I'd decided to visit this island a couple of days earlier. Having been charmed by Gili Meno's complete lack of pretence and desert island attitude, but attuned to it's very recent acquisition of such modern trappings as mains electricity and water, I'd come in search of it's antecedent.
Accommodation options for visitors to the island are very limited. I'd been told the Secret Island Resort wasn't up to scratch, and Via Vacare was a little beyond my budget, Kokomo was still being built, which left Madak Belo, which I was fairly certain was booked up. Arriving by boat directly on their beach front and speaking to Henri, the French owner, confirmed exactly that - I was out of luck; until Henri pointed out that my boatman's son-in-law had a bungalow to rent. Fortunately for me, Henri had learnt the local dialect, so words were exchanged and I was delivered back down to Warung Pelangi, exactly adjacent to where the boat was to be moored anyway - result! For 100k rupiahs a night (about £5) I got this little room,
Electricity was supplied by a generator in the front yard for a few evening hours, that allowed me to cool the room with a floor-standing fan. The island has no mains water supply yet, so washing and flushing was from a couple of large butts in the corner of the bathroom. In all, very similar to that room I was generously loaned back in Pubotang in China, except this I time I was here of my own volition. Apparently I was the third guest since they opened the room three months ago; running water is promised for next year.
The island is the biggest of the group, I walked around it's winding perimeter in about five hours.
Starting at the southerly tip, and facing the mainland is the Secret Island Resort, a big American owned private house with bungalows in it's lovely garden. I'd been told it was a bit run down, but it looked absolutely fine to me. Bungalows were a reasonable 150k R per night.
Further round the west coast on a very quiet stretch of beach lies Via Vacare, this is a Dutch owned retreat with welcoming staff, rooms upstairs, lovely private cabins and a backpackers' balé in the back garden.
Here be monsters:
This is the main path that runs around the island, mostly it's just a sand track. Every villager and child I passed was, without exception, friendly.
On the tip of the next peninsula, I found a bunch of local guys working on a big new house, apparently this was Dutch owned too.
The largest villages on the island back onto each other at it's thin waist. This village has perhaps thirty fishing boats all of similar design. The largest building by far is the mosque, which is not quite finished.Of the next two beaches, the first was covered in light-weight rubbish, crisp packets and sweet wrappers, washed ashore by the prevailing wind, the second was clean and covered in a variety of large heavier sea shells. Why can't we invest more in biodegradable packaging?
The northerly quarter of Gili Gede is uninhibited and nearly pristine...
...But that Mylie Cyrus has a lot to answer for.
Another monitor lizard patrolling the beach in search of an unpackaged meal.
These are the foundations of the new Kokomo hotel going in, with a dozen people working on it, it was the only time I saw anyone doing something unrelated to fishing or food preparation.
A little further around the east coast and nearly back to my starting point is the Madak Belo guesthouse, built by Henri and his wife Capocine who emigrated here from France three years ago. It's the only building on this beach and is separated from the village by a deep tidal inlet. Their rooms were booked up, but I joined them for beers on two occasions, then stripped off to wade back over the inlet in chest deep water, bag and clothes held aloft.
The following day Anton took me out for a few hours snorkelling from his new boat. We visited the uninhibited Gili Ringit and a couple of the other islets in the bay. The snorkelling was exceptional, great visibility and plenty of healthy coral heads.
After two wonderful days and nights on Gili Gede, I said my thanks and goodbyes to Anton and his wife Zur at Warung Pelangi (rainbow house) and got back on the boat to the mainland. There's rumours of mains electricity reaching the island next year. I wonder how it will have changed when I return in a few years....?
I was met off the boat by Bukran from Bola Bola Paradis who unbeknownst to me had been telephoning various places on the island, keeping check of my progress and making sure I'd found a place to stay. I doubt you'd find such interest in many other places.
Driving back to Praya airport, Bukran gave me the low down on local surf spots. Further down the coast, past Bola Bola and down a particularly bumpy dirt track at the tip of Lombok, lies Desert Point. This has been named the best surf spot in the world, featuring a left hand break with enormous 25m waves, but it's notoriously fickle and more often than not completely calm. As such those big waves have entered surfing folklore and intrepid surf explorers have been known to camp on the wild coast for weeks waiting for the elusive ride of legend.
He also told me more about the illegal gold mining that's been happening on the south-west peninsula in recent years. It's been a proper gold rush, hundreds of hopeful prospectors relocating here from all over Indonesia, and many getting lucky. But also how many of the small unlicensed mines that are dug by hand, have collapsed, burying those inside, and how the industrial by-products of mining, such as mercury are contaminating the water-table ruinously.