‘The answers you seek don’t come when the mind is busy, they come when the mind is still…’
Or in this case, when your head is hanging between your legs and sweat is dripping down your arms. Lauren, the New Jersey-born yoga teacher, is narrating heartening lines to keep these early risers awake and focused. Downward dog has never been the most comfortable of poses but here on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia, a 7 am downward dog is a welcoming start to a relaxing day.
The Gili Islands are a heavenly cluster of three small islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – situated just off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, and conveniently close to the traveller’s haven that is Bali.
The overwater (and underwater) nirvana that is Gili Trawangan is a short 1.5 hour fast-boat ride from the east-coast town of Padang Bai, Bali, and despite what you may have heard, Gili T (as the regulars call it) is so much more than ‘the party island’. In fact, depending on where you stay, some may not even realise that the restaurants stay open past midnight.
Gili T is one of those places where you can find yourself bringing home something deeper than a tan.
Although having enticed the budget-backpacker crowd in the late 1980s with its raw beauty, freely available drugs and lack of police presence, the early 2000s saw Gili T transforming into an island that was attracting every curious cat. Now, in 2015, a ‘healthy holiday’ is often sought after and Gili T is one of those places where you can find yourself bringing home something deeper than a tan.
Yogis worldwide have travelled to Indonesia for many years to immerse themselves in the ancient practice and Bali seems to be the hub of all things yoga. But where better to conquer true relaxation than a tropical island?
Gili Yoga can be found a healthy distance from the island bar scene, but close enough to have everything just around the corner. Located on the main strip, Gili Yoga can easily be found when turning right at the port. About 100m up the street that runs parallel along the water, you will find a large yellow sign on your left… you have arrived. Gili Yoga opened almost six years ago and is a yoga centre, freedive centre and a place to stay, with nine elegantly basic bungalows available. Each bungalow has that island feel, infusing crisp white ceilings with wooden beams and white walls with wooden furniture. There are outdoor showers, a front deck (which looks over the outdoor yoga studio for those who’d like to watch before they try) and guests have the luxury of air conditioning – or a fan if preferred.
Accommodation prices range from $65 to $85 USD, depending on the season, and include breakfast and a discounted yoga class rate of 60,000 IDR (just under $5 USD). The Gili Yoga schedule consists of two classes a day, one at 7 am for the early risers and one at 5 pm for everyone else. But what better way to start your day? Each class is a perfect 1.5-hour workout, integrating sweat-boosting poses with a mind-soothing practice. The majority of the afternoon classes are vinyasa flow (though Thursday and Sunday are yin), which build up a bit more of a sweat than the hatha yoga classes available each morning. But just a tip: you better layer on that insect repellent as each class is at the perfect feasting time for the little island locals and once that mozzie bites, you’ll be itching for days.
If you’re looking to have a more intense yoga experience, check out newly opened The Yoga Place for additional classes and workshops. Having opened just six months ago, The Yoga Place is peacefully located a short ten-minute inland walk from Gili Yoga. Admittedly, it is a bit difficult to find for a first-timer, as 2014 boasted the start of the street-name system on Gili T, but if you follow the main road towards the south of the island (left when you come off the jetty) and turn right after the small night food markets, you will reach a dead end. Turn left and after a few hundred metres you will spot The Yoga Place on your right. Phew! Now to build up even more of a sweat, Caroline, the founder and everyday teacher at The Yoga Place, offers five or more yoga classes a day, but don’t panic – they’re suitable for all levels.
Beginners can get their foot in the door with the three-day yoga basics workshop, which runs every Monday to Wednesday, and costs around $23 USD. For all sunset lovers, try the one hour pre-sunset Yoga class that Caroline holds on the beach for a truly relaxing Gili T experience. Meditation and massage workshops are also available, as are private yoga classes (for $35 USD). Classes at The Yoga Place cost around $6 USD, though you are able to purchase a three or ten class card, making it even cheaper.
What you consume is a major factor of how you feel and how much energy you have. Luckily, Gili T is all over the healthy eating craze!
Opening in early 2013, Kayu Café quickly became a loved local for all types of travellers looking for a nourishing meal. Suitably located on the island’s main strip, Kayu Café sits approximately 100m north of the night food markets. Enjoy a time-out from the heat and grab a seat inside, where the display of raw treats (and the air conditioning) makes you forget you’re on an Indonesian island.
If you can’t get enough of the Bombay-Sapphire-blue water – and let’s be honest, who can? – there is the outdoor seating option, allowing you to look out over Gili Meno and Lombok. Enjoy the energy-lifting green smoothie (dates, avocado, spinach, pineapple, kale, apple, coconut milk & honey) while taking a dip between sips. The friendly staff, good coffee and delicious selection of home-baked health sweets make this relaxing café a winner at any time of the day. Kayu is open for breakfast and lunch only.
If The Yoga Place is where you’ve just had a class, or if you’re a lover of wholesome food, you’re in luck. The Yoga Place has its own café (and home-grown vegetable garden). The meals are vegetarian and extremely large – perfect after a hard vinyasa class. ‘We don’t want anyone to leave hungry,’ says Caroline as she smiles at the accomplishment of having both a yoga studio and a café within six months of opening. The ‘hearty meals’ are a healthy alternative for a big dinner and there’s no way you could pass up the ‘big salad’ dishes: for just $3.50 a serve, you won’t even be hungry for tomorrow’s breakfast. But the ‘pure & simple’ juices are what will leave you wanting more; with no sugar or ice added and only 100% fruit, you may need a spoon to scoop it all up!
Luckily for those staying at Gili Yoga, breakfast is included. The menu is simple and nutritious and allows you to receive a meal, a coffee or tea and a juice every morning. Choose from a freshly prepared fruit salad, fruit, yoghurt and muesli dish; pancakes; eggs; or the best of them all: the oatmeal. Consisting of just oats, banana, honey and cinnamon, this dairy- and gluten-free dish will leave your energy levels up there for the rest of the day.
NO vehicles allowed. That’s right. All three of the Gili Islands do not permit the use of motorised vehicles. So this leaves you with three (of the best) options to optimise relaxation and physical activity: walking, cycling or a horse-drawn carriage. Yep, you heard me, hopping into a carriage after a give-it-your-all yoga class is actually an option. ‘Cidomos’, as they’re locally known, can be found along the main strip of the island and are impossible to miss.
Being the largest and most developed of the three Gilis, there is a cycle path to use when renting a bicycle; however the path only gets you ¾ of the way around the island before you reach, well… sand. So while the abundance of labourers on the island pave away to sort that out – which involves the simple brick-on-sand technique – it is up to you to push that bike through the dirt and onto the next bit of path. But not to worry – although you might build up a bit of a sweat under the hot Gili sunshine, places to stop and dive into that inviting water are not lacking. Renting a bike shouldn’t cost more than $5 USD per day and cycling around the island can take up to 1.5 hours (with too many swim breaks to count), but it’s all worth it when it’s just you and a half-developed island (and a horse here and there).
The underwater world
‘You can see turtles out there,’ says Blake as he points out past the visibly vibrant reef. ‘But it’s easier to see them after 6 pm, when the tide rises.’ The Trawangan local sells jewellery made of coconut shell on the west side of the island, but fishes every morning and evening for fresh fish and just plain fun.
And he’s right! Although freediving is commonly advertised around Bali, the Gilis are known to be the best playground to explore the blissful underwater world (and see some turtles along the way). Known to effectively enhance one’s breathing capacity through maximal oxygen uptake, the meditative motion of snorkelling helps you unwind and relax, complementing your yoga practice.
The Gilis are known to be the best playground to explore the blissful underwater world, and see some turtles along the way.
With a profusion of freedive centres on Gili T, it won’t be hard to lock yourself in for a short course. Conveniently, if you are staying at Gili Yoga, a Freediver Level 1 course is run over two days for only $275 USD. Alternatively, grab a snorkel and some flippers from almost anywhere on the island and head into the big blue biosphere yourself. You’ll be sure to meet other adventurers along the beach who will be happy to join.
If you’re keen to explore the equally majestic waters of the other islands, hop on a local public outrigger boat and make your way to the breathtaking underwater sculpture park just moments from BASK Gili Meno’s private resort beach. The artist, internationally celebrated eco-sculptor Jason deClaires Taylor, designed eerily lifelike figures from sustainable materials to attract and house all kinds of spectacular marine life. Titled Nest, the underwater installation promises an unforgettable snorkelling experience, and is a must-see when visiting the Gili Islands.
So next time you head to the up-and-coming island, start your day with a warrior-pose and let your mind surrender to a truly refreshing Gili T getaway.