Heading off the East of Bali, my boyfriend and I took a fast boat to the largest of the Gili Islands in Indonesia: Gili Trawangan. By day, the island holds the perfect hallmarks of holiday postcards and Instagram selfies: a swing set by the edge of the beach, clear waters, white sand, and the hot, blistering sun. By night, the island comes alive with not only loud music and dancing but also with tourists looking to score some illegal but ‘hey-we’re-on-an-island-wink-wink’ drugs.
Indonesia's drug policy
Being born and raised in Indonesia, I can tell you that getting caught with a grinder in your car can land you up to two years in prison (with a joint, four years). I can also tell you that these sentences tend to get lighter (or completely disappear) when more money is slipped into the right hands. With corruption seen as a normality, Gili Trawangan has become a hotspot for illegal drugs in Indonesia. The promotion of it is so evident that it makes one wonder: um, where’s the firing squad? What happened to Indonesia’s law supporting the death penalty for drug offenders?
With the Bali Nine executions in 2015 and many more since, Indonesia’s death penalty is not just a scare tactic, but a harsh reality. President Joko Widodo has even enforced the shooting of foreign drug traffickers in Indonesia, strengthening the country’s no-mercy policy on drugs. On this island, however, locals and tourists alike turn a blind eye and that’s why we’re here. Once we checked-in our hotel, we left our bags and hit the streets with our empty stomachs. Luckily for us, the island centre was just a 3-minute walk away.
Gili T.'s mushroom shakes
There are no cars in Gili Trawangan, tourists travel by foot, bicycle, or horse. With one dirt road path outlining the beach, we stroll through the centre passing by bohemian surf shops and seafood restaurants. Not long into the search, we start hearing multiple locals whisper, ‘Mushroom, mushroom?’ as we walk by. We also see some peculiar signs outside of small, local bars. It was pretty easy to find what we were looking for. Drugs are hard to ignore on this island
With that, we chose a bar, sat on a stool, ordered a mushroom shake, and chatted with the bartender. After inspecting the bundle of shrooms wrapped in palm leaves, we give the guy a nod and he blends it all up with some Coca-cola and orange juice. He gives us the drinks, we give him about €20 and headed back towards the streets. It was as simple as buying weed from a coffee shop, just with a little more haggling.
Walking the path, locals definitely knew what was in our plastic cups. A waiter standing in front of a restaurant called me over and told me I dropped something. After about three minutes of searching what it could be, he told me I dropped my smile and it provoked a roar of laughter from his colleagues. Feeling gullible, I rushed towards the beach to get away from the crowd and watch the sun set. The scenery alone would make travelers appreciate where they are. Add shrooms to the mix and you might be like me, tearing up at the sound of the waves.
Resting on the sand, we stayed there amused by the littlest of things. We saw honeycombs in the clouds, thought the wind was whispering to us, and eventually, got a little paranoid. As time passed, the beach got darker. Pretty soon our only source of light is coming from the flashes of colours we see a few meters away: a club! We started walking again, dazed by the parties buzzing around us. When we pass a bar hosting a beer pong tournament, we hear someone whisper, ‘Weed, weed?’ Without hesitating we took a seat next to this random, local man.
He introduced himself to us as Dennis. He told us that he was from the neighbouring island called Lombok. He lives there with his mother and currently has 7kg of weed waiting for him to sell at home. He tells us that the summer is the best time for him to make money in Gili T. as tourists ‘love his shit, they love it!’ Having already made the sale when he first whispered ‘weed,’ we were on board. He pulled us towards the darkness of the beach and handed us a bag. We both smelled it and the first thing we noticed: it smells sweet. Not a child’s perfume kind of sweet, but just a hint of a tropical fruit kind of sweet.
Noticing our perplexity, Dennis pulls out a joint from his pocket and lights it up. He passes it around and let’s just say that if we were to compare it to Dutch weed: it's shit. He tells us it's all the way from Aceh and to be honest, at this point we didn’t care. All we knew is that we wanted some. We discussed the price and paid Dennis about €15 for a gram. Papers were sold at local k-marts, so those weren’t hard to find. With the essentials at hand, we were ready to end the night.
On the balcony back in our hotel room, we rolled the last of our weed and marvelled on about the night. With the country’s policies on drugs, our experience in Gili Trawangan was surprisingly relaxed and easy going. Although fun, we couldn’t help but feel the risk we were taking. The worth of taking that risk was a constant question in our minds. After killing the joint, we stood up and proceeded to shake some sand off our heads (we might have rolled around in the beach at one point). Our bodies find the bed and we fall asleep listening to National Geographic, ending our drug hunt in Indonesia.
Text & images: Anonymous