Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Walking on Air

Many years ago I was sitting on the London Underground, thumbing my way through a freebie magazine that I picked up outside the station. It was the kind of mag filled with a whole pot pourri of information. You know the sort: goth band after goth band doing the student bar circuit, waiting for their big break; cheap deals to Alicante and anywhere more sophisticated; spare boxrooms for rent in 3-storey hovels. I’d managed to get my fill of the publication in the time it took for the train to get from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road (which, for those who aren’t familiar with the Central Line, really isn’t that long at all). However, as I got up the last page of the mag grabbed my attention. Every week or month (however often this freebie was thrown together) there was a feature on “somewhere in the world”. I’d flicked through many of them in the past, but for some reason this one stuck in my mind: Gili Air.

Maybe it was being surrounded by upside-down smiles on the Tube, or the underwhelming UK summer temperature of that day. Maybe it was perfect escapism for a student too lazy to find a summer job. But I was drawn to this island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. The photo was classic picture postcard. No, it was more than that - it was like some airbrushed epic MGM production staring right back at me. All sunshine, palm trees, blue sea and unspoilt dreams. As I hit the streets, I ripped out the page and tossed the rest of it away.

I knew at that moment that I had to go there. More than any place before or since. It took me a few years. I can’t remember how long - maybe five years, maybe more. Regardless, I kept that page safe before resurrecting it for a backpacking trip over ground across South-East Asia – starting in Bangkok, ending in Lombok. After about five months of travel and heaven knows how many years of mental processing, I arrived at Gili Air.

And as I sat outside my hut, beer in hand and watching the sunset, I pulled out my picture. There I was in this low-tempo, no car space that I’d first come across on some drizzly London afternoon.

It hadn’t been the most extravagant or world-changing goal ever. And to be honest, neither had it kept me awake at night nor necessarily given me comfort in those darker moments. But it was always there. Quiet but there. And that evening, sitting on the porch of my hut, I just smiled and thought: “Nice”.

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