Gili Meno island in Indonesia is so small that you can walk around it in half a day. It is part of the Gillis, a group of three islands located just off Lombok. Gili Air is quieter than Meno (well it was until I picked up my pack back and came face to pincers with a scorpion!). Whilst, Gili Trawangan is the party on down island. The beaches are stunning, the snorkelling amazing and the locals very accommodating and friendly. It is an ideal place to chill out.
There were very few tourists on the island and at the time of our visit the resident population (about 1,000 people) outnumbered the tourists by a ratio of approximately 20 – 1. Unfortunately, the hawkers, who caught the ferry from Lombok on a daily basis, also outnumbered the tourists. Pearls “very good quality” (not), trinkets and beads (cheap and nasty), sarongs and clothes (loud floral designs and badly made) were waved under our noses throughout the day. One particularly persistent man told me that unless he sold something his children would go hungry. He huffed off when I told him that I didn’t respond to emotional blackmail and that maybe he should spend the ferry fare from Lombok and back on food for his kids. It may seem harsh but believe me once you start making interested noises the rest of the beach sellers will home in like heat seeking missiles.
Because the island was so small we became a friendly with many of the locals we met on our walks. Often we were the only customers at the various establishments away from the beach and we usually ended up chatting to the owner, staff and any other local with time on their hands. We also got to know the guys who ran a small beach bar that we often collapsed in after our ‘treks’. The staff entertained us with funny stories and wisecracks before settling down to the serious business of chess. As most of the beach boys I’ve encountered are into physically challenging water sports, the sight of the local Jack the Lads in straw hats, sunnies, teeshirts and shorts hunched over a chess board was unusual and therefore fascinating.
One day whilst we were chillin at the bar having a bite to eat, there was a flurry of activity from the staff that caused tourists heads to rise from books, drinks and food. A speed boat had landed on the beach and a couple were being ushered up to the bar’s cafe where the owner made a real production of greeting them. The woman lapped up it up whilst her husband sat timidly by her side. Looking at the menu she announced in a voice as loud and deep as a fog horn that they wanted tuna sandwiches and beers. She then complained to the tour guide and restaurant in general about the exorbitant cost (their menu evidently quoted American big bucks). My companion and I exchanged alarmed looks as we had ordered and were currently tucking into tuna sandwiches ourselves. However, our menu had had the prices in the local currency and it was nowhere near as expensive. Other diners were obviously thinking the same thing as there was a sudden need by a large section of the cafe’s occupants to study the menu again (the tuna must have been a popular choice). It was as we remembered and we concluded that the new arrivals had been given the wrong menu. Before we could say anything the owner started to race around the tables, check menus and talk quietly in people’ ears. By the time he reached our table he had started to giggle and proceeded to explain that there were two menus in circulation. One for regulars who stayed on the island and one for visitors from the very expensive resorts in Lombok. The visitors it seemed paid top American dollar for everything and had no idea they were being fleeced. I began to feel sorry for them.
A hawker, having been alerted that there were rich pickings to be made, appeared from nowhere and made a bee line for the visitors table. We knew this particular man as he was fascinated by my travelling partner’s antiquated long wave radio and had tried to blag it off him on several occasions without success. In fact many beach sellers in all parts of the world are fascinated by this radio. I think it has something to do with the swathes of duct tape holding the body together and the piece of bent wire acting as an ariel that appeals to them. After discussing the radio the conversation invariably turns to football and the male bonding process begins. Thereafter they don’t try to sell us anything but just squat down, bum a cigarette and have chat whilst eyeing up this veritable DIY wonder.
The man waved strings of pearls in front of the woman, who on examining a few necklaces announced to everyone in hearing that she was a fashion expert, in the trade and had a shop in Austria.
“I’ll give you fifty dollars for the black pearls and that’s my final offer. Don’t try and barter with me, I know what I am talking about and that’s all they are worth” she said.
Any sympathy I felt began to fade as she obviously had more money than sense.
The seller’s eyes bulged with shock but he recovered his wits quickly and replied “eighty”.
“Fifty dollars and no more, I’m a fashion buyer, and I know what I’m talking about” she reiterated. He agreed readily.
Suddenly she was beset by hawkers. Bad taste sarongs, shapeless clothes, hippie unsophisticated jewellery – she bought it all. Refusing to barter she’d named a price and knowing that it was way over what they’d normally make the offer was meekly accepted. Now most switched on people would have realised that this behaviour was well out of character for sellers, surmised that they had offered too much money and moderate their bartering techique. But this women continued to proclaim how wonderful she was, that she knew what she was doing and that she could sell for so much more money in her country.
Eventually the money ran out and the hawkers backed off. Paying an outrageous amount of money for the meal they departed loaded down with goods, none the wiser that they had been thoroughly ripped off and that we all had found it highly entertaining. Our friend the pearl hawker came up to me and showed me a necklace.
“I’ll give you 50 dollars and no more” I said laughing.
He cast his eyes up to the sky then looked backwards to the departing speed boat. “Ssssstuuuupid tourists” he said, gave me a massive grin and left.