Life Lessons From Gili Meno, Indonesia

Gili Meno is one of a string of three islands referred to as ‘The Gili Islands’ – or ‘The Gilis’ for short – off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. I spent about four magical months living on Meno, diving the days away and spending quiet nights under the stars.

This is the smallest and quietest island of the three, with Gili Trawangan being the busy party island, and Gili Air being a good mix of both worlds. Having moved there from the hustle and bustle of a lively island in Thailand, Gili Meno offered me the gift of discovering the depths of myself. Although most of my time there was spent with empty pockets, I uncovered a richness of life that’s accompanied me on every adventure since then.

Stepping into rhythm

A few months before arriving to Gili Meno, I was given a set of practice fire poi (equipment use during fire performance art), and I loved these practice poi. It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to do fire-dancing. So I’d like to say that I practiced ceaselessly, but I’ll be honest, it was really more just a casual dabbling some days after I was done diving. I did manage to get to the point where they were moving in sync – and even managed a little trick or two.

One evening, a group of us made a bonfire on the beach. Spurred on by good vibes, the fresh air, and my friends, I finally made this dream a reality. One of the local guys lent me his actual fire poi, and after a few false starts, I managed to get into a rhythm.

As I felt the fire swooshing past my being, I became enclosed in a little bubble, where only the flames and I existed. I wanted that moment to last forever, but running out of tricks (remember, I only had about two), I decided to end my performance with a huge smile and a happy heart.

This moment taught me to live out of my comfort zone. That one moment saying, “Yes, I think I’ll try that tonight,” made all the difference between “I wish I could do that” and “I did it!”

Attack of the triggerfish

Triggerfish can become extremely territorial, especially while they’re feeding or mating. Their territories expand in a cone shape and they can become quite fierce if you enter this space.

I was scuba diving with two people, swimming backwards and not watching where I was going for a few seconds, when I felt something hit my head. It turns out that I’d accidently swam into a titan triggerfish’s territory. Before I had time to react, the fish bit my right calf. Shocked, and a bit confused, it took me a moment to realise what had happened. I quickly swam away from the area to continue my dive, keeping my eye on the fish that bit me.

The Gilis have a pretty large population of triggerfish and it’s easy to swim into their territory without realising it. I came out of it with a bruise, a small scar, and a fun story to tell. However, I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for these guys, especially when the ‘trigger’ on top of their head is sticking up, as that’s a clear warning to stay away.

What this titan triggerfish taught me is that sometimes crappy things happen. It’s scary, and it hurts, even though you’re aware of the risks when you start something. The bottom line though, is to just keep swimming. In time, this fear will pass and this hurt will heal.

Friends who became family

Working in the dive industry, you travel to new places often, chasing tourist high seasons all over the world. This means that every few months, you say goodbye to old friends and have the opportunity to make new ones. On Gili Meno, I met some inspiring people who are still a very big part of my life today. They challenge my ideas about friendship and love, of how I view the world, and of caring unconditionally.

There was a quiet and grounded French-Canadian who taught me about spirituality, how to be non-judgmental, and about the importance of spending time with yourself. Most importantly, I learned that it’s okay to take pleasure in devouring a packet of Oreos for dinner just because you feel like it, and not to worry about getting fat.

Then, there was the German woman who’s now the mother of my godson. She taught me how to open my heart to people again, showing a depth of care and consistency in a life where people come and go, much like the high seasons I was chasing. She became a close friend and came to visit me when I moved back to Thailand. Eventually, she fell in love and became pregnant, and blessed me with the wondrous moment of first hearing her baby’s heart beat. It was a first for me.  

The 50-something perpetual nomad showed me how to have fun again; how everyone’s still a child at heart. He also encouraged me to always follow my dreams, taught me some Dutch, and was committed to living a large life with a quiet maturity, a calm and mischievous sparkle always in his eye.

In the self-love department, a French and Indonesian couple showed me that sometimes, the cost of speaking your truth can lead to conflict. They also taught me that speaking your truth preserves your authenticity and self-respect. That no matter what happens, when you’re true to yourself, you become unshakable. I also learned to walk away from anything in life with my integrity intact and head held high. They’re now running their own dive centre and resort in Indonesia.

Suffice to say, the friends I made while living on Gili Meno will stay with me throughout my lifetime. Not just because of the wonderful people they are, but because of all that they’ve taught me.

Getting back on the bike

There are absolutely no motorised vehicles on Gili Meno. The ‘taxis’ are donkey carts. Bicycles are also a popular form of transportation. When I first got to the island, I hadn’t been on a bicycle in nearly two decades. I was also slightly clumsy and definitely not someone you’d call sporty.

I had to go to the island clinic one day and a friend offered that I take his bicycle to get there and back quicker. So I set off, wobbling like crazy, trying to find a shred of balance while dodging past the chickens running about in front of me. I also had to work my way to the interior of the island on a recently-cemented path, curving through fields filled with coconut trees and cows, doing everything not to fall. I managed to make it there and back without injury. Also, no chickens got hurt.

I’m an overly-cautious person, and generally don’t get hurt, or put myself in a situation where there’s even a small chance that I might. One evening, I was on the back of my friend’s bike, and we were making our way to the interior of the island. The air was balmy and the stars bright, so it was Meno magic at its best… until we hit a patch of sand and fell over.

I picked myself up off the ground with a skinned knee and sore foot. After that, I was given a bicycle of my own to ride the rest of the way, yelling at every turn, assuring my friends that I’m okay. Cycling was scary for me in the light of day, so this was downright terrifying, but I made it in the end.

What I learned from all this is that life is all about balance. Trying something for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – is a bit scary and intimidating as you hit a few wobbles. What’s important is that you pick yourself up and get on with it. Face it; push through it. It is, after all, just like riding a bike.

Movies under the stars

Gili Meno is so tiny that the core of the island houses a small fishing village. Malls and cinemas are non-existent on this bit of paradise, and that’s exactly as it should be. However, once you’ve lived on Meno for a while, you do feel the need for a bit of modern comfort.

Enter ‘movies under the stars’ night. A group of us would cram into a baruga (reed hut) in one of the restaurants and enjoy a movie on one of our laptops. No big screen and popcorn here, but having the opportunity to maybe catch a shooting star made this an absolutely magical experience.

The movies were whatever we had available and definitely not one of the latest releases. Sometimes, in life, things aren’t ideal. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be perfect and exactly what you need in that moment.

Gili Meno didn’t only offer me wonderful memories and lifelong friends. It offered me valuable life lessons in being open, in being able to love and be loved, and in savouring every moment perfect in its imperfection. All that on an impossibly perfect island.


 Read our last Travel Tale:

How Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Turned An Island Girl Into A City Lover


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Jay has travelled and lived extensively in Asia and Africa. Part gypsy, part nomad and part mermaid, she aspires each day to satisfy her wanderlust in any way possible.

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