Throughout my time here, granted it hasn't been long, there have been several occurrences which after a short amount of time begin to seem perfectly normal. I realized that although I may have mentioned them, a few deserve further description, because they really are quite bazaar. For starters, the Gili Islands and run by the mafia. Yes, there is an Indonesian mafia. The islands have no police force of any kind, with exception to the random checks officers perform by showing up and "making sure everything is ok". What does this mean you might ask, well it doesn't mean there are rebellions running the street burning down bamboo shacks, but it does mean you can buy "magic mushroom shakes" at about every corner, as well as a plethora of other drugs. In fact, you could actually sit at a bar and smoke a joint as you would a cigarette and nobody would look twice at you. The island is a small community thought and you get the feeling everyone is watching out for one another and after taking to people who had lived there for some time, it sounds like it all somehow works.
The people on the Gilis are very different from anywhere else I have been in South East Asia as well. The women, who in other countries are usually pretty forward, trying to sell you things to give you a massage, were very quiet and reserved. The men however seemed to over compensate, as they called out to you every time you walked by, either also trying to sell you something, or as far as grabbing your arm and telling you they love you. Or in Camille's case, trying to kiss you on the cheek. At first I found it so annoying I could hardly believe it, but after time you realize it's much easier to simply pretend you didn't hear them, and they generally don't harass you quite as much. In fact, it gets worse on Kuta, the popular beach in Bali because the men are not only trying to get your attention, they're trying to get hired. The "Kuta Cowboys" as they are known cruise the streets for women to wine and dine, and bill. Glorified male prostitutes are really what they are, and knowing they exist makes you a it hesitant to talk to a local for more than 5 minutes. One positive thing I can say however, is just about every man who we told we were from the US promptly replied with "Obama!". I realized this is the first time I have traveled and not been tempted to sew a Canadian flag on my backpack.
The food on the Gilis is also interesting as it's way easier to find pizza or a burrito than it is Indonesian cuisine. After getting to know some locals however, we found the local eateries where the food was 10 times better than the anything on the beach. The spot specifically, where we visited a few times, you didn't really order anything other than chicken or beef and a friendly woman with little to no English scooped rice, veggie, meat, tofu, some sort of broth, and on other thing which I think had nuts in it into a bowl and handed it over with a smile. A large meal which really feels you up, and only for $1.50.
Lastly, an incident which I cannot believe I forgot to write about, its amazing what a $400 bribe can get you. In this case, it got my friend Aaron through customs. He arrived at the airport in Bali from Thailand and was out of pages in his passport for the enormous sticker Indonesia has which takes up a whole page. The girls and I, not knowing what was happening and why he had been taken into a back room, waited for about twenty minutes when Aaron emerged looking, for lack of a better word, pissed. He informed us that because of his full passport they were intending on sending him back to Thailand (at his expense I assume), where he would have to have more pages added at the American Embassy in Bangkok. Luckily for Aaron he had a good amount of cash on him was able to bribe the customs agent to put the sticker on the back page, which specifically states that it must remain blank. Needless to say it was a shaky start to our time here, but as most bad situations usually prove, it made for a good story.
I have had an amazing time here though and found it incredibly hard to step onto the boat and away for the Gilis this afternoon. Now back in Kuta we leave in the morning for Bangkok. I'm not sure when, but I will definitely be back.