A volcano had erupted on Lombok: three people had apparently died while climbing it the day before. But the five of us new friends were headed to a boat party off the paradise island of Gili T that Wednesday, and we had hardly a care in the world.
The Gili T boat party is held three times a week – each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – and essentially involves a large wooden boat hosting a large all-day dance party of backpackers from around the world in the hot sun. The crowd at this party is as you might expect – generally the more hardcore ‘partiers’ and not the kind I find myself able to have invigorating conversation with (think the Shangri La boat party on Koh Phi Phi, or the Ha Long Bay two night trip). But on this day Ryan, Katie, Kelly, Wade and his boyfriend and I all headed on the boat together; and the pre-made music mix they played (the DJ was clearly for show) was so retro-tastic that we all had a great time dancing the day away, not minding that most others on the boat didn’t seem to be having as much fun as us.
By the end of the day I was quite tired so lay down on one of the comfortable bean bags to rest. Promptly, a young man felt inclined to spray a bottle of soft drink all over me. It was pretty weird, but I think my new friends were more indignant about it than I was.
Back on land the three UK peeps and I headed straight to an Indian restaurant Wade had recommended to have – albeit not particularly authentic, nor as good as you get in Australia – delicious Indian food. We were all so tired I was sure that we would all just head straight to bed after that; however, while the others did, I was waylaid on my way back to my room by the usual group of travellers sitting along the long table and having a merry drink, talking and playing various games together; so I naturally joined in, the shortness of my trip providing enough incentive to ignore my tiredness; and a shot or two of joss (a powdered version of energy drink only legal on Gili T) proving enough to energise me.
We all headed out to the venue of Wednesday night – Irish Bar – where we danced to fun pop and retro music until late. It was so late, in fact, that after getting back to my room, deciding I was hungry and setting back out to get some fried chicken, I found myself face to face with the sun rising over the erupting Mt Rinjani that could be seen from the shore. As I ran back to grab my camera while my fried chicken was prepared, I had no idea how momentous this eruption would end up being for me.
The next day I knew I needed rest and recovery. Unfortunately, this was also the first day that a particularly rowdy group of stayers at the backpackers decided to have an all day and very loud pool party, significantly harming my ability to sleep. I mean, I’m all for partying and jumping repeatedly into the water if that really floats your boat, but does it need to include constantly yelling at the top of your lungs all day?
That night I joined everyone for some after dinner drinks and heading out, and although it was a large and merry party this time and all were getting well into the dancing at Sama Sama, at about 11pm I had to face the facts that my tiredness was preventing any enjoyment and I would have to go to bed. I also wondered if I was feeling a mite queazy…?
It turned out my decision to head back was no moment too soon, as I promptly began a seven hour period of being so violently ill that not only was it a blessing and a necessity that I had my own private ensuite room, but I could barely muster the energy to leave the bathroom floor at times. I desperately wanted cold water but couldn’t muster the energy to leave my room and get any until 6am, when I ducked to the nearby unattended shop, left some money and came back.
My ability to sleep and recover that day was again hampered by the continuing raucous pool party down below, and although I felt well enough by the late afternoon to go to a medical clinic, obtain a medical certificate and eat some plain lunch; by the time I got back to my room at 5pm it was clear I was not healed; the sickness returned (although less violently) and I did not leave my room until the next morning.
I had planned to go on the $10 snorkelling trip the next day, having postponed it. However, feeling a significant amount of FOMO for the most recent two nights (that’s fear-of-missing-out for those not in the know), I changed my mind in the night and booked myself a ticket to the boat party again.
So, the next morning, after a scenic breakfast I found myself once more in Jiggy Bar talking to a couple of friendly Australians before we all headed off to the boat party. Although I started off feeling not quite right (I was not the only one though; the Canberran’s friend did not even make it onto the boat for the same reason) and the hot sun didn’t help, I was able to ease into the party and enjoy the day – especially after a couple of joss shots – meeting a few more friendly Australians from Perth during the afternoon.
Afterwards, I went with the second lot of Aussies I had met back to their accommodation to have a couple of drinks and some takeaway Indonesian from the quality restaurant nearby that I hadn’t yet discovered, before returning to my backpackers’ to find the usual people sitting around; however, it was only a small group this time, and it transpired that some people had already headed out. I willingly went along with the few to join some others at Lava Bar, where I got into a brief verbal altercation with an obnoxious Brit who had been taking rude images of himself with his almost unconscious ‘friend’. I said if it was a woman it would be considered sexual abuse, so why was it different in this case?
The altercation led to Jake, Nishchay and I striding off to Sama Sama Bar where three of our presumed hostel mates were lurking. I had only met one of them before. I introduced myself to the others, including an Australian from Cairns I was surprised not to have met during the entire week we had both been on the island and with him apparently hanging out each night at my accommodation. I also explained that I was on the precipice: uncertain whether to pack it in and go back to bed or try to party. Encouraged by them, I decided of course to have a couple of drinks before giving up.
Then, buoyed by their enthusiasm, I found my energy.
In fact, I didn’t want to sleep that night: I said I would do it when I am dead. We danced to reggae-influenced pop music among throngs of swaying beauties. Then, watching the stars in the clear black sky with a host of other travellers all sprawled out on the sand, amidst locals crouching around; I felt dream-like. It was one of those nights that you wonder whether is real; one that counts as up there with the best I’ve had. It was my last night. And as I ate my lunch the next morning and sped away back to Bali on top of the boat with the waves splashing me, I lay pinned to the rollicking deck, listening to songs on my iPhone with my emotions mimicking the waves beneath. And no matter what would happen later, I knew that this was living.