A collection of adventures on Gili Meno.

A collection of adventures on Gili Meno.

Gili Meno is one of a string of three islands referred to as ‘The Gili Islands’, or ‘The Gili’s’ for short, off the coast of Bali. I spent about 4 magical months living on Meno, diving the days away and spending quiet nights under the stars. Gili Meno 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 has accompanied me on every adventure since then.

Fire dancing

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

One evening a group of us made a bonfire on the beach and one of the locals. Spurred on by good vibes, the fresh air and my friends I finally made this dream a reality. One of the local guys lend me his (actual!!) fire poi’s and after a few false starts I managed to get into a rhythm. The fire swoosh-swooshing past enclosed me in a little bubble where only the flames and I existed. I wanted that moment to last for ever, but running out of tricks (remember I only had about two), I decided to end my performance with a huge smile on my face and a happy heart.

This moment taught me to live out of my comfort zone, that one moment of saying ‘Yes, I think I will try that tonight’ could make all the difference between ‘I wish I could do that’ and ‘I just did THAT!’.

Attack of the Trigger fish

Trigger fish can become extremely territorial, especially while they are feeding or mating. Their territories expand in a cone shape up from the bottom and they can become quite fierce if you enter this space.

I was on a scuba dive 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 I accidently swam into a Titan trigger fish’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 happened. I quickly swam away from the area to continue my dive, keeping my eye on the fish that bit me.

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

The Gilis’ Titan trigger fish taught me that sometimes crappy things happen. It is scary and it hurts, even though you were aware of the risks when you started. And that it is ok, just keep swimming, because 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 tourists high seasons throughout 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 found 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 the quiet and grounded French-Canadian who taught me about non-judgment and spirituality. About the importance of spending time with yourself and devouring a packet of Oreo’s for dinner without worrying about getting fat – because you feel like it and it gives you the utmost pleasure.

Then there was the German woman who is now the mother of my god-son. 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 like the high seasons I was chasing. She became a close friend and came to visit me when I moved back to Thailand. She fell in love and became pregnant and blessed me with the wondrous experience of sharing the moment of first hearing the beat of her baby’s heart.

The 50-something perpetual nomad showed me how to have fun again, how everyone is still a child at heart. He also encouraged me to follow my dreams always, no matter whether you fit into other people’s stereotype or not. He taught me some Dutch and was committed to living a large life with a quiet maturity, calm and mischievous sparkle in his eye.

A French-and-Indonesian couple showed me that sometimes, the cost of speaking your truth could lead to conflict. They also taught me that speaking your truth preserves your authenticity and self-respect. That no matter what happens, when you are true to you, you become unshakable and that no matter what happens, the important part is to walk away from anything in life with your integrity intact and your head held high. They are now running their own dive centre and resort in Indonesia.

The friends I made while living on Gili Meno will stay with me throughout my lifetime not just because of the wonderful people that they are, but because of all that they had taught me.

Getting back on the bike

There are absolutely no motorised vehicles on Gili Meno. The ‘taxi’s’ are donkey carts and bicycles are a popular form of transportation. At that point I haven’t been on a bicycle in nearly 2 decades. I was also slightly (ok, maybe more than slightly) clumsy and definitely not someone you would 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 some shred of balance while dodging past the chickens deliberately running out in front of me!

I worked my way to the interior of the island on the recently cement 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 were hurt.

One evening I was on the back of my friend’s bike, making our way into the interior of the island. The air was balmy and the stars bright, it was Meno Magic at its best… until we hit a patch of sand and fell over. I am an over cautious person and generally don’t get hurt- or even put myself in a situation where there is even a small potential that I might get hurt. I picked myself up off of the ground with a skinned knee and sore foot. 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 ok, I’m ok!’. Bicycling was scary for me in the light of day, this was just terrifying. But I made it in the end.

I learned that life is all about balance. That 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. The important part is that you pick yourself off 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 a tiny island. The core of the island houses a small fishing village. Malls, shopping centres and, yes, cinemas are non-existent on this bit of paradise. And that is exactly as it should be! When you live there for a while, you do feel like you need a bit of that modern comfort, though.

Enter ‘Movies under the starts’ nights. 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 going past made this an absolutely magical experience.

The movies were whatever we had available- definitely not one of the latest releases. Instead of a big screen we peered at a laptop through the growing dark of night. Sometimes, in life things are not ideal. That doesn’t mean that they could not be perfect- and exactly what you need in that moment.

Gili Meno not only offered me some wonderful memories and lifelong friends- it offered me some valuable life lessons in being open, in being able to love and be loved, in savouring every moment perfect in its imperfection.

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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