Paradise Burden: The Home Truth Of Gili Trawangan

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

The spider had remained stationary since my arrival ten days earlier on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia’s notorious drink-diving island. The only evidence of the spider’s sentient existence was the softly pulsating mark on its back and the ever-expanding web the beast weaved.

Strolling down the dusty strip constituting the island’s main drag, I was careful to keep an eye out for any passing cidoma ferrying people towards the distant morass of light and sound at the heart of the island’s nightlife. The horse-drawn carriages became a familiar sight and took on the appearance of ancient haunted carriages, their empty frames clunking over the sands and stone, appearing one second and storming into the ether the next. Theirs was an endless cycle, an infinite loop of Trawangan’s highway and byway.

The guesthouse owner 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) awaited. Introductions made, we jumped to the business in hand: ceremonial shots of arak celebrating the lethality of arak.

Island Living

Before we knew it, a few hours had passed; the day had faded into night as the moon shimmered and dissipated on the sea’s surface. The stars were out in force over neighbouring Lombok, the colossal grandeur of Mount Rinjani forming an abstract silhouette against the night sky. The night sky had taken on a silken, green hue that seemed to undulate and throb peacefully. This setting intimated it how it felt to exist in a cocoon.

The conversation flowed as well as the arak, or perhaps because of it. It was my friend who explained the subtlety of the island’s delicate eco-system: the erosion of the coral due to destructive fishing practices and how the divers’ reef tax counters the growing rubbish problem. Even paradise has its price, or so I gleaned.

Read more: North Sulawesi: Highlights From the Highlands.

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 every day and they must bring money to the island.’

My companions took on subtly conspiratorial air. They explained the process of sharing money on the island, which proved a most unequal affair. The secret cabal behind the scenes seemed to pocket the lot, leaving everyone else to fight over scraps.

Worlds Collide

Ferdinan, the quietest of the trio, 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 back to my lodgings 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, no surprise revealed. My time spent in Indonesia indicated similarly innate issues of corruption and economic disparity and, depressingly, I had no idea about how to resolve it.

As I headed toward my bungalow, begging pardon and weaving between a herd of cows that appeared from nowhere, I spied the Silk Spider. It had seemingly failed to move, but its web had grown infinitely larger.


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