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Watch our video on the Gili Islands and pick up a copy of our March 2019 issue for more
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The boat sails from Bali in the early morning towards the Gili islands – three humps 60 blue miles to the east. Padang Bai port is like this: a jam of thin puppies and fortune-tellers balancing on uncertain boxes; dozing Swedish teenagers with hair sunned to candyfloss rousing each other to buy mango for the journey; smells of synthetic plum juice and drying fish. Up close, men with faces swathed in bandannas against the day’s coming heat hurl rucksacks and heavy poles of bamboo into piles as the vessel slops against its pontoon. The sky black as a flash storm approaches, ragged forks of lightning plunging down the horizon, the decks sodden, rain in our mouths. Ask anybody about the weather on the Gilis and they shrug. It can be pelting down on Lombok while the sun roasts high over the islands. Approached from the sea, the three Gilis emerge like a dream of coconut-palm-feathered desertness; bean-green freaked with white and gold. Some people visit just one island. Others hop between the three. The distance between them seems seductively swimmable but the current is deep and strong, and boats labour back and forth. And although there are similarities (each is Muslim, each bans mechanical vehicles bar horse-drawn carts and bikes), each island is distinct.