Travel Diaries: a Boat Ride to the Gili Islands

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Two years ago, I had the good fortune of traveling to Indonesia for 15 days with four other girlfriends. Taylor, who was already in Bali, created a very detailed and fun itinerary for the rest of us who had never been. Included was traveling around Bali, the Gili Islands and Lombok.

We set out on an adventure, and quite the adventure it was. We stayed a few nights in Ubud where we got to take a cooking class, explore the markets and the Monkey Forest, then over to the more westernized Seminyak, to the surfer’s paradise of Uluwatu and all of the other “must see’s” in between. Next was to the Gili Islands for some snorkeling and beaches, and finally ending in Lombok for scooter rides and more beaches. Getting to the Gili Islands was definitely one of those dinner-table stories we’ll be telling for the rest of our lives.

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The 5 of us woke up early still tired and slightly hungover, and got on the boat to take us across to the Gili’s. I tried to catch a few z’s on the way and about 30-45 minutes into our 2 hour boat ride I was awoken abruptly by an elbow to the stomach by my friend Jessie who was frantically trying to put on her life vest. As I looked up, all I saw was the boat attendant persistently asking me if I knew how to swim, threw me a life vest and told me to put it on. Please keep in mind, this man speaks very little broken english. This did not help the matter at hand. Women in the front of the boat were wailing and screaming out of panic and fear. As I was trying to get on this life vest, I noticed my feet were swimming in about half a foot of water. I looked out the window, which once water-free exposing the beautiful green scenery, had water more than 1/4 up blurring everything around. Jessie and I were sitting in the last row so we were instructed that we were going to have to jump first. That was the first time I basically saw Jessie resurrect herself.

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The water at our feet was now about a foot deep and rising. The boat was sinking and the captain was trying to b-line it to shore. One by one, we were quickly escorted to the back of the boat and I looked around to see where the heck we even were. Land? Are you close? I could see it far out which provided a slight feeling of comfort. Everything seemed to be moving quickly until one of the guys told me, “when you jump, make sure to start swimming immediately. Otherwise the engine of the boat can suck you under.” That’s when things started to move in slow motion. Being a small person, I was pretty confident in the fact that I was not stronger than the current, let alone the suction from a boat engine.

But there was no time to worry. There were about 25 people behind me that needed to jump too. I walked to the ledge strapped in my life vest, holding my small purse in one hand that held my phone, wallet, and passport. I figured my suitcase was gone forever and I needed to make sure I can at least bounce out of this country if I made it out alive.

Ready, set, go. I jumped and swam as quickly as I could with my one free hand. I tried gripping onto my Havaianas but they inevitably got lost somewhere in the abyss. My maxi dress floated to the top like a spare tire exposing what I wish were just bathing suit bottoms. Now was not a time for bashfulness. As I paddled towards shore as what can only be described as below average speed, I saw about 15 Balinese village men running into the water to come and try to help us. My friend Jessie, who apparently forgot how to swim, was saved by a Balinese villager who threw her on his back and swam her back to shore. He still had his lit cigarette in his mouth.

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The rest of the girls made it too. Once we were all on the shore, we stared at each other in complete disbelief followed by a hysterical and relieved laughter. Where were we? What honestly just happened? The darling Balinese men, while still helping other passengers, had ran towards the boat to pull on the rope and drag it to shore. Others dived underneath to get our suitcases and carried them one by one. Mind you, all our suitcases had been underwater this entire time and were now about 3x times the weight. Not to mention, getting from the water to the sandy beach meant walking on ground completely covered in rocks. We looked around and we were literally in what appeared to be a very small village off the coast of Bali.

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All of us were standing on the beach, a few of the women still hysterical. One of the boat attendee’s was trying to reach someone on the “emergency” phone. He assured us everything was going to be fine, although the expression on his face proved otherwise. A good while later, trucks came to pick us up to take us to another dock to continue the journey to our destinations. Naturally, a few people were nervous and apprehensive to get on another boat as the water was even choppier now that we were moving into the mid afternoon. All of our belongings were either soaked or completely destroyed. As anticipated, once we boarded the second boat, the water was so aggressive that it had us swinging from one side of the boat to the other. Drenching us again in the process. Jessie immediately put on her life vest and was having a full blown panic attack. Another woman got sea sick the entire time. Cristie kept her good humor and was chatting it up with, if I remember correctly, a newly retired French couple. The rest of us sat seemingly calm, white-knuckling some sort of handle. At that point, I was in pretty good spirits as well because I figured there was no way we were going to survive one boating accident only to be put into another one. We were going to make it to shore and we were going to be safe. Apparently God had a sense of humor that day and just wanted to make the story more interesting and dramatic in the interim.

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stela 9 boat ride to gill islands

Well, I was right. About 1.5 hours later, we finally arrived. We got to our Villa and took a moment to appreciate the beauty of it all. Then quickly proceeded to ruin the ambience by laying all of our stuff out to dry. Unfortunately, most of our white clothes didn’t make it, but we did and that’s all that matters.

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