Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sunset Gecko at Gili Meno

Frolicking on the beach of a small secluded island might be the holiday dream of most work-drenched men and women. Away from the noisy, clogged and polluted city streets, one can warm their tired feet on sun-baked sand, swim above coral reefs and laze in a bale bengong (stilted open-air wooden hut) with a good book while feeling the delicious sea breeze against their skin. Looking up, instead of a hazy gray sky, one can see the blue of the sky during the day or the twinkling stars at night.
It is definitely my kind of holiday.
So, when I had the chance to escape the capital, I grabbed it and without hesitation I headed to Lombok's Gili Meno.
Some 30 kilometers east of the tourist island of Bali, Gili Meno is the smallest of the three small sand islands northwest of Lombok, in West Nusa Tenggara.
The bigger Gili Trawangan is more famous and has been dubbed the party island by visitors for its lively night life. Gili Air is the biggest and most populated.
All three islands have no motor vehicles roaming the streets. Horse drawn carts called Cidomo and bicycles are the only means of transportation around.
My companion and I took the night flight from Jakarta to Bali on a Friday night and continued to Trawangan on a fast boat, Saturday morning. From there, we hopped on a chartered boat and arrived at Meno around 11 a.m.
When we arrived, little did we know that apart from the expected relaxation time in that tranquil spot, we would be inspired by our environmentally conscious host.
Based on a friend's recommendation, we looked for a place called Sunset Gecko. Our boatman pointed out the resort, which had no signboard but a big, wooden gecko on the wall of the dining place.
Situated on the beach, the resort has a number of small cottages and a main building for dining and the kitchen. The small resort boasts a beautiful garden, with blossoming plants and banana trees. Four comfy bale bengong look over the sea and Gili Trawangan with its tall telecommunications tower.
A Japanese man in his early 40s Hiro Tanaka, who we later found out was the owner of the place, greeted us. After we checked in, we made ourselves comfortable in the shady huts looking out to the sea.
Always intrigued by cool Japanese people, we speculated about Tanaka's story. Looking at the beautiful and tidy resort, I guessed he had a degree in hotel management. My travel partner disagreed, guessing that Tanaka was a well-traveled and highly educated person, who for one reason or another decided to open a resort in a small island in Indonesia.
The latter guess was closer to the truth. In one conversation, I found out that he was one of the few idealists who wanted to save the earth, but was obstructed by the politics of the world.
Tanaka is a businessman who set up an alternative energy conversion company with his business partner in Canada. Their product was a patented pyrolysis machine that can transform plastic waste into its former form: oil.
After two years of lobbying city administrations to use the technology without giving money under table, he decided to quit and start making change on a smaller scale.
He grew up in the arid desert of Quwait, while his father worked for a Japanese oil company, Tanaka says that he always dreamed of having a place to share with people.
Three years ago, with friends from different parts of the world, he opened Sunset Gecko, which adheres to eco-friendly practices.
More than often, tourists looking for unspoiled nature to escape the city's pollution end up damaging the environment of their holiday destination. Beautiful spots in Bali have become testament of this, with overdevelopment resulting in beach erosion.
Tanaka witnessed environmental degradation in Northern Thailand, when six years ago he visited a pristine beach with only two hotels. Three years later, 30 new ones have mushroomed, with mounting piles of garbage.
He says that as he got older he realized that he was part of the problem as he too created garbage. "We always say 'this shouldn't be like this. Oh, you shouldn't burn the plastics' dadadada.
"But when you become an adult, you start to think 'Hey, whose responsibility is this?'. It's easy to say (for an example), *This is the Balinese government's problem'. But then the government doesn't do (anything) and we just keep doing the same troublesome things," he says.
"We just keep messing, creating more garbage, buying chocolate (and throwing away the wrappers), smoking cigarettes and throwing the ash on the street. No, it shouldn't be like this," he says.
So, he opened Sunset Gecko with the hope that he can make a difference.
The resort recycles the water from the dishwashing, laundry, and showers to water the plants. Hiro says that they used a three-step filtration system he learned from reading books and internet sites. He mixed the organic solid residue and organic waste from the kitchen to make compost.
Sunset gecko also makes natural soap in the kitchen. This too he learned from books and the internet. He uses palm and coconut oils for the soap and leaves it to harden as soap bars for six weeks. The soap was one of the highlights of the resort for me. It didn't leave the skin dry and was even great when I used it to wash my hair.
Apparently, the news of the natural soap from Sunset Gecko has traveled around. Two Japanese women that stayed at Gili Trawangan traveled to Gili Meno to purchase the soap.
Tanaka says that it was not for sale as it was for guests to use. Eventually, the women left with two soap bars each.
Another impressive part of Gecko was the beautiful garden, with various plants. Hiro says that once local island residents came to the resort and marveled at the banana trees.
"They were really surprised. *A banana tree on the beach? How come?' they asked. I told them that we make compost for the soil and villagers have started to copy that," Tanaka says.
In Gili Meno, where fresh water is shipped from Lombok, eco-friendly practices are not an option. It is a necessity.
While Sunset Gecko is alive and kicking, walking around Gili Meno I found a number of accommodations seemed to be out of business. I passed an abandoned desolate place with an overturned table which seemed to had been a restaurant. Another resort looked closed an empty.
Sunset Gecko has a friendly atmosphere with guests greeting each other and sharing their latest experience in the water. Just dipping to waters in front of the beach of the resort will lead you to nice coral reef and sightings of beautiful sea creatures.
Sea turtles with their ancient look swim around the sea. One guests says that he went snorkeling and saw a Manta ray.
As the sun sets, the sky turns into a purplish color. Guests would hang around the open air dining room with drinks chatting, while sounds of geckos joining the chatter.
As the night grows late, the sight of Trawangan with its colorful lights looked like a big ship. A staff commented that it looked like the Titanic ship.
The best part was lying in a wooden beach chair and looking up to the sky. The stars twinkling and I started to fall asleep.

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