Gili Meno is not hugely disimilar to Gili Air – it is a tiny and beautiful island with a population of 400 and little in the way of development (it doesn't even have an ATM). The significant difference, however, is that Gili Meno's restaurants and bars are spread out around the island's coast (which takes about an hour to walk the whole way around) with areas of beautiful beach in between with nothing overlooking it. It just feels much quieter than Gili Air – at no point could we see more than a dozen other tourists, and often far fewer. It's also even sleepier than Gili Air, with everything closing early and nothing even close to a late-night party scene.
We spent some relaxing time on the beach, as well as walking around the island, stopping at various points for food/drinks/relaxing in bean-bags/hammocks. It was really lovely.
Gili Meno may not offer as much as Gili Air when it comes to food and drink, but it does have something that Gili Air does not – a turtle hatchery. We spent plenty of time watching tiny baby turtles splashing around, playing and fighting, and sponsored one (if anyone meets a turtle named Koopa-Troopa in the future, tell him his adopted parents say “hi”).
We also visited the bird sanctuary in the centre of the island. It is quite a sad place because the birds are kept in quite small enclosures, along with a few non-avian inhabitants (specifically a goat, a crocodile, and a kimodo dragon). However, after speaking to the owner, who has run the sanctuary for only the last two years, it appears that most of the animals have been resued and have nowhere else to go. He is also planning to make significant improvements so hopefully conditions will improve. The bright side was that we were able to go into some of the enclosures, and get up close and personal with some impressive birds.
The undoubted highlight of Gili Meno was a dolphin spotting trip. There is one man in the Gilis who offers dolphin spotting tours. He is an Indonesian bloke who goes by the name of Dean (which may or may not be his real name) and who hangs around outside one of the dive shops on Gili Meno. It was only after handing over a considerable amount of cash to him that we started to question i) whether we would see him the following morning as agreed, and ii) why, if there are dolphins to be seen, does nobody else offer such tours. However, he seemed like an honest guy, and had freely told us that sometimes he sees no dolphins at all which, bizarrely, gave us some confidence. All we could do was cross our fingers and hope for the latter.
Fortunately “Dean” was there at 5.30am the following day, and we set off along with an American girl named Christine who we had befriended at our guesthouse. The trip started well with a nice sunrise, but time passed, and passed...and passed some more without any sign of a dolphin.
2 hours in I muttered what turned out to be the magic words: “It's just not going to happen is it”. In the same breath I followed that with: “was that a pair of fins?”. Over the next hour we must have seen around 30 dolphins as they surfaced while feeding. There may well have been playing a game with us as every time we got close to a group they disappeared and another group appeared in a different direction. We did, however, get close enough to see some pretty well (although only briefly) including one who playfully leaped out of the water. It was great! Unfortunately the dolphins were too quick for us to get any really good photos, but if anyone is interested in some wobbly footage of the ocean then feel free to let me know.
I hadn't even considered being able to get any closer to the dolphins until Christine asked if we could swim with them, and the crew replied with something along the lines of “I don't see why not”. Unfortunately the sight of my pasty torso scared the dolphins off, because as soon as we were ready to jump in with snorkels and fins on we couldn't get close to any. The crew had an innovative solution; they suggested that we hang on to the bamboo floats either side of the boat as it chased the dolphins. Christine sensibly opted out, but Monique and I were stupid enough to give it a go.
The dolphins saw more than just my torso, because as the boat took off and I hung onto the float my shorts were very nearly left behind us. Shorts tightened I managed to hang on long enough to see the blurry outline of a dolphin as it swam a few metres under me. Have I swum with dolphins? Well, I wasn't as much swimming as I was hanging on for dear life, and what I saw was a fuzzy grey dolphin shape, so I'd probably have to say “no”, but it was a pretty awesome and unique experience.
On the way back to Gili Meno we stopped off to do a couple of hours of snorkelling which included a couple more turtles, plenty of cool fish, and a beautiful eel. The highlight was a huge and beautiful hawksbill turtle who let us float directly over her for ages as she drifted along doing her own thing. I also enjoyed spying on some scuba divers below us. It wasn't the best snorkelling spot in the Gilis, but by any other standards it was really great.
Reluctantly, with our flight to Singapore fast approaching, we left Gili Meno behind us as we took the fast boat back to Bali. Gili Meno had been just what we had been hoping for – beautiful and relaxing, a sort of holiday within a holiday.