than pleased with our decision.
However, getting to the idyllic end of the island involved a 20 minute walk; Past the loud dance music of the beach bars, the billboards advertising “Bloody Cold Bintang”, extortionately priced cocktails 2 for 1, not to mention a seemingly never-ending supply of mushrooms. Passing the masses of early 20-something, skimpily-clad party-goers made us feel mildly prehistoric.
And then, beyond the thumping beach beats, we heard the call of the muezzin. It was an abrupt reminder that we're in a Muslim country. With so much Western sunburned skin around, you can easily forget. Heading inland to the back streets – little visited by the tourists – there was a small local market, each stall presided over by a woman wearing a headscarf. Men in skull caps and sarong were visiting the island mosque. It was quite a difference to the mushrooms, beach loungers, and hedonistic world barely 200m away at the beach.
We followed dirt tracks through lush coconut groves in which poor shacks were nestled – the homes of the locals are so basic. A far cry from the beachside boutique resorts with all the trimmings. What must they think of us? An artist was painting wooden eggs outside his home “studio”. He told us he earns 2 pounds each day. Opposite was the entrance to a boutique spa and resort where Westerners were happy to part with their cash. It was a stark contrast.
As we continued along the track, we saw rows of birdcages outside the villagers' homes, a huge mountain of plastic bottles – will they be recycled, we wondered? - and a local boy climbing up a towering coconut tree to collect coconuts for the obligatory refreshing beach drink. “I'm Spiderman!” he beamed as he called down to us.
Despite the differences, the people on Gili T are extremely friendly and accepting and somehow turn a blind eye to the Western customs that are so contradictory to their faith. They work tirelessly to satisfy our Western demands, knowing that happy visitors generate an income to support their families.
We're all “same same but different,” they say. Wouldn't it be nice if such a mantra was adopted all over the world?