Despite our frustrations getting to Gili Meno, once we finally arrived on what the locals refer to as “honeymoon island,” we knew it was well worth the trouble. We had managed to book two nights at The Sunset Gecko, a small cluster of huts that make up a tiny resort. All we knew about the place was that it had an eco-friendly philosophy on tourism and that it was Japanese-owned.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by the owner himself, Hiro, a former environmental engineer and longtime backpacker. He offered us much-appreciated welcome drinks and immediately started telling us about his guesthouse, his views on sustainable tourism, and why we weren’t allowed to use our own soap. He explained that the island of Gili Meno has no fresh water source so all of its 500 or so inhabitants get their water transported by boat from the island of Lombok – about a 30 minute ride away. The process of bringing water is very costly and so the resource is treated parsimoniously and with a lot of care. Hiro built this island paradise with all this in mind. The fresh water is used for cooking and showers and then recycled for use in the toilets and for watering what now amounts to the greenest garden on the entire island. All guests are given their own individual bars of natural soap that is made every few days by the staff to use in the showers, cheap water-bottle refills are available and a local plant whose name I forget is used as mosquito-repellent (lucky for us, since ours seemed quit ineffective). After a week seeing Jakarta through a car window and breathing in its pollution, this was the breath of fresh air we needed. Sadly, we found that much of Java was really polluted and littered with rubbish. The island of Gili Meno still had problems with waste management, one that Hiro is trying to resolve by setting up a cooperative on the island to help deal with it. It was really inspiring to see that efforts were being put towards countering the negative effects of an ever-expanding tourist industry – Hiro told us that the neighbouring island of Gili Trawangan receives close to 200 new visitors every day, a staggering number considering the small size of the island and the minimal local population.
It would have been easy just to spend our days sipping cold drinks and watching the waves crash against the rocks while ignoring how our desire to find seclusion and paradise may effect the local environment. It was extremely refreshing for both Geneviève and myself to meet someone who actually cared about the impact of the very industry which supported his business. While Hiro had envisioned The Sunset Gecko as a “kind of paradise,” he has never lost sight of how such an endeavour could effect the environment, or the people who had been living on these islands for decades. Our days on Gili Meno were therefore equally occupied by our talks with Hiro as they were with reading, catching up on Boardwalk Empire, going snorkelling, taking long walks around the island and along its lengthy beaches, and falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean. Finally, as the sun was coming down at the end of each day I realized I had found an accomplice in Hiro – he too was obsessed with sunsets, so much that he chose this spot on the island because of its amazing sunset views (see the last few images in the gallery below for proof). He even invited us to visit him again in 2012 in the Australian outback, where he and a group of his friends will meet to celebrate a total solar eclipse (Hiro is a self-proclaimed eclipse chaser).
Here are a few photos from our week on Gili Meno, including the nocturnal creatures which gave Hiro’s guesthouse its name. Take a look at the view from our gazebo and you’ll see why two days turned into seven…click and enjoy!