I couldn’t help but laugh when, during my first week on Gili T, one of the girls I was on a night out with got so drunk she couldn’t stand up.
Not because she was drunk (we’ve all been there) but because, instead of calling her an Uber or finding the nearest night bus to take her home, our only option was to hunt down a horse and cart.
On Gili T, the tiny Indonesian island that I currently call home, public or private transport isn’t A Thing. Residents and tourists travel around by bicycle or on foot (not too difficult when the entire island has a circumference of a mere 7km) or flag down a horse and cart to take them from A to B.
It’s that kind of surreal feeling that hasn’t really passed since I upped sticks and left London in December.
It’s fair to say that my initial plan has well and truly gone Tits Up. I spent three weeks in Cambodia and, briefly, China, before popping by the UK for 4.5 days and then moving to Indonesia with a plan to spend six months here.
I spent one month on Bali, learning about digital marketing, and then went on my merry way to Gili Trawangan, a 2.5 hour speedboat journey away.
The original plan was to spend five months here and then head off somewhere else in South East Asia or possibly Australia. The big novelty of this decision was its open-endedness: I spent three years working full time in London enjoying myself, but hating the strict routine. I’d travel to different countries, cramming as many stops in as possible on a tight day-to-day schedule, meeting people who’d quit their jobs and moved to a new place spontaneously.
After work became too stressful in London with no sign of slowing down, I applied for a six month digital marketing role in Indonesia. I’ve got plenty to say about that specifically at some point, because what seemed like an incredible opportunity resulted in one of the most stressful weeks of my life. It’s something I’ll touch on another time because, in all honesty, I’m not emotionally stable enough yet for any kind of backlash that will almost definitely appear.
So I moved to Gili T and settled into a sort of routine. Well, as much of a routine as is possible when you’re doing social media for a party hostel that prides itself on a different night out every day of the week. My routine revolved around drinking, sleeping, creating social media content and meeting new people. It was the best sort of almost uni-esque lifestyle that a 24-year-old, ex-uni student could ever want to live: five minutes away from the beach, days of blazing sunshine, plenty of new friends and unlimited, free alcohol.
And everything was fine until our friend ‘Rona came along. While it at first seemed like a distant threat that wouldn’t affect us, it quickly became the worldwide panic that’s taking the planet by the worst kind of storm today. In a period of only a few weeks, our hostel emptied out, international borders closed and I was left with the decision to stick it out in Indonesia or head back to the UK.
In theory, it was a fairly easy decision. Indonesia has sunshine, it has the beach, the warm temperatures, the benefit of being remote enough to not be captured by Coronavirus if we were prepared. Going home would mean quite literally throwing myself into the eye of the storm, with “herd immunity” and our Prime Minister telling the world with a smile: “your loved ones will die.”
In practice, it was a decision that almost drove me back to my “so anxious I wake up at 5am to throw up daily” times. With lots of pressure on me to leave but support from my parents, friends and manager to stay, I had to weigh up heading home for three months of isolation or staying with my new support network on Gili T.
And here we are now. Looking back through some old photos really drove home the differences I’ve adapted to out here and what’s become the new normal. Back in London, I wouldn’t leave the house without lipstick on – even just to pop to the shops. Here, I haven’t worn makeup in weeks. In London, I’d grab an Uber if I couldn’t be bothered to get on the Tube. Here, moving house meant trawling through muddy puddles and attempting to balance a 30kg suitcase on the front of my bike, cycling down bumpy lanes and dodging palm trees.
But more importantly, in London, there was always something that needed doing or something I should add to the list or somewhere I needed to be. Here, there’s a much slower pace of life that I never thought I’d genuinely enjoy. On Gili T, everything works on Indonesian time. It’s a case of having patience, not rushing around and barely recognising times, dates and days of the week as real things.
Admittedly, I’m very fortunate. My social media role here is currently paused because there’s no point promoting a hostel that people can’t currently visit. The tourist borders are closed and getting a boat off of Gili T has become a one-way option. But I can stay in my accommodation for free, I can eat and drink for free, and I have a great support network here.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not all carefree here. The threat of Coronavirus is ever-looming and no one’s entirely sure what’s going to happen. But we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. For the first few days, the expats on the island all got together, drinking and partying and relaxing. Now, we’re all on a sort of miniature lockdown period for a few weeks. Then, once a quarantine period has passed and there’s no one leaving or entering the island (other than to drop necessary supplies) we’re hoping that we can go back to a sort of normal. No tourists, but a chance for those living on the island to be able to enjoy it without fear of getting ill.
Currently, my routine is fairly open ended but consistent. I get up, have a shower, take my vitamins and have an omelette for breakfast. Then, I either spend the morning working on freelance projects or going to the beach. After that it’s lunch, a cycle around the island and going for a swim or playing Monopoly. Evenings are spent watching films or drinking in our little quarantine group.
We haven’t lost all sense of fun: “making the best of a bad situation” included the necessary introduction of the Corona drinking game. Say the “C” word and you take a shot. No matter what time of day or where you might be. Not only has it stopped us talking about “the virus” as much, but it’s brought a little bit of fun into the whole, terrifying situation.
For the first time in months, I’m writing for enjoyment rather than a commission and I’m getting the chance to actually slow down. I don’t think there’ll ever be another time in my life where I’m able to live on a paradise island for free with virtually no responsibilities, surrounded by close friends in the sunshine and never more than a 20 minute walk to the sea.
I have enough freelance income to actually hopefully save a bit while I’m out here and the opportunity to get to know the other expats who live on the island. I may not be able to get back to the UK and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of low-level anxiety about what’ll happen in the semi-near future but, for now, this is a kind of normal that I’m very happy to accept.