MISADVENTURE ON GILI NANGUU
When I was on my ten month trip overseas in 1991, five months of it was spent tropical island hopping through South East Asia, looking for my ideal tropical paradise. I was at the start of my big adventure and had been having a wonderful time in Bali and the Gilli Islands off northern Lombok for several weeks with family and friends, when I met up with Sue, my best friend during University. We travelled first to the mountains of Lombok, where life was pretty much as it has been for centuries, and where people were especially poor and we were warned by the bungalow manager not to leave our washing unattended or it would be stolen. Then for an island experience we stayed on Gill Nanggu, not far off Lombok’s south coast. It is a tiny, flat island of sand with sparse, scrubby vegetation and it didn’t fulfill my dream of a lush ‘tropical paradise island’. Gili Nanggu had no inhabitants as such, just a budget tourist place with about ten thatched, two storey huts looking out over the clear blue sea. It is so small we could watch the sunrise from our huts and then walk about 500 metres up the beach to see the sunset.
We loved the island’s peacefulness, away from the bustle, and for a couple of nights we were the only guests. It may not have been lush but the views across the iridescent waters and the nearby coastline and mountains of Lombok were magnificent. We were content to relax there for a few days; reading, swimming, snorkelling the fascinating waters abounding with coral and bright fish, walking on the beaches, eating well, talking with the friendly staff. One day Sue came back with a big smile from walking around the perimeter of the island saying “What a great day I’ve had exploring the island and all the beautiful views.” I hadn’t gone with her, given I had now learnt not to go into unknown territory blindly. She said “It isn’t so far, and I think you’d be able to do it”. So my adventurous spirit was set afire and I headed off myself the next day. By nature I am quite intrepid, but I had had to curb it with my increasing physical limitations, and this misadventure was another lesson in taking heed of those limitations.
The beach is deserted and I am loving being on my own away from everyone else, which is a rare thing in crowded Asia. I am in heaven; beachcombing, seeing what is washed up on the shore, observing and enjoying the micro as well as the macro scenes around me. I am engrossed in taking photos with the backdrop of Lombok not so far away, it is stunning scenery. Except for the lapping of the water it is peaceful and quiet and I love having the freedom to follow my whims of what interests me.
I am about half way round the island when I realize I have bitten off more than I can chew. I am starting to get tired and I figure I have about the same distance to go back again. There are no places where I can sit, until I finally arrive at rocks extending into the water. It is a relief to be able to have a rest. I think about my choices, to keep going forward to new territory or to turn back the way I had come. I end up keeping going forward, the attraction of new territory is too great for my adventurous spirit, and the rocks look so interesting. The trouble is the beach ends and it becomes all rocks jutting into the water. They are black, volcanic-looking that rise in large rough boulders up to about 5 metres high, and extend inland as far as I can see. Sue had warned me of this, and had said “I walked around them in the water.” But she is good deal taller than me, and perhaps the tide is higher. With Taman (my walking stick) to steady me, I start trying climbing over the rocks but find that is impossible. When I try wading through the clear water to go around them, it becomes too deep and I am worried about getting my camera wet. I am starting to feel isolated, and stuck in a place I have to get myself out of on my own, with just Taman to help me.
So I can’t go forward, and I still have an aversion to going back because it feels so far now, but which, in hindsight, is probably the sensible option. I opt for a third way which is to strike out inland and cut across the middle of the island, figuring it may be more direct and hence shorter than going around the perimeter. I am thinking if I keep heading across the middle I have to hit the bungalows on the other side sometime. It is such a small island it can’t be far across the middle. Through the centre seems to be the shortest option and that is my priority with fatigue setting in.
But it isn’t a short distance and it isn’t as flat as I had thought it would be. There seems to be many sand dunes I have to climb over, which are not easy in the soft sand. They feel quite steep as I become more tired and sore in hips and legs, especially the effort of trudging uphill. It is very quiet, there are no birds, no sounds in the centre of the island and no people; it is deserted and lifeless. Now the peace and quiet I had felt walking along the beach earlier is starting to feel a little eerie. I feel more uneasy when I come upon an old, dilapidated bamboo hut, which is hidden down in a gully, as though someone didn’t want it known it is there. I feel very alone in a foreign place. I am tired and in pain. I am worried about my ability to make it back to the bungalows. But I don’t let myself wallow in feeling all this too long, I decide my pessimistic thoughts aren’t helping the situation. I have to draw on a reserve of inner strength to deal with this, and not give into my fears and just keep going.
If it is not already a challenging situation, it suddenly becomes more so. My intrepid spirit does not match the ability of my body, and this is where I come face to face with this new reality. I trip over a branch and fall on the soft sand, down in a gully. I suddenly feel vulnerable and very stuck, and I am shaken up from the shock of the fall. For the last couple of years it has been increasingly difficult to get myself up and down from the ground, and I have avoided it, or I use a chair or get a hand from someone else. There is nothing around me now to help hoist me up, just sand and sparse vegetation; all I have is Taman. I don’t know if I can do it, I haven’t ever just used Taman. So I am stuck on the ground, on my hands and knees all alone, in what feels like a deserted, hostile, unfriendly place. I feel scared and helpless and I whimper at my predicament. But that isn’t going to get me out of the situation, I realize I have to pull myself together and not collapse into helplessness. I have to find a determination that I can do this, I have no choice. I have to somehow get myself up off the ground on my own with only Taman. My first couple of attempts I don’t manage it, I don’t have enough physical strength. I fall back down on my hands and knees, feeling hopeless and defeated. I rest a bit and I work on psyching myself into being able to do it, telling myself I can do it, feeling really determined. Finally on the third attempt I draw on strength I don’t know I have, and straining all my muscles I manage to haul myself to my feet. There is nothing like necessity to find new strength. It showed me what is possible if we are determined enough.
Once I catch my breath and recover a little from the surge of adrenalin, I stagger on, shaken but relieved I can keep going. But I am increasingly concerned, as the shadows are getting longer and sunset is upon me, as I take extra care watching out for any potential tripping hazards. I am feeling more and more fatigued and sore in my legs and hips. With nothing to sit on to have a rest, I just have to keep going, step by step. It feels like I am going for a long while, with no sight of the sea or the bungalows, just scrub and small dunes. This route certainly doesn’t feel any shorter and I am regretting getting myself into this perilous situation. I start to worry that maybe I won’t make it, perhaps I am lost. I figure though that eventually I will be missed and that someone will come searching. Sue will surely be starting to worry and will alert the staff and they will send out a search party. The fact the island is so small gives me comfort that I will be found eventually.
It is such a relief, as darkness is upon me, when I climb up yet another dune, to find the beach below. As I struggle down the last steep slope onto the beach I see the lights of the camp perhaps 500 metres away – what a wonderful sight! I am so relieved the way is clear and much easier on the hard sand of the shoreline; I have made it to safety. But I am exhausted and that 500 metres feels like miles, as I lean more and more on Taman, and hobble more slowly. Once again it is necessity and sheer determination that get me there, step by step. Necessity is a powerful motivator. It is now dark as I stagger back to my bungalow. When I call out to Sue, she comes out from her bungalow all chirpy, “Hello are you just getting back? I thought you were already back and having a rest”. She hadn’t noticed I was missing (so much for the rescue). I sit on the chair on my verandah, having some tea from the flask, sharing with her my harrowing time, utterly exhausted and aching all over, but so relieved the ordeal is over. We have a good laugh about what a great friend she is in a crisis; when I could have really needed her, she was blissfully unaware, enjoying a good book.
With a sad heart I realized I needed to further curb my intrepid spirit, particularly as I travelled through Asia. I was reminded again that I would have to be more careful what I got myself into. I could no longer just head off into the unknown like that on my own and leave myself so vulnerable and potentially in danger. I had to make more enquiries of a well-meaning friend’s judgment. I had learnt my lesson the hard way. I grieved this loss of what I loved to do, I had to let go of something important to me, which gave me such great pleasure and fed my spirit. I felt like it meant I had to deny part of my nature, and instead of being wild and impulsive taking off into the wilderness on my own, I had to be more sensible (ie boring). It felt like a big price to pay, but it was such a strong, scary experience, I had no desire to go through something like that again.
I later found ways of getting around my limitations, it wasn’t the end of my adventures in the wilds altogether, I just had to adapt, and keep trying.