Paradise has its price: A snippet of conversation on Gili Trawangan


As I headed along the path I became convinced the Silk Spider was watching me, waiting for me to make one fatal mistake before trapping me in its web.

It had remained stationary since my arrival 10 days earlier on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia’s notorious drink-diving island, and the only evidence it was still alive was the softly pulsating mark on its back and the ever-expanding web it was weaving.

Threatened by a Silk Spider. It was time to head out.

Strolling down the dusty strip that constituted the island’s main drag, I was careful to keep an eye out for any passing cidoma (horse-drawn carriage) ferrying people towards the distant morass of light and sound at the heart of Trawangan’s nightlife.

The guesthouse owner whom I’d befriended earlier called me over to one of the beach’s gazebos where he, his friends and a bottle of arak (rice wine) were waiting. Introductions made, we jumped to the business in hand: ceremonial shots of arak celebrating the supreme lethality of arak.

Before we knew it, a few hours had passed; day had faded into night as the moon shimmered and dissipated on the water’s surface. The stars were out in force over Lombok and, I thought, the night sky had taken on a silken, green hue that seemed to undulate and throb peacefully. This is how it felt to be in a cocoon.

The conversation flowed as well as the arak, or perhaps because of it. It was my friend who explained the island’s delicate eco-system, of how the coral was being eroded by destructive fishing practices and how the divers reef tax was used to counter the growing rubbish problem. Even paradise had its price.

Perhaps inevitably, the issue of money reared its ugly head.

Surely, I ventured, lapsing into excellent pidgin, you must be loaded. I see many people arrive everyday and they must bring money to the island. Looks were exchanged as my companions explained how the money brought onto the island was doled out. Unfairly, it transpired.

Ferdinan piped up and encapsulated the deep-rooted divide on the island. ‘Sometimes the businessmen, they come to the island. They spend time with me and give me money. Sometimes I’m the man … and sometimes I’m the woman.’

He grinned and shrugged his shoulders. The far-off bass thump continued.

I walked home later that night, lost in a reverie. In most other circumstances, Ferdinan’s statement would provoke outrage at the injustice of a situation that left the rich richer and the poor to fend for themselves. It was grossly unfair.

And yet, confronted by such an unpleasant home truth, I wasn’t surprised. My time spent in Indonesia had opened my eyes to similarly innate issues and, depressingly, I had no idea about how to resolve it.

As I headed toward my bungalow, begging pardon and weaving between the herd of cows that appeared from nowhere, I spied the Silk Spider. It hadn’t moved but its web had grown infinitely larger.

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