DAY 1 – Thursday, 1st July 2021
Our sons woke us up at half past midnight to take us to the airport at 1am.
Our flight had been rescheduled 2x from 11.40am to 5.40am to 4am. We only found out the latest flight change through sms at 7pm last night. Our sons waited in the carpark until we checked in and confirmed that the flight is on schedule.
We almost didn’t know about the reschedule – Batik Air didn’t get our contact number from Kiwi. We had used Kiwi.com credits from a flight we were supposed to take to Argentina last year. We had called because Kiwi.com had the option of paying for baggage which we opted out – we know Batik Air includes free 20kg baggage – we were right. I don’t know where that money would go. I guess Kiwi.com has to make money somehow. I feel sorry for them since the pandemic wrecked havoc on worldwide travel.
The flight was smooth – we could see a layer of cotton clouds beneath us as the sun rose.
When we came to Lombok the airport was still closed, so while waiting for the tower to respond, the pilot took us on a sky tour to see Mt Agung on Bali and Rinjani on Lombok. It was wonderful to enjoy the plane make circles to allow passengers from both sides to enjoy the view.
We were picked up by a driver arranged through the resort – it was a bit pricy compared to if we looked for our own, but very convenient. We asked to stop somewhere for breakfast. We had a whole restaurant to ourselves to enjoy the famous taliwang chicken – too spicy for me, plecing kangkung – which I requested without chilli, beef satay and really good beef rib soup. And coconut fresh from the shell – my favorite drink. The driver got takeaway.
We drove by Senggigi Beach – the hotels and restaurants were empty, some abandoned. There were no tourists. We were the naughty few who took calculated risks to keep tourism alive – and enjoy the cheap prices and quiet atmosphere while helping people keep their livelihoods.
At the dock, a speedboat had been waiting. I asked the captain to put his mask on. He had one of those ineffective buff masks. The crew sat at the back in the open area, without one. I should have brought good cloth masks to give away. After all, we were in the middle of a pandemic.
The situation in Jakarta is dire right now – hospital beds full, people dying, almost 20 thousand people falling sick daily. Every day we would see the obituary of a fellow doctor. It was like the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic again – only worse: it is now happening at a much faster rate. We left right before the Indonesian-style semi-lockdown is to be imposed in two days.
Before leaving, I had asked my colleague in Lombok how things were. She said there were 40 cases at the hospital, and Gili – the island we were heading to, was very, very quiet. We can see from reports that Lombok is yellow zone, and Gili is green – no cases at all. It was the same as it was in Palu when we went there mid last year and Raja Ampat in December.
We had booked our accommodation, bought tickets and planned our trip a while back, while ready for sudden changes. We had originally wanted to go to Wakatobi, but they needed a minimum of 4 persons and our sons were not keen on travelling. They were shaking their heads at their crazy parents, and it had taken much convincing to get them to join us on a liveaboard in Raja Ampat – the 4 of us in a luxury boat that should cater for 25 guests! The owner lives on the boat with his girlfriend, and decided that it was best to keep the boat running, even at almost a financial loss. They are divers as well and Denny had joined them on a previous trip to Alor with his high school friend who owns a dive resort in Gili Air – the island we’re on now.
Denny had stayed at his friend’s resort previously – Omah Gili, traditional cottages close to the center of the island. Denny had wondered when we would be able to afford the really nice seaside resort that he saw. Today the prices have been slashed from Rp.1.6M to Rp300K per night. Breakfast included. Hence we are here. The place is well designed – with 20 freestanding wooden cottages built around an O-shaped blue-tiled pool, each with its own very shallow foot dipping pool with lounges. Very picturesque, but for Jakarta standards, it is not the Mariott. They gave us a spot at the far end because we asked for somewhere quiet. After all, we were WFH – working from here, from the hotel. They had promised 4G wi-fi internet. We booked for 3 weeks. And yes, they do have 4G wi-fi, even though it is not 100% stable for things like zoom – we could supplement it by tethering – the two providers we used had strong signals.
Seeing our 5 suitcases and 2 backpacks, the speedboat captain suggested that we dock at the wharf and take a cidomo – horse carriage, rather than dock at the resort beachfront. He wasn’t sure how much the horse carriage would cost, perhaps Rp.100K. The horseman asked for Rp.150K – the most expensive horse carriage ride we have ever taken, and more than the standard, but seeing the lack of tourists and six or seven cidomos waiting in line, that might be his earning for the entire day. We asked the horseman (I’m not sure what to call him) to wear a mask, but he didn’t have one, so we gave him one. As we rode past, his fellow horsemen and villagers chuckled seeing him with a mask- no one on the island was wearing one, neither were the bule’s (white people) in their shorts and bikinis. We must’ve looked very strange with our face masks and face shields.
Hopefully no one on the island has covid-19, but we felt we need to educate them about the risks. We might be the one bringing the virus, and we surely don’t want to wreck havoc on the island. Even though we tested negative on rapid antigen prior to the flight, we want to be fully certain that it is not a false negative. I had been in the campus vaccination team screening table in the lobby of the building behind the hospital, and one student reported a sore throat. The risk is there. I had diarrhea the next day, after eating the spicy gado-gado that they gave us for lunch. My stomach could never stand spicy foods, so I am hoping that was the cause. It would be far too soon to display symptoms anyway. Unless I caught it from the dentist or the air from our apartment lift or hallway.
I used strict protocols when going to the lab to check vitamin D levels etc., to the nutrition clinic to ensure the best diet for the family, to the nearby restaurant to get takeaway, to the car mechanics when I took our car for its late annual service, to the apartment shop to get supplies, to the courier service to send stuff, to the apartment organizers office to get the new access key card for the car, when talking to my next door apartment’s neighbor several meters apart, when they were bargaining to buy our unit, to our house in Depok that is being renovated to have a workspace/room for each of us, to deliver cookies to our surrounding 4 neighbors during Ied without even entering their yard, and to Denny’s office at the university nearby.
For almost 1.5 years, we hardly left our apartment. Once in 3 months I would get a visit in the apartment lobby, and Denny’s staff would come to get his signatures once or twice per month. We visited Bintaro for my mom’s birthday mid May, taking a walk with her as she delivered grilled fish to my aunt, uncle, and 3 of our closest family friends in the neighborhood where I grew up – speaking to them from the front of their fence even if we had all been vaccinated. We visited Denny’s mom for the Ied and her birthday in June – I did not eat or drink, mostly staying outdoor. We visited IKEA on the way home – eating quickly at the empty far corner. I went to the puskesmas in February for my 2x sinovac vaccinations with the medical workers batch and Denny went to RSUI in March 2021 from the educational workers and public service batch. That was the list of all my contacts since Raja Ampat in February. The list was even shorter between that and our trip to a secluded dive villa in Palu in July 2020, our long weekend diving at Tanjung Lesung in April 2020 or from the start of the pandemic’s first restrictions in March 2020, with the addition of visiting my university office once and the clinic where I work once to get some stuff, and about 5x dining out at the open air Ya Udah! Bistro and 2x at Wing Heng Dim Sum when we went to the beach – once to get some sunshine and the other time on Jan 21, 2021, to spread flowers to commemorate a year from Denny’s father’s passing. Everything else – meetings, practice, seminars, etc. have all been online.
After we cleaned the outsides of our luggage and ourselves, we got to work. Denny had two meetings and I had stuff to do. I ate the bread and muffin from the flight for lunch. Denny skipped lunch – he was supposed to be on a 2 meal plan in an 8-hour window anyway, to loose the excess kilograms around his waist. Once that was done in a couple of hours, before dark we walked to the dive center with our gear to plan the next day. We met Elin from Sweden, who has lived on Gili Air for a year after living on Gili Trawangan for 4 years and several years in Malaysia before that. She helped us organize our dive plan and I rented a BCD. I’m the only one in the family without one, but it is not the time to visit dive shop. I usually love the annual Deep and Extreme exhibition at JCC where I got my purge valve mask, but not these two years. Instead, Cisco will be having his vaccination there on the 10th, along with 5000-1 people organized by his alma mater, Canisius College. That would probably be the riskiest encounter from all. Linus has been registered for his vaccinations on the 6th in front of an apartment not so far from ours, organized by the police force.
Anyone 12 years or more can be vaccinated now, there are various organizers to choose from. I had originally registered them for their shots at a field hospital in Mal Artha Gading, but we cancelled because they used a type that scared us. A friend warned us about her healthy 27 year-old male neighbor who died from blood clots the day after his shot. His family were totally shocked but we don’t hear this news broadcasted – which is understandable from a public health perspective, since the deaths from covid-19 is now in the hundreds compared to these rare side effects, and the long term repercussios of covid-19 can significantly impact one’s quality of life.
We took an alley to get back to the resort. It was so dark and quiet. The stars shone brilliantly above us. We passed some rubble from the 2018 earthquake. Tourism in this province – Nusa Tenggara Barat (which means West Southeast Islands) had been hit by a double whammy – earthquake followed by pandemic. The gili’s, which relies on foreign tourists, had lost its livelihood. It used to be a vibrant place. The restaurants, cafes, bars, souvenir kiosks, bungalows and hostels reflected their former glory. The path felt longer than the one we took by the shoreline and the main street. We were stopped by two cats fighting in the middle of our path. Denny flickered his flashlight to shoo them, and they climbed up the side walls. Denny called it Kucing-Fu (kucing=cat). We got back and called it a night.
DAY 2 – Friday, 2nd July 2021
I had sent my diary to my Mom and Dad. This was their reply:
Thanks for the diary, Citra, it is fascinating. Here in Jakarta we have to pray daily for friends passing away, either covid, or heart attack and others. Almost no day without news of somebody catching covid. Hope both of you are refreshed and by the time you come back, hopefully Jakarta is better off. It is nice to read some news about travel and little joys for a change. Take care and have fun, Mom.
I am glad all my family are well back home.
After nasi goreng for breakfast, we walked to the dive center to meet Pendi our guide. He lives in Lombok with his wife and family, and comes in with the boat and crew in the morning. His 6 year-old child will be entering primary school soon. School is held in class. Small groups are staggered throughout the day.
He used to be a boat crewman until 2018 when his boss offered for him to take the divemaster course. He wanted it as long as it was for free. It took 3 months for him to complete the course. It took Denny and our boys 5 weeks at Dive Concept Tulamben in 2019. Cisco was 16, so he completed the course but had to wait until he turned 18 to be a certified dive guide.
We went to Hans Reef, 5 minutes off the east side of Gili Air. It was an easy dive with almost no current, and lots to see. There were three relatively small coral heads followed by a bigger one to explore. The highlight for me was the octopus at the end. I love these smart creature, especially since Denny recommended for me to watch the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher. It is among one of my favorite sea films – another one being Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue. And of course Finding Nemo – which Linus used to play almost every night until I knew some of the lines by heart. Finding Dory was not bad either. I used to watch Jacque Costeau on TV. Can you believe that diving is a relatively new pasttime, that only began in our generation?
After the dive we had lunch on the beach lounge at Chillout’s. The place used to be a party hotspot along with Zipp – which used to have life music on Fridays. It was just us. Denny had nasi goreng sayur (fried rice with vegetables) and I ordered cashew chicken with rice and lime juice. We spent around Rp.150K.
We then got back to the resort to work until about 7pm. It was good to be able to take care of my patients from here.
There were several American, and Australian men staying at several bungalows, and an Indonesian woman who brought the beer. They were having fun and making a bit of noise but I made a door stopper from the bed decoration cloth and it was fine.
The room was a bit dark though, so we then went out to buy brighter bulbs and had dinner at Burger Lady – fresh and delicious! I love the fresh avocado on the burgers, the cold coconuts, and the price 😉
We walked home and called it a day.
DAY 3 – Saturday July 3rd
We had breakfast by the front pool overlooking the sea again. This time I ordered toast and a boiled egg with veggies on the side. I had seen a foreign couple who ordered scrambled eggs on toast the day before. Interestingly, the waiter had only offered us the option of fried rice or noodles, thinking that would be the choices for Indonesians.
This day, an American guy and an Aussie bloke sat at the other table. They were there for a birthday party with other friends from Bali who were staying at their friend’s modern style accommodation called Jago on the main street off the harbor. The American was from California, near San Fransisco. He used to work there before he decided to live in Bali. Since the pandemic, the remaining foreigners have flocked to Canggu where it was all happening. Surf’s up and the food is good. My father’s younger sister married a Balinese who lives in Canggu. Their family were one of the first local Catholics, baptized by a missionary who came to live there. The church where they were married uses Balinese architecture.
My aunt works at the Village Office and my uncle works a paddy field. My aunt and uncle have been trying to sell their block of land for a while. Their daughter is doing her bachelors in nutrition and their son is in the final year of seminary boarding school in the area – my uncle put him there to make sure he behaves. He wants to be an entrepreneur and likes to take his motorbike and guitar to the beach with his friends. My sons love hanging out with them when we visit. My sister used to stay with them for almost a year and hang out at the cafes nearby.
The American man is planning to develop a website for diving info across Indonesia. He recommended Deep Turbo and Deep Halic off Gili. He said there were hammerheads and mola-mola at Belongas in South Lombok with washing machine currents. His friend saw a great white shark off Nusa Penida! He showed the photo. We spoke about the crocs off Timor Island. Nothing like that here.
We did 2 drops in the morning. Meno Bounty has a picturesque wreck at 9 m on the top to 16 m on the sandy floor. It is an old platform that sunk ages ago. It has a staircase on one side and tires on the long side. On the way there, there is a bommy with lovely glass fish, and corals with stonefish, peacock shrimp, and schooling fish. There is also a bicycle nearby.
We then went to Air Wall and saw turtles, cowfish, box fish, puffer fish – there have been at least one or two big ones at every dive. I practiced using the Surface Marker Buoy. It is important here on the islands so that passing boats know there are divers about to surface.
After that we had lunch at Warung Muslim – Denny had nasi campur and I had fried chicken with bakwan jagung – corn fritters. I bought a pair of shorts for Rp.50K and bamboo straws for Rp.25K brom the boutique across the alley. The owner said it is so quiet now. It used to be bustling when she moved from Jakarta to make a living here. She used the term “merantau” – the common practice of (usually) temporary migration within Indonesia to earn an income. She rents the 4×4 shop for Rp.65M per year, and a non-airconned Rp.500K per month. She gets some of her merchandise from Bali and some of the clothes were made by her ‘Sister’ who lives next door and could trim them if needed. The international lockdowns hit hard so she is discounting everything and hoped that I would buy something to help her out. I get further discount as a local. She said the shorts actually cost Rp.35K but if we include shipping it is an extra Rp.15K.
We then headed back to the resort to freshen up before I joined the gathering for the participants of the Personality and Human Relations annual formation program. We were reflecting upon our life-giving relationships, celebrating the ones we have and seeing how tp improve or change ones that were not so life-giving, while enjoying the life-giving atmosphere of the group.
After that, we walked to the island center to get food and supplies. Some of the locals were hanging around the island center.
Siti Shop, which usually closes at 5pm, was still open. I bought sunflower and pumpkin seeds, clothes hangers, a pail and detergent and Denny got a peeler, knife, and fruits. He chose chocolate coins for the change, smiling like a kid in a candy shop.
We decided to go to Burger Lady again. This time I had chicken quesadilla. We met Serenity and Nick, Aussies from Perth who now live on Gili. They used to own a homestay on Mt Rinjani, but the earthquake and pandemic made them shift course. They are now praying for people, including Aris, the manager of Gili Air Lagoon that we were staying at. Nick said it took him 4 tries to get here since March, and 16 flight changes. The Australian government either did not let him out or Indonesia did not let him in. He had un-resigned from his job as electrical technician 3x – the first time literally an hour after he submitted his resignation letter. By the third time, his workmates were joking around that he would never be able to leave. Serenity said it took lots of praying and fasting. She felt located by the Holy Spirit on Mt Rinjani 3 years ago. She shared her newfound faith with Nick who then also came to Christ. Now he does technical things on the island while Serenity takes care of the relational and spiritual side.
We ordered tomorrow’s lunch from Yati, the burger lady, to be delivered to Manta Dive on the sunrise side. Denny will have his third Rp.25K burger and Rp15K chilled whole coconut, while I’m having a beef burito. Yati used to sell burgers by the wharf before she got her own place. I asked whether there are electric scooters for rent to try. She said if she would’ve let us try hers had the tires not have tired out from delivering coconuts all over the island. She had bought hers Rp3M at the beginning of the pandemic when people who had borrowed from the bank started selling their liabilities. She said that at that time, many things were for sale.
When we walked back at around 9pm, the music from Singosari Beach Club Villa Karang had stopped. It was very quiet on a Saturday night on a usually lively island. I wonder where the birthday party was being held. I could certainly not hear it.
In the meantime, Emergency Restriction of Public Activities (PPKM Darurat) have started in Jakarta, as covid-19 cases continue to surge.
DAY 4 – Sunday, 4th of July
Independence Day. They say there are fireworks in the US. Here on Gili Air Island, it is as quiet as it can be.
I ordered toast, boiled egg, and vegetables on the side. They got confused because I also ordered fried rice for Denny, so they put the boiled egg and vegetables next to the fried rice, and there was no toast. The staff needs a bit of a hospitality refresher course. The resort had been closed for too long and the rooms were a bit dusty, with some cobwebs in hidden corners. The soap and toothbrush disappeared after they cleaned the bathroom, but they didn’t replace the towels on the floor. This time I asked them not to bother cleaning, as long as they put bottled water and washed the cups we put on the verranda.
The owner of the place is a person of Chinese descent living in Batam, who used to come once or twice a year. The staff are very young, mostly in their twenties, and the girls with the white shirt and black skirt and hijab who waits for us at breakfast time might be from the SMK. One of them don’t even know how to properly hand a guest a bread knife – I had to ask for utensils for the toast. The other didn’t know that you’re supposed to hold a glass at the bottom skinny bit, not from the top like you were giving hand signals about an octopus.
There was a couple next to us this time. The woman was from the Philippines – Manila. They were going snorkeling before heading back to Bali today because by tomorrow they would need a proof of vaccination card to get in. So were all of the other guys coming for the party, so 10 of them rented a speedboat for Rp10M to return to Bali that day, earlier than scheduled. They had enjoyed a series of little parties here and there, like the chatter and beer in the pool. Other guests that were due to arrive had also cancelled. So much for the buffet breakfast the resort originally planned.
All these people weren’t keen to get their shots here. The woman was getting hers back home in August, and the white man wants to get his where he was from – I forgot where.
Elin, the Sweedish manager at Manta Dive, got hers at the Gili Air Village Square the day before. She had gone in the morning, but due to “system error” they asked her to return after lunch. It was quick and easy. We tried to convince Pendi to get his. He was afraid of getting a needle, but he said he will try to get one in Lombok.
We had forgotten our dive computers in our room, so Denny went back to the resort to get them. Speaking of forgetting devices, I had forgotten to take my tracker watch off on our check dive. I was down at least 20 m when I started thinking, “Where did I put my watch?” and realized that it was on my wrist- under my wetsuit and lavacore hoodie. I put my dive computer over it and tried to cover it with my hand, expecting to have to return it to LIF (Living in Fitness) when I get back to Jakarta. They told me it isn’t water resistant, except for minor splashes from handwashing. Luckily, it stayed alive and well after 60 minutes in seawater, at a max depth of 20 m! I am sure the added layers of protection played a crucial role!
Our first dive was at Meno wall, but the current took us to Meno slope and then to the statues – a 2 meter deep art installation of a circle of standing couples and ladies resting in the middle. There were several snorklers on the surface, but we had plenty of time to have a bit of fun taking photos. Throughout the dive we saw pipefish almost 1 meter long, boxfish, stonefish, cuttle fish, and a blue-spotted stingray. We saw 10 turtles throughout the dive, some resting, some swimming, a few sleeping. One of the turtles had a really old dusty looking shell. I wonder how old it was! Pendi our guide said, “Wait until you see the next dive site!”
Pendi was right – they called the site Turtle Haven for a reason! We could almost get a picture of 10 turtles in a single wide-angle shot! It was a nice hangout for the gentle creatures, with little wire house-shaped coral plantation frames and concrete blocks scattered on top of a hill of coral debris. The place is also known as Marlin hill – half of the hill had caved in during the 2018 earthquake. We had gone there the first time in 2017, but I can’t remember seeing that many turtles back then.
We went back to Manta for lunch and then head to Secret Garden at the other side of Hans Reef. It was our third dive and our surface intervals were a mere 60 minutes, so I had to stay a bit shallower to avoid deco dive. Denny’s Sunto dive comp started acting funny – asking for a 59 minute safety stop. It was too long to even put it on a weight tied to the boat, so he had to take it out of the water even if it would then cease to work for 2 days. The gadget is made to protect us from decompression, but we need firstly our common sense. If the dive conditions are good and all goes well, we usually start our ascent to the surface once one of us has an air of 50 bars left out of the starting minimum of 200 bars or when we’ve spent around 60 minutes bottom time – with a depth depending on the day’s dive profile. Denny sometimes ends with 30 bars while I’m at 70 bars. I have spent 90 minutes on one tank at Bunaken, but most of the dive was like a prolonged safety stop, since the colors are best where the sunshine could still reach it. That is why I used to say snorkelling is enough, or freediving if you like to get a bit close. But the waves on the surface gets choppy and nauseating, so it is nice to stay down below where it is calmer. A safety stop is normally 3 minutes at 5 meters. How much air would you need for a whole hour? Fortunately Denny was wearing two dive comps, and the other one was fine. He started wearing two since one failed during a dive when we were on liveaboard in south Raja Ampat, playing with the manta rays. The problem with having seen the best dive sites in the world is that everything else falls short. But in Indonesia there are just so many things to see underwater!
Because all of the gadget trouble from the morning, we finished later than planned. I rushed off the boat, hitting my knee cap on the motor cap. Ouch, that hurt!
The webinar I wanted to attend had already started – so I missed the keynote – I could ask for the recording or recap. I sat with my earphone and smartphone connected to the Manta Dive wi-fi, listening to my friends’ presentation on substance emergencies. We held within a week of anti-NAPZA day (narcotics psychotropics and other addictive substances – Zat). I was part of the committee. There had been a bit of mess the week before. One of the team had lost focus during our initial meeting to set the date, having been on zoom in the middle of her mom’s birthday party. Then another team member had her third miscarriage from a long awaited pregnancy and the other team member caught covid-19. The team leader assumed that everything had been taken care of. When the day was nearing without news, I wondered what was happening – luckily everything scrambled into place. The talks were good. We walked back while while I listened to the Q and A.
I freshened up while setting up to enjoy the talk right after that. My sister was speaking about how experience of bipolar disorder in Indonesia and Australia. She gave an excellent presentation, very frank, thorough, informative, insightful and inspiring. It is an honor to witness her journey through various challenges to become a book author, a singer-composer on spotify now studying to become a careworker to help mentally ill, disabled and elderly patients find their voice – literally, by helping them make music. I was there to support her, so I listened with video off until Q and A when the moderator asked me to give input from a psychiatrist’s perspective.
We decided to give my knee a rest rather than going out for dinner. I had some leftover rice cakes and instant oatmeal with honey. Denny had his mango, pear, and chiaseeds with honey. Nice and healthy.
DAY 5 – Monday, 5th July
Today Pak Rat, a man in his 50s who had manned the boat the day before, was replaced by Jaka, who was in his late 20s like the 29 year-old Pendi. Umedi, who was in his 30s, came along again. We had previously joked that the different decades were represented by persons on the boat – the 90s, 80s, 70s, and 60s. Had our sons came along, we would have the 2000s as well – the naughties, they say. Pendi was the only one who would say his exact age, everyone else seemed to be not so sure about their age. Pak Rat’s father-in-law had passed away, not sure of what, but they say he was “old”.
People tend to age a lot faster in the kampung (village). I remember a Javanese grandma two doors down from our house in Kukusan behind Universitas Indonesia and Depok. I was surprised to find out that she was in her 50s at that time – she didn’t look too old but she acted as if she was everyone’s grandma. She was younger than my mom, whom my father calls the Online Queen for speaking from one webinar to the next. He would be his PR manager, making videos of her speaking to her computer screen and uploading it on his youtube.
If I needed anything to be broadcasted, I simply needed to put the link on our family whatsapp group and my father would disseminated through his contacts in no time. He used to be a journalist in Tempo, Yomiuri Shimbun, and a reporter for BBC Radio. His heart is a poet though, so he enjoyed my poem about Jakarta and cried when he heard me read a poem at my graduation as a psychiatrist. The two poems were inspired by his. His poetry used to be my lullaby as a child, when I would fall asleep on his typewriter. On some days, my mother would read me Animal Farm and Huckleberry Finn, or Tintin, which she had translated very well – keeping the chuckle of readers by adapting Captain Haddock’s “blistering barnacles” to the Indonesian “a million storms”, for example.
My mother has always been a lecturer at Universitas Indonesia’s English Department, while my father had to take all sorts of jobs since there never seems to be an advertised vacancy for poets. He worked for natural conservation for many years, being an Ashoka fellow and a Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) scholar. He has been talking about climate change since the late 80s early 90s when we were in Ithaca accompanying my mother as she did her PhD at Cornell. He left BBC London to join us, teaching Indonesian and Javanese as well as working at the library at Cornell University before we returned to Indonesia.
Now climate change is more real than ever – it was hard to predict the weather and seasons. Today the winds were strong from the south. We started at 9.30 rather than the usual 8am. The first dive site used to be called Manta Point – but there are no mantas there, so they changed the name to Sunset. There were five or more large blocks of different corals – mushroom coral, staghorn coral, and others. It was lovely.
We had lunch at Gili Trawangan, the bigger and livelier island on the west. It is known as the party place of the three gilis. Australian schoolies would come once they graduated high school and get pissed a.k.a. drunk and have the time of their lives. There was plenty of food and shops to choose from. We sat by the beach – Denny got a snapper with Lombok spice and I chose pineapple chicken. I forgot the name of the restaurant.
A man in his 50s came to our table, offering bracelets and necklaces that he had put together from pearls, lavastones, tiger eye stones, amethyst, jade, turquoise, red coral, etc. He opened the price at Rp.300K per necklace, Rp.150K for the full rock bracelets and Rp.20K for the woven small rocks. I bargained at 30% and asked about his life. He lost his house in Pemenang, North Lombok during the 2018 earthquake, and lived in the fields for a while and were now still staying at a friend’s. He only went to primary school, not having the funds to pay for further education which at the time was not yet free. He would take the ferry for Rp.15K in the morning to sell his merchandise. These days there were few tourists, especially since Bali went on semi-lockdown. I ended up buying Rp.650K, at 50% his original offer. I could have bargained for more, but I wanted to help him out a bit.
I also bought two pair of shorts for our sons and Denny bought me a lace beach kimono. We got a scoop of gelato – Denny chose chocolate cake and I enjoyed mixed berries. The place was really trendy like many on the strip.
We stopped by at Manta Dive Gili Trawangan where there were a lot of people hanging about. I met Jack Satria, who has been on Gili for several years. He had completed his oceanography bachelor’s at Universitas Sriwijaya in Palembang – he had hoped that it would learn sailing and the sort, but it was under the science department. He ended up having to struggle through statistics, chemistry, and all that. It took him 7 years. He completed his thesis on coral bleaching – which he found has a direct link to the number of fish in the area. He explained that bleaching occurs when the colorful algae on the hard white polyp dies. The polyp can stay alive for about 3 months as long as its symbiotic partner returns – which is why the vast coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has been reversed. That is good news!
After almost 2 hours surface interval, we head back into the water. There was a strong drift today. I felt like an astronaut off the face of outerspace (coral) rubble. We were on a ride and simply enjoyed the changing scenery. Our masks were like a 3D TV that reeled underwater scenes from left to right. It was a 3-in-1 dive from Shallow Turbo to Shallow Halic to the shallow edge of Shark Point.
Near the end, I had to fight the current a little when Denny banged his tank to show me a pair of octopi protecting their den. Octopus, like the one we saw at Hans Reef, are usually ellusive and like to hide and escape. It was unusual for them to stand guard – Denny reckon they were protecting eggs. The smaller octopus had ran out of energy and was very smooth and pale, almost as ghostly plastic white like the one we saw caught by a spearfishing fisherman two days ago. They are not supposed to catch them, but tourism has been so low that they needed the Rp.50K per kg that they could get. I would now frown every time I see octopus on a menu. Shark fin would be a huge no-no – ban the restaurant if possible. I am allergic to seafood anyway. I could easily live on a vegetarian diet, but when we were living in Tulamben for a month, Cisco got angry when I prepared a salad two nights in a row – even though one was a potato and egg salad and the other was a pasta salad with smoked ham. His testosterone filled body needed meat.
When we got back to Manta Dive, we met Rafi. He was back early from Labuan Bajo where they were shooting an advertisement for underwater vehicles – the trip was cut short due to the travel restrictions, since the client was living in Bali. Rafi is a dive instructor. He moved to Mataram because there was no longer much work on Gili – in its heyday there used to be up to 25 people on the big boat and 18 on the smaller boat going back and forth. And that was just for Gili Air. We used to have to take turns at busy sites like the statues. This time, we haven’t met a single other diver in the water so far. Rafi was filming with Auditta, an alumni from Denny’s high school. They met when they were installing a coral plantation on Bangka Island, North Sulawesi. Ditta (as he is called) was the videographer and Denny was a volunteer.
Last year Denny joined Ditta on a trip to Alor on Raja Manta liveaboard. That is how Denny got to know PG, the Chinese owner who owned the boat. He took our family of 4 on a 10-day liveaboard trip to south Raja Ampat for a cheap price, even though we were the only guests. The liveaboard is now docking at Surabaya – it costs so much maintenance and fees to run a boat. On our trip there were 7 crewmen, Chris the crew director, and a few other helpers on the boat, including the waitress from the other liveaboard – Black Manta, owned by the previous owner of Raja Manta, and her pretty niece who was on university break from Central Java. Su Su, PG’s girlfriend, was a cheerful young woman in her mid 20s, who would shout her trademark “Ada ikan? Mau uang?” (Do you have any fish? Do you want money?) in her distinct accent to every fisherman boat around. She would celebrate getting huge snappers and other fish for Rp.20K. She taught us to play Hong Kong Mah Jong – PG’s company back in Guangzhou was developing the computer game version – people can’t bet real money though, that would be illegal.
After planning our next dive, we went back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out to the sunset side to work by the beach. We rented bicycles this time because we wanted to go a little farther. There are no diesel vehicles on the entire island.
Firstly, I went to get another antigen rapid test just to be safe from a false negative due to a window period, and to check for possible infection from the trip. The man at the clinic asked when we were leaving, and whether we wanted the results today or tomorrow. We said we were not going anywhere, just wanted to check. He said he had tested a big group of people leaving for Bali this morning. The results would be sent via whatsapp in about 30 minutes – it was negative. I had asked him if anyone had ever tested positive. He said there was one foreign guest three months ago. They sent him straight to the hospital at Lombok.
While waiting for the results, we rode our bikes to Mama Pizza on the sunset side. I had seen a youtube video recommending the most delicious pizza on the island. The waiter said the Italian owner lives in the apartment on top of his restaurant with floor-to-ceiling glass panes. He moved to Gili three years ago and used to rent a room next door before he built the place upstairs. We ordered calzone pizza with real Spanish chorizo. I had a pina colada. The pizzas and cocktails were around Rp85-110K each. They also had wine at Rp50K per glass or Rp500K per bottle. We typed away under the shadow of a small coconut tree as the sun set on the horizon with the view of Gili Meno, a bit of Gili Trawangan, Rinjani on Lombok on one side and Agung on Bali on the other.
Once the sun set, the lights came on and the volume was raised a little bit. I still have the song Havana stuck in my head as my body moved with the beat. They should make a song for Gili. I’ll ask my sister – maybe she can make one and Cisco can make the arrangement digitally like they did before. A Scandinavian family and a group of a little more than ten westerners in their 20s had gathered for dinner – that was the largest crowd we had ever seen on the island so far. The beach beanbags at Mowies, Zipp sunset, and the other beachside restaurant and cafes were empty.
On the way back we dropped by Ditta’s Omah Gili. He used to come to dive when someone offered a piece of land. He first built four lumbung (padi barn) cottages with a room and mezannine, and now he has 16, a pool, and a lounge area. He fills the dive tanks on the island and sells gear. His studio room is like a diveshop warehouse. He showed us his huge underwater video cameras and his collection of regulators.
We got to talking about the lack of oxygen tanks in Jakarta. I had wondered whether dive tanks could be filled with pure oxygen and had been conversing with my cousin, who is a tech dive instructor trainer in Switzerland. Both my cousin Martin Budi and Ditta pointed out the same thing – the o rings used to seal the different parts have to all be oxygen compliant – colored green rather than black – because oxygen is highly combustible. Different adjustments would need to be made to the regulator in order for the gas to flow continuously, then the end would need to be attached to the regular oxygen mask.
His used Scubapro Hydros BCD was for sale. A BCD is a buoyancy control device – the vest that scuba divers fill with air in order to stay buoyant in the water at different depths. Ditta is skinny enough to use an XXS, even though he is 173 cm. He likes the lady’s one because of its adjustable chest straps. He also has a new XDeep BCD, as the first supplier for XDeep – now there are many, but he is still the only one on the island. I borrowed the Hydros to try on the dive tomorrow.
DAY 6 – Tuesday, 6 July 2021
We dove with Rafi to Simon’s Reef with Greg and Donna from Australia. They had moved from Sydney and chose to stay rather than risk not being able to return to Gili. They rented a place near the eastside beach for Rp.6M per month, and had bought a 500 m2 piece of land a while ago. They recently bought another piece of land with a bungalow already on it, and they are renovating it – painting it white, etc. They are selling the other piece of land and 240 m2 of the new land to cover the cost of renovations, at a market price of Rp.150M per 100 m2. Foreigners are not legally allowed to own land in Indonesia, so they had set up a company with a trusted notary in Lombok.
Their elderly parents and the five sons (all in their 20s) that they had from previous marriages are in Sydney. Donna said that she is glad that none of them has asked them for money, which is a good sign. One of their sons took over Greg’s real estate business, and another one decided to become a sculptor even though he struggles to make an income. Donna herself used to be a headhunter. They both learned to dive on the island, Greg started first – with a log of a little over 100 dives, and Donna learned later, and is now at 73 dives. Alistair was the one who got her into diving. He was very patient and took her one-on-one when there were no other students. After the open water course, Al suggested that Donna take the advanced deep specialty – so they can go on most of the regular dives. Since then Greg and Donna have been diving together.
Simon’s Reef is one of their favorites. It is a deep dive with unique topography – underwater hills. Part of it remind me a bit of Kata Tjuta near Ayer’s Rock in Australia. Elin had sent a blast on the Gili Air Pinboard Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join us on this trip. I am glad we met Greg and Donna. They are a lovely couple. They shared lots of info on a good resort they stayed in at Lombok – Qunci, whose prices have dropped from Rp.2.5M to Rp.600K per night, and the contacts for cheap speedboat and driver. Donna said that they like to cook – they get supplies of Australian sirloin steak for Rp250K per kg, bacon, pork, etc. from Lombok. They get chicken from Unique shop and fish from the owner of Mama Pizza, who likes to go spearfishing to catch fresh snapper to be sold as fillet.
The boat dropped Greg and Donna back to Manta Dive before we headed back out to Hans Reef. This time Denny brought his camera. Denny wanted to get a picture of the big turtle in a nook in the reef, but we didn’t see it this time. I love the throne-like coral bommy.
Before we came for the first dive, Rafi had set up the manta dive jacket BCD I had rented. Now I switched to Ditta’s BCD. It was good to try it at an easy dive site that I have been to just recently. I tried to get the trim right. I use 3 kg weights (without weights, most people cannot dive even if they tried – simply bouncing back to float on the surface). With a jacket BCD, I could usually get away with putting one weight on the tank and one in each front pocket, but with the weight pockets being at the back of the Hydros BCD, the one on the tank made me easily roll around – I had a bit of fun with it, but it would not be fun in heavy currents. The straps also felt a bit loose, so we thought we might need a crotch strap to secure it in place.
Here are some of his photos from the various dives and our sunset at Mama Pizza.
Oops, the last one is actually a photo of me that Denny took on our way back from Portugal in 2019 that got accidentally uploaded along. I recently sent it for a poster of a talk I will be giving on my birthday – my neighbors from my childhood home where my parents still live asked me to give a zoom talk to share my experience and knowledge of mental health and wellbeing.
We had lunch at Aura Bowl nearby, as recommended by Rafi. The lady makes great curry and smoothies. We get free iced tea with every meal. We met Babe, Alvin, Sepni, Tata and Aura there – the local children, ages 4 to 6. Babe is a chubby 4 year-old boy who first approached us, interested in our meal. He is the owner’s nephew. The others were playing with him. Aura is the owner’s daughter. They were mostly in Kindergarten. This is the future of the island.
We went to Ditta’s.to briefly ask about the crotch strap and bag for the BCD – he doesn’t have them. We then went back to the resort to work until the evening. Denny had been able to rent an extra cottages for Rp.100K/day as an office for me to work in while he worked in our room. The room is much brighter because of its location – there was no cottage to its left, only an open area with a walking path. We could rent it cheaply because the woodwork on the front was slightly broken – as long as we are careful, we could avoid slipping. Unfortunately, the aircon needed to be serviced – it was leaking. I put three towels underneath and they got soaked!
After work, Denny went to get a massage a different place for Rp.100K and dinner at Warung Parida. I stayed in for the evening, eating the leftover chicken steak and dragon fruit coconut cream smoothie from Aura Bowl.
We sat by the pool star-gazing with a glass of 10-year port wine that Denny brought, planning our future. With very little light pollution and near zero air pollution, we could see the milky way almost as clearly as the first time I noticed it on the top of Mt. Stromlo Observatory. Should we move to this island?
DAY 7 – Wednesday 7th of July 2021
Today we took a break from diving. We stayed in late and had breakfast at 9.30 – they had ran out of eggs for me and had no protein replacement.
We rented bicycles again, going to Manta Dive to get the BCD that Ditta was going to add a crotch strap so that the BCD could stay snuggly in place. We then rode all the way to the north of the island when the path ended on the beach – I could not pedal in the sand so we pushed our bikes until there was a side alley.
We then followed the path through the village, until I stopped at H & R restaurant, which sold fresh coconuts for Rp.15K. I ordered Padthay and Denny got the chicken curry. The owner, Dian, from Lombok, lamented the PPKM – micro-size limited activity that stopped tourists from coming. The place had caught on fire before, and had just been recently rebuilt in time for the promise that foreign tourists would be allowed to re-enter in July. That didn’t happen. In June, there were still local tourists from Jakarta, Surabaya, coming for the long weekend, etc., with at least 6 people eating there per day. Now there are none.
When we commented on the plastic straws – he said he would also prefer not to use plastic straws, but the bamboo ones only last about 3 uses before they turn green or black from being soaked. Some tourists also often ask whether the straws are new – worried of infections. The metal ones would rust and the glass ones break. He would prefer rice paper straws, but they cost Rp.1K each, which was too costly for the time being. He might be able to use them once the pandemic ceases and there were enough customers to cover the cost.
He said that the bungalows to the left were shared accommodation for Rp.50K per night, with an outside toilet. The building at the back of his restaurant is a dormitory for the staff of the bungalows to the right. He then showed us a 500 m2 property with 8 rooms for sale for Rp2B in the middle of the island. and a 1900 m2 land with 4 bungalows for rent near the noisy wharf for Rp.100M per year, own by Hamdi. Some of the wall tiles in the bathroom needed to be replaced – they broke during the earthquake that hit off the Gilis in 2018. Surprisingly, very few buildings on the island were destroyed. According to Dian, they were well-built with strong foundations, unlike the ones in North Lombok.
We dropped by Siti Shop to get a three-way electrical socket, dragon fruits and some dishwashing liquid. We met Cindy, whom passed us by on her bike earlier – I had noticed the grocery box at the back of her bike. She said she came from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Australia, and had sold everything she had to by a rental property in Gili Air – to then face the earthquake and pandemic. She hopes to wait out the pandemic because she believes that vaccinations are harmful. Now she has a big 2-story building and no money. She makes natural skincare products from home grown pawpaw (papaya) and makes her own hummus – she grows the beans herself and buys olive oil in bulk – selling smaller quantities. She said she lived near the solar panels and she is on the Gili Air Pinboard – where everyone seems to be.
When we got back, the water in the bathroom had stopped working again, so I plunged fully clothed into the pool to cool down from the heat while rinsing my clothes. I got the idea from local schoolboys who were dipping in the resort’s front pool until they saw me coming and local men reprimanded them for bathing in that place.
Soon I got ready to work again. They could not service the aircon so they simply put the trash bin under it to collect the water. It made a louder sound every time the water dripped, compared when it dripped to the floor, so I put a towel over it.
Denny swam passed my window doing laps around the lagoon pool, saying Hi.
It was a bit cloudy at night, so we ordered two burgers delivered from Burger Lady with no delivery cost.
Denny played a game online with our sons and then coordinated the PRH Indonesia website development that they were working on. Linus just had his vaccinations the day before, and he felt no side-effects. He was just a little bit sleepy.
DAY 8 – Thursday, 8th of July 2021
We arrived early at Manta Dive. Some of the staff, including Jaka and Zuki were ready to head back to Lombok. The staff took shifts every week since the earthquake and then pandemic because there was not much work. They are grateful for Manta Dive trying to keep them working, while other places quickly laid off their staff. The past managers were two young European women, including Catherine from Finland. They had to return to their countries around three months ago, and was replaced by Matt from Manchester who had been working at Gili Trawangan. That was where Matt met Elin, who became his girlfriend. Jaka is a 25 years old. He graduated from vocational high school – SMK Hospitality, majoring in hotel management, in Lombok Tengah, near Kuta Lombok. His wife is a 22 year-old university graduate in agribusiness who was waiting for funds to start a business. I suggested for them to start with whatever was possible, even if it meant planting potatoes in their backyard. He had a lot of excuses for waiting for funds. Saka has been offered to learn to dive, but the sight of coral and the water scares him for some reason.
Zuki is a 22 year-old graduate from SMK automotive mechanic. He used to work at the airport but they closed down a section for rebuilding so his job was put on hold. He came to the island for training a week before the earthquake hit. He fell to the ground and once he could get up again, he ran to the dock where everyone had gathered. People got on the boat back to Lombok. He found his village flattened and no one was there. Fortunately all his family survived. They had ran to the hills for fear of tsunami. Only one aunt could not be located for 3 days. She had been in shock for three days, simply following the crowd. Once she regained composure, she called her family telling them that she was in Mataram. Zuki is so grateful that Manta Dive treats him like family, helping out his family to build a gazebo for shelter after the earthquake.
When the boat arrived with the crew and Rafi who had gone to Lombok on an errand for Ditta, Zuki and Jaka were told that they would have to wait until midday if they wanted to take the boat back to Lombok, so they decided to take the public boat instead.
It was cloudy when we dived at Deep Turbo, but there was hardly any current. The topography was unique. We saw a blue-spotted stingray but not much fish. For the first time, we met fellow divers from Gili Trawangan, heading the opposite direction. The first group was two western men and a guide. The man next to the guide did not use a wetsuit. He had a tattoo and was paddling with his hands while his feet did not kick so much. He had nitrox on like us. The other western man in the back had a camera casing with a pair of strobes similar to Denny’s. The second group were two men with four different gas tanks – air and nitrox on each side and smaller oxygen and diluent tanks at the back – tech divers. Rafi said one of those small tanks could cost Rp.3M each.
Ditta is the only certified 100 m tech diver Rafi knows. Rafi is one of the crewmen he would take for shooting underwater videos. They have made 10 advertisements and 3 movies in 2-3 years. They would train the “talent” a.k.a. actors and actresses to work underwater. Some needed little training, such as Nadine, the former Miss Indonesia (the pageant is called daughter or princess of Indonesia here. It does not have a swimsuit round because that is generally considered improper). She is a divemaster. Her whole family are divers. Her father owns a resort at Raja Ampat.
Rafi dives with a sidemount BCD. He sold his BCD to have money during the pandemic. Many people had to sell belongings to eek out a living. Greg and Donna bought their BCDs from such persons – one being a dive instructor who had to return to her home country.
After Deep Turbo I was hoping to surface interval at Gili Meno, but the waves were strong from the side, which would make it hard for the boat to reach the shore. So instead we just looked at it from a distance. It was really quiet. All the resorts look empty. Rafi said there was only a small local community there – all from one family. Gili Air is the only one with a real local community, because it has fresh ground water in the middle. Electricity is run from Lombok through cables on the seafloor. Gili Trawangan then became most developed because it supported by a developer as the government’s special economic zone like the one in South Lombok near Kuta.
For lunch we were planning to eat at Aura Bowl but it was closed, so we decided to go to Kian23 instead. It is a fancy coffee shop with a Balinese owner, with a small pura on its corner. They had lamb chops, soups, and many other things on the menu. We opted for two types of duck – Kintamani style with sambal matah, which was spicy, and Cantonese, with purple taro cakes and a greek salad. I had pure orange juice and Denny had to coffee.
We went back and stopped by The Little Turtle kiosk, which was only open from 12 to 5pm, to talk to Seli to get more information on how to locate Yati, the seamstress. Seli is of Betawi origin. Their family used to live in Kramat Sentiong, in the Senen area where our apartment is. They then moved to Depok Timur, near the house we are currently renovating and planning to move to. She decided to move to Gili on her own because she was a beach person.
We walked back to the resort with disconcerting news from Jakarta – a couple who were our friends and neighbors got into a fight and had just separated, more friends have been infected with covid-19, and more doctors have died, Jakarta was on stricter lockdown – we would need a permit to get in and out, and we would need to get a PCR test that is only available in Mataram central hospital. The number of cases in Lombok were increasing, so parts of the area had changed from yellow to orange zone with an increasing number of patients in the emergency hospitals.
That night my medical class of 1995-2001/2002 got together on zoom, including Wibi near Washington DC and Yuri in Perth, Australia. We were sharing information, supporting each other with mental health tips, and deciding on how to make sure we have good supply of emergency medication and decided that rather than leftover Sinovac vaccines being thrown out, we might as well take a third dose for precaution or fly to the US to get pfizer or moderna.
Cisco’s scheduled vaccination on Saturday is a bit concerning – 8000 showed up today at JCC. Fortunately people were disciplined, but it took 3 hours nonetheless. It took Linus just as long and he wasn’t fully happy with the spot so we didn’t change locations.
DAY 9 – Friday 9th of July 2021
The girl who waited on our table today is Yani, from Tanjung, North Lombok. Today her classmate Enggi is waiting with her. They are one of six 3rd year students from her SMK Boga who were stationed there from last week. The other two are from SMK Pariwisata. They will stay here for 6 months, with one week holiday. They get free meals and accommodation but no pocket money. They only need to pay for the Rp.20K public boat ride to the island. If there were lots of guests they might even get tips.
Yani is the third of 7 siblings from her father and his series of 5 wives. She is from the third mother, who has remarried and lives elsewhere with her new husband and kids. Yani’s home was demolished by the earthquake, but the government built them a new one for her father, grandfather and 4 younger siblings.
Enggi lives with his parents and younger sibling, who is still in primary school. I forgot to ask whether the sibling is a brother or a sister – the Indonesian word emphasizes age, so we only know that the sibling is younger than Enggi – the sex/gender is secondary. Enggi’s home was also destroyed by the earthquake, but for some reason the government did not build them a new one, so they rebuilt their house by themselves. They had a new house within two months. The government-built houses took six months.
The rice was still cooking, so it is mie goreng for Denny today even though he is mildly intolerant to wheat.
We finally were “table neighbors” with the Swedish family with three boys age 7, 10 and 13, whom we saw at Mama’s Pizza the other day. They live in Sanur. The children go to Bali International School while they learn Bahasa Indonesia. The husband is a radiologist and the wife helps with the business. They moved here to set up a business in medical imaging for Sweden – the idea is the difference in timezones allows radioimaging expertise to be given while the Swedes were sleeping – overnight service. They had already set up a business in Sydney.
At Manta Dive, we met Yorgos from Greece who used to work for the ILO in Brussels since 1.5 years. He was planning to stay for 1 year and then the pandemic hit, so he stayed a bit longer but he likes it. He originally had to go on several international trips, but they were all cancelled, and he is happy about it. He reckons I would get a lot of clients if I opened a counselling service here. “They think they left all their problems in Europe only to find they brought their problems with them.”
Our other two divers were instructors – Florien from Austria and his girlfriend Megan from Ohio, US, who works at Blue Marlin. Yorgos joked that Ohio has the highest number of persons incarcerated per state. Megan said Ohio has the produced the most astronauts – something about the place makes people want to leave the planet. She just chose to go to the other side of the world. After she had returned from a trip to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru, she saw an advertisement from Manta Dive to take a dive instructor course for 6 months. She thought she would try and see if she liked it. That was 3 years ago.
A week after Megan arrived, she got a groundbreaking welcome to the ring of fire. She wanted to stay and help out on the island but because she did not have a KITAS – work permit – she was classified as a tourist aand had to leave the island. So she helped out at the camps on the foot of Mount Rinjani in Lombok, went to New Zealand for “visa break” in order to be able to re-enter as a tourist, went to Singapore for a wedding, to Malaysia with an ex-boyfriend, and then she got her KITAS to come back. She has been here ever since.
There are approximately 120 foreigners left on the island right now. Megan said after the earthquake a lot of people left. Those who were left became a tight knit community. Then the pandemic forced a lot of people to go back – some were not able to get their KITAS renewed, since some businesses went under.
We went to Shark Point and as Rafi says, if there are no sharks, there is no point! We saw three whitetip sharks swimming freely and four small ones under a reef head. Florien took heaps of photos – he is just chilling with his camera today, so he did not bring his huge strobes. He usually takes professional photos on requests and sells them online.
There was a wreck there too, but the current was too strong for me to fight in order to get there since it took me a while to equalize this time, so Rafi decided to just go with the flow – the wisest thing to do. We can see the wreck next time. The three dive instructors took the longer route before we met briefly at the reef head where the sharks sought protection. Then we met again on the boat.
Megan and I took a dip in the Manta Dive pool after the dive while the boys were taking care of their cameras, Megan’s skin flared up with eczema as always after immersion in seawater, but she loved the sea too much to care. The sun and humidity also burn, but she just shrugs it off. She is hosting a pool party at Begadang from 1 pm today for all July babies – there will be water balloons and drinking games. Sounds fun.
They had paninis at the next door waterfront cafe, but Denny and I decided to have a cheaper lunch at Warung Parida – I had fried chicken and vegetables, Denny had rice and mixed veg (here they call it nasi campur), at Rp15K each.
Afterwards, we went to visit mbak (big sister – as we call women/girls) Yanti. Selli from Little Turtle told us that mbak Yanti could sew. Selli gave us directions to get to the place, which was in front of her rented room, called D & Y hostel down a tiny alley next to the colorful kiosks called PinkCoco in front of the big bakery BreaDelicious, jointly owned by Ditta and a Frech baker. The whole place was empty. Mbak Yanti was cooking – her husband and her 6-year old daughter greeted us.
I wanted to resize the clothes I bought down the street at CocoMart the other day. I liked the soft cotton fabric and plain colors – I chose two shades of turquoise and two shades of maroon-brown of different models and lengths. At 143 cm, most trousers are too long for me. I could cut up one of them and make an extra skirt. The clothes were brought there to sell from Lombok, so they came at surprise prices – the maximum being what was printed on the label, with potential discounts that you could only discover once you sealed the deal at the cash register – it was like playing win, lose, or draw. If you were ready to pay the label price, it is a sure win. I got one for Rp.30K but one other stayed Rp.150K, the others roughly in between.
We returned to the resort to work until 6pm. We headed to Begadang for the party, stopping by at Ditta’s to seal the deal on the BCD. Ditta would not budge from his asking price. He was selling the BCD at half-price at Rp.7M. It was made in 2017 and he said that he had taken it for perhaps 50 dives. Rafi has never even seen him use it. He had changed the inflator hose to one that has a built in second stage to replace the octopus, and is charging us half-price for that as well, equivalent to the price of a new inflator hose at Rp.2M.
He has an interesting principle – if he needs money, he won’t reduce the price – the opposite of what people usually do. He knew we were going to buy. He said his uncle had bargained for land and lost it, only to later buy it at a more expensive price. He said he had Rp.20M left and needs to pay his staff Rp.30M. He had lost Rp.2B from the pandemic. He has learned a lot since the pandemic, working across the country teaching dive courses and making underwater videos, but he is eager for tourism to recommence. He has a lot of joint business in the island – I Am Bagus restaurant, Hideout Homestay, Gili Pilih dive shop, the night market, and many more, that are all closed. Some of his business partners had to return overseas. He was hoping that we’d help out a friend. So we did.
Ditta shared his life journey, from when he was still an accounting student at Universitas Indonesia who worked as an event organizer with a publishing service in Jakarta on the side, to the first time he came to Manta Dive to do his dive courses, how he built a network by joining training courses and trips around Indonesia, how he was offered land on Gili Air, started with four bungalows, then eight, twelve, to sixteen, buying and renting more land as things progressed. He had been tinkering with cars and had six of them, so he was used to mechanical things before he started tinkering with dive gears and air compressors. He rents out his underwater video equipment, but there is no insurance for this type of instruments – once a strobe broke – Rp.15M down the drain. He has been trained in air compressors with Bauer in Singapore and he supplies the tanks to all the dive centers on the island. His father, also an accountant, supported him to start the other joint businesses. Yet he lives very simply, eating two or three meals with his staff, wearing his shorts and looking very casual all the time.
We ended up chatting with Ditta for 3 hours. It was 11pm – we weren’t sure what time the party would finish, so we did not end up going. We had a big day planned for 4 dives tomorrow, and Denny was starving, so we went back to Warung Parida for a Rp.35K for the two of us with rice and assorted chicken and vegetable dishes before we called it a night. We found out later that they finished at Begadang at 10pm and then moved to Mowie’s until 11pm, so we would’ve missed it anyway.
Day 10 – Saturday, 10 July 2021
We headed by boat to dive on the shores of Lombok today. We dove at the wharf and it was a real dump down there. Amidst the trash we found two seahorses – perfect like the plastic toy my brother used to have. There were also plenty of coconut octopi, scurrying around hiding under coconut shells – they were the cutest things!
Day 11 – Sunday, 11 July 2021
The idea was to wake up later after the full day yesterday, but I woke up at dawn, perhaps because I fell asleep right after I got back. I remembered Rafi speaking of the sunrise with the view of Mt. Rinjani so I decided to see it myself. Denny decided to come along.
We pass Scallywags as always, where “the grill master lives with the flame of his life” as the sign says. Well, he used to, I suppose. Donna said that they used to have the best salad bar and barbeque seafood.
It was just the two of us walking on the beach in front of Chillout. We sat on the swings in front of the bouganville hedges that lined Gili Air Sunrise, mesmerized by the changing hues that painted the low-lying clouds. A dark grey cloud with a red outline glare stood right in front of the rising sun – Denny says it’s Godzilla.
We took pictures of the “Gili Air” sign with the ball-shaped seats under umbrellas in front of The Salty Shark. The sun dotted the “I” – when I later showed Rafi, he liked the idea and planned to take one like it himself. Elin said that her friends that owned the restaurant were worried that the sign would destroy the view, but she had said that there will be Indonesians wanting to take photos there – like us. I suppose they can capitalize on it and offer them to buy some drinks.
We went back to the resort for our usual breakfast. I had started asking for lime for my tea for a few days, but today they ran out.
Day 12 – Monday 12 July
We are spending these three days working online from the resort. The wind has been very strong, so it was good time to take a break from diving.
This morning the wind blew one of the small vase decorations off one of the poolside/beachside breakfast tables. The white porcelain chipped off in several pieces. They took the rest of them away for the week.
The island garbage collection point was located a few meters north on the beach off the front edge of the resort, so there was an odorous whiff until the garbage boat came to take the garbage away to Lombok. This place needs a proper garbage disposal and processing. Ditta has a biogas machine. There are also a lot of shed leaves to compost. The workers on the island burn some of their trash when there is not much wind or guests.
I tried using wifi but te connection is really bad today, it kept cutting off. Denny was tethering from his phone and had no qualms.
For lunch I rented a bike to buy food, since Denny had originally ordered from mbak Yati the Burger Lady, but she suddenly had to go to Mataram for a dental procedure. Her dentist told her the night before that it had to be that day or in two weeks, so she regrettably had to cancel orders. I went to Aura Bowl and ordered two chicken curries but Aura’s mom had delveries to make and it would take around 40 minutes, so I went to Warung Parida for two nasi campur bungkus – rice with mixed chicken and vegetables to go to eat with Denny during his short lunch break. The curry came later, so we had it for an early dinner after work before we headed out for a stroll on our bikes. The curry tasted better warm when we dined in.
Day 15 – Thursday 15 July 2021
I got a lot done in the last three days – designing an e-course on depression detection and management, supervising student research, organizing a burnout prevention and management training, attending continuing medical education, virtual block socialization, and the launch of and discussion on the together for mental health documentaries.
Denny is spending all week teaching data science for the ministry of finance, the tax office, and academics from the faculty of administration science. I did not know that it was a science. I suppose there is a science to everything.
In the meantime, mbak Yanti sewed the BCD strap that Ditta had cut to put te crotch strap in, and adjusted the other clothes. She came to the resort last night to deliver them – all for Rp 150K including the Rp.60K skirt with zipper and latch. The stitching has been neatly done. I had three more pieces for her to work on – the lace overall that I got at Trawangan, trousers that ripped at the knee, and the Manta Dive sleeveless one-piece.
Today we are doing one dive on nitrox to Mirkos, a large dive site that looks like a hand between Gili Meno and Gili Air. It is a deep dive so the wind should not pose a big problem except for the choppy entry. I made sure to take anti sea-sickness medication for precaution. Antimo is well-known in Indonesia, especially for its catchy commercial tune that became a child clapping game. I should have taken them on our first dive in the Azores in April 2019. I had doned a 7 mm full body wetsuit with an extra 5 mm trunksuit over my long-sleeve rash vest, spandex, and 2 mm full body surf suit and I still puked all over the Atlantic. The huge battleship wreck was a sight to behold, but the second dive felt like a huge muck dive with very little to see when compared to the teeming underwater life in our tropical waters.
I felt a bit chilly with the wind, so I decided to wear the brown long trouser monkey suit over my rash vest and spandex shorts. I’m so spoiled in tropical paradise. It was 21 degrees Celsius perhaps? It was much warmer than many airconditioned rooms in Jakarta, but I want to feel as comfortable as possible and not “masuk angin” or “enter the wind” as one of my first year medical students at Universitas Indonesia diagnosed when I taught them academic English in 2005. It was a good opportuity to discuss how this, and many other, local concepts are culture-bound and not part of established medical entities such as those listed in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
I look fat in the brown monkey suit with long trousers even though the tosca one with shorts looks better on me. The belly rubber waist is too high. It was designed for a different size so even after alteration it does not suit me too well. It would be easier to sew a brand new piece altogether, but we’d need to go to Lombok to get the fabric. I was thinking of getting cloth face masks made to give to the locals and to incoming tourists as Gili Air Care Package along with a cloth bag and personal bamboo straws, for a voluntary contribution for sustainability. It looks like it would be faster and easier to order ready made masks.
We started diving later than usual. Denny had an online meeting and so did the entire staff at Manta Dive. Almost all of the 30 or so staff were there for the inevitable sad announcement – they were closing from August until perhaps the end of the year. They had closed from March to July last year and tried to stay open for a year. With the current emergency semi-lockdowns, there were neither foreign nor local tourists and the ownes could not afford to keep drawing on their savings.
Rafi was worried about covid-19 too, especially hearing that a fellow dive instructor from Trawangan had gotten covid-19 in Lombok from friends from Bali, since we had just hang out there the other day. But he hopes that the lockdown measures are lifted soon. He got so bored staying home 6 months. He is lucky that his wife continues to work as an accountant for Mayora. He had brought a tin of danish cookies that they got for the Ied celebration. Aside from one person doing two introductory dives with Rafi in the last two days, it has been just us and the total of 5 persons who joined us one one of our dives. Rafi said he took the intro diver to the nearby Turtle Haven. Rafi does a very good full briefing and the dive was good so they went on a second dive, to Hans Reef.
The person had done a discovery dive in the Carribean before, but they basically “stuck a regulator on him” and took him down, he had said, which scared him. I can understand – it took me 100 dives before I felt comfortable enough and I got upset when I once had a dive guide who did not say much. That was at Prince John in Palu, what used to be our favorite dive resort before they closed. The media said that they had refused to cater lunch for visiting government officials so their permit was rebuked – they had built a commercial center on what was listed as a conservation site. I don’t know what happened. Last we heard they offered their boat for sale to the owners of Villa Kaili in Parigi Palu, where we spent five days last year.
I used to be so scared underwater that literally held on to my guide’s elbow throughout the week when we dived along the beautiful Bunaken walls, but I enjoyed the colors so much that I spent 90 minutes bottom time at what was probaly the longest safety stop ever – at a depth of 3-5 m, just below the choppy surface. Denny’s friend Jack had organized a dive trip where each of us would get our own dive guides. Even after the dive guide went up to the boat I stayed a few minutes extra with Denny – which was when I saw a tiny blue-ring octopus. Too bad Denny’s camera had ran out of batteries.
Today I started with a tank of 180 mmHg with 32% enriched air at 1.4 bars. Denny started with 195. The analyzer took a bit off the usual 200-220. Rafi and Denny tried teaching me the math but they did not get through to me. My math neurons have dwindled from lack of use to give space for other functions.
I was not feeling so comfortable today, so it took me a while to reach the reef at a depth of 24-30 m. The crotch strap worked fine but it covered the weight belt so it didn’t feel right. I need to figure out a better way. The current was a bit strong so it took me about 20 m away from Rafi, who was about 10 m from Denny. Fortunately the visibility was good, but it was too far for them to hear if I used my tank banger, so I held on to a reef and waited for them to drift by. There was a bit of kicking to cross the reef. When the fingers started sloping down, Rafi motioned for us to cross te reef even more. Soon I was 20 m away from them again and the distance was just getting farther. I was getting tired of fighting the current, so I waved to get their attention. They started towards me and we slowly ascended in the blue as planned.
I remember the first time I experienced the blue, seeing the light on the surface from down below. It was at the Thousand Islands in Jakarta Bay during my first open water dive course with CMAS in 1997. It can be disorienting and mesmerizing at the same time. I can hardly tell how many meters deep we are. Now I have a dive computer to tell me – actually, I am using my son’s. I need to get my own.
After the dive we wanted to get lunch from Aura Bowl but it was closed. Shark Bite and the restaurant across from it was also closed, so we ended up at Warung Parida. Almost everything they had today was a bit spicy, so Denny ordered takeaway while I ordered fried chicken at Warung Muslim nearby.
Day 21 – 21 July 2021
We moved from Gili Air to Gili T today – T short for Trawangan. It is the party island.