Waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic on a remote Indonesian island

It’s funny how such normal activities fill me with joy thanks to this whole “global pandemic” thing.

Yesterday, one of my favourite coffee shops on the island reopened (takeaway and delivery only, of course) so a small group of us went for lunch. We placed our orders and sat on the beach for a few hours, sipping the best coffee I’d had in literal months and watching the waves go by.

Before the world shut down, this was something that we’d do most days. Now, after over a month of things on the island being closed, it was a lovely, lovely novelty. As it was the first day the shop reopened and it had been publicised on our little island Facebook group, lots of people turned up. Strangers?! Everyone looked a little shellshocked to see Other People outside of the groups we’ve been individually isolating with.

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I realise that living on Gili T during this time is a huge privilege – not just because of the remoteness of the island but also because it’s become a sort of bubble. Similar to the dome that encompasses Springfield in The Simpsons Movie (one of the few cultural references I’m familiar with), Gili T is so far detached from the stress and panic surrounding the rest of the world that it’s quite surreal.

Still, news finds its way to us. I can’t wake up in the morning without an unwelcome pop up from Apple News, giving me “all the Coronavirus news you missed overnight!” So it’s not like I’m in the dark as to what’s going on. But life floats by when living on a tiny, tiny island, to the extent that while I’m aware of the news, it doesn’t massively affect my life too much.

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Unlike the rest of the world, the lack of virus on the island means I can still go to the gym here. I can leave the house (or, hostel) as many times as I like and I can still explore the island whenever I fancy. It almost feels like showing off when I tell my family what I’m up to and it includes more than just swapping the living room for the garden.

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There are other positives to being here during this time, too. The tiny number of expats and locals left on the island means everyone’s become quite good friends. As well as being nice from a sociable point of view, it’s come with invitations to some of the fanciest places on the island that I’d otherwise never be able to afford to go.

For example, it was the guy who owns the gym’s birthday a few weeks back. Our mutual friend, who manages one of the luxury hotels on the posh side of the island, threw gym guy a pool party. We spent the night drinking discounted cocktails and happy hour price wine, jumping in the pool and listening to music on makeshift DJ decks, courtesy of his brother who’s now also on an extended holiday here.

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That night, thoroughly drunk and somewhat incapable (and unwilling) of cycling through the island to get home, we were offered two rooms to stay in for free. These rooms are so posh that each individual bathroom comes with its own fishpond. You can (and I did) shower in the palm tree lined, open-air bathroom while koi fish swim around you. And we got to stay for free and cycle home in the morning, just because the hotel, like the rest of the island, is currently closed to tourists and therefore entirely empty.

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Another time, a different friend who manages some of the fancy private villas invited us for a pool party. We cycled through a beautiful, flower-cocooned lane to get to the villa, complete with huge pool and its own private bar. This time, I managed to cycle home, but a few friends again decided to crash at the villa just because it was an option.

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And this is pretty much what life boils down to at the moment. We utilise having friends who manage exclusive hotels, beautiful villas and empty homestays and turn up with food and alcohol and spend the day relaxing or partying. It’s given my friends and I a unique chance to truly explore Gili T without the price tag that these places would usually come with. For the time being, the island is basically our playground.

Of course, there are potential big negatives to being here too. I caught Dengue Fever last week and, during the middle of the night when my temperature shot up and I resorted to running clean socks under the cold tap and draping them across my body to cool down, I wondered how I’d get to the hospital. The island is so small that the nearest hospital is a cool 20 minute boat ride followed by a long car journey away. It’s not exactly ideal, especially at a time when the island is exit-only.

Thankfully, I spent almost a week in bed and recovered with the help of paracetamol, shit loads of rehydration sachets and lots of sympathy. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if any of us somehow broke a limb or contracted a bad case of Dengue. Or, of course, if it did somehow find its way to us, Coronavirus.

I’d always planned to stay on Gili T for at least six months, until July 2020. Obviously, no one knows how long this pandemic will last so I’ve resigned myself (not too sadly) to sticking around here for the foreseeable future. Understandably, the thought of spending 18 months on the other side of the world to my family and friends (and salt and vinegar crisps, monster munch, ASOS next day delivery and everything else I miss) is a bit disconcerting, so we’ve dubbed this indefinite period “coconut time”.

And for now, coconut time continues.

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