High jinx at boot camp on Gili Nanggu


There exists on this fragrant island a rare and dwindling species of party mammals who have survived Ibiza and Goa. They now co-habit at the cross roads of the world with clear and present intentions to suck on the nectar of Bali and glean a life style akin to the famed lotus eaters of yore.

This week’s column is about a Dickensian character named Boots who hails from the heydays of Goa in the 70s. A man for all reasons he is now settled, in a manner of speaking, in Bali. Every so often he succumbs to the call of the wild life that beckons all who have set up home amidst the frangipani.

I met Boots through a friend, Mark Tuck of Paradise Properties, when I cooked an Indian meal at his home for family and friends. Since then we occasionally meet to reminisce and part-take of fortified h2o that is beautifully presented by his wife Nevi. His son Rohan, an avatar of Tom Sawyer, can be found climbing trees, throwing stones at imaginary monsters and beguiling guests with his witticisms.

Now that you have got the basic ingredients permit me to divulge details of the fascinating weekend on Gili Nanggu; where people of many nationalities congregated to celebrate Boots’ birthday.

The fast boat to iniquity took around two hours. On the fine sunny morning with the sea spray peppering the windows of the boat and Mount Agung gazing down at us from a distance one felt uneasy – uneasy because one cannot swim. I enjoyed the boat trip except for the water. There was too much water around.

We arrived at Gili Nanggu to warm comforting sand between the toes and chilled beer. Terra firma (after so much water) helped dispel the churning feeling in the stomach and the giddiness that came with the ‘rocking’ of the speedboat slicing its way through the choppy sea.

After a lunch of chicken curry and rice we dispersed…some to the beach, others to snorkel in the rooms.

For all those unenlightened folk who have yet to visit this island here are a few off the cuff remarks that may or may not find approval from all and sundry.

It takes about 30 minutes to walk around the island. Of course for those who carry an extra tire around the waist it may take up to an hour.

Traversing the island on foot can be daunting as there are rocks, debris of bottles and plastic waste (that needs to be removed) and trees which seem to conveniently fall across the beach with branches sipping the water from the sea.

There is a Buddhist temple on the island. However, I was too lazy to walk the walk and instead lounged with the hermit crabs that played hide and seek with every movement of the hand.

The hotel has a number of rooms with attached toilets that are in urgent need of renovation, a restaurant and a ‘play area’ where Boots set up his psychedelic paraphernalia and music system.

A few bales dot the beach front.

Okay that’s all the information you will be fed as you need to visit the island to enjoy the ‘other parts’.

While lying on the beach a respectable distance from the water line I was intermittently accosted by fellow guests who attempted to seduce me into the sea; fearful of drowning in three feet of water one escaped on a boat to sail around the island to watch sunset and take a few photographs for posterity. I returned at twilight to be greeted by throbbing trance music, laughter, and incessant chatter.

The dance floor was the beach. The props – tie dye fabric with colorful prints of Lord Buddha, Lord Shiva and retro psychedelic forms. UV lights placed strategically behind the stretched fabric transformed the display into ethereal images and with pulsating music one got the feeling that the event could have been mistaken for a get together of schizophrenics.

I sat in a darkened bale contemplating the futility of leaving such a menagerie of party animals to the elements while gently stroking my Arak Madu. Unfortunately all good things end…like my Arak Madu and so I was forced to enter the arena (dance floor) to be pleasantly massaged by outstretched arms of inebriated overflowing amphorae. Scuttling to the bar one managed to seize the day, in this case the night, pour myself a drink and make a dash for a group of locals sitting around a camp fire near the jetty. As luck would have it they turned out to be staff from our boat. Ignorant of the language, conversation quickly deteriorated into finger exercises, winks and a camaraderie that ridiculed sense and sensibility.

One of the prancing young bucks waved to me and asked, “What’s your name Bli? You India?”

“Yes from Bombay, my name is Mark Ulyseas”, I replied.

“What… Mark Useless?”

“Yes something like that”, I shouted above the throbbing monotonous music.

Then gibberish took hold as more beer arrived, courtesy yours truly.

The moonlit night and the sea gently kissing the shore were silent spectators to the shenanigans of homo-sapiens let loose to run free of inhibitions on a placid isle.

As the night wore on the revelers vanished into their hutments clutching anything they fancied. I on the other hand lay down on a bale, curled up and dreamt of the home I had left behind. Peace enveloped me to the vibrations of trance music which continued to play throughout the night until we departed the following day at noon. The wooden structure quivered with the sound waves.

An hour before dawn I was rudely awakened by a thud. Looming ominously on the beachhead was a gigantic Ogoh Ogoh with Spiderman in full flight on its back. Apparently Boots’ in all his wisdom decided to burn one at sunrise in keeping with tradition i.e. burning effigies on his birthday every year. He told me that this monstrosity was transported atop a boat like the one we arrived in.

As preparations for the incineration were underway, blurry eyed and bedraggled party animals began emerging from their shelters to witness the spectacle. Boots’ son Rohan and his friend held lit torches to the feet of the Ogoh Ogoh. Soon the monster was aflame to the sound of clicking cameras, clapping and yes, you guessed it – trance music. Alas, Spiderman refused to be drawn into the fire so stones and other objects were thrown to dismember the cartoon character. And as the smoldering remains of decadence lay scattered on the beach, the sun rose over Lombok lighting up the mighty Mount Rinjani to our left.

The sight was truly awe inspiring. Nature in all its glory had subdued our senses. The air tasted fresh except for the occasional whiff of beer breath. Some of us sat on the beach till the sun rose well into the sky.

Breakfast was a disappointment. The sticky omelet and cardboard bread was a far cry from reality. The only saving grace was the tea. How could anyone go wrong with a tea bag?

Answering the call of nature thereafter was an exercise in hop, skip and slide. It left one wondering whether the powers that be on the island had any intention of upgrading or at least maintaining a semblance of hygienic creature comforts that would entice tourists to return to the place.

Later in the day after we had submitted to the vagaries of sub standard hospitality, Mark Tuck, his friend Steve from Lake Tahoe, California, and me took a boat ride around the island. The short trip confirmed what I had thought all along – here was a beautiful isle that could be made a world class destination except for……

When we returned the trance music had stopped. The ensuing silence was deafening. The ringing in the ears and echoes of thumping rhythms was all that remained in one’s head.

The return boat journey was a nightmare as the sea was very rough and one of the passengers attempted to regurgitate her breakfast which fortunately was prevented by constantly talking to her about movies and in particular Dr. Zhivago.

Back on land once again I heaved a sigh of relief and profusely thanked Boots for inviting me to his birthday party and Mark Tuck for ensuring one did not drown.

The journey to iniquity and back was invigorating except for the boat ride. Next time round the preferred mode of transport would be by helicopter.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om