One moment. One decision. One second. It’s all it takes to completely change your life forever.
“Are you guys okay?” It was a message that popped up on my Facebook. ‘Australians in fatal Bali explosion.’ My heart instantly weighs a tonne. I continue to read. ‘A fast boat heading to the Gili islands has exploded – leaving two dead and 14 injured. ‘
‘WARNING: Graphic images’
There’s an image of a girl, screaming. Fear in her face. She’s got her hand on her face and her feet are blurred out. As I progress through the article, I find out her two feet were blown off. She was sitting near the fuel tank. ‘Terrorism ruled out. Faulty boat.’ I could hardly read, but my eyes skipped to these words.
We took that same boat, same time, same route, only three days earlier.
It could have been us. We only came to Gili early to meet a friend. This spurs a frenzy in my mind. I piece the last three days together, like a puzzle, deconstructing and pulling apart every moment that led to now.
We spend the afternoon sprawled out on our bed, learning about the string of accidents, exactly the same, occurring about a year apart. It’s still happening, I think to myself. I can’t explain the feeling I have any better than an elastic band pulling us back to ‘reality.’ Until something happens, you don’t quite get it. There’s a loss of control.
I’d never been in a place where the world was looking at. You really can’t predict tragedies. You can’t stop travelling. You can’t let anything stop you. You can’t stop the bad things from happening. At least, this is what I always thought. But this time is different.
This could have been avoided.
While we were madly looking for answers, we find a few other articles about people dying here from methanol poisoning. You just need to type in ‘deaths on Gilli T’ and you’ll see a string of stories. Phrases such as ‘western drug haven’ and ‘travel deaths’ a paradise lost’ all litter these articles, painting a very different picture of Gili T. The problem, though, these stories are hidden when you research Gilli T, from a tourist’s perspective.
One story, for example, talks about two girls who ask for a sealed bottle of vodka. They were given what they asked for. The bottle they got was sealed, but little did they know, it had methanol in it. The local bar had simply re-sealed it to trick tourists. Because imported alcohol is expensive, they pop the bottle and add a local cheap alternative, and re-seal it. There’s a greater profit margin, apparently.
Those two girls died from cocktails laced with methanol. They could never have known. You could be doing all the right things and still get hurt. One casual drink turned into their last. The deaths continue. The accidents continue. Again, accidents that could have been avoided. There was no investigation. No bar staff was interviewed. No drinks were tested.
The true stories aren’t told
Why didn’t this story make mainstream news? Why do the stories that create big news get published? Many of the deaths we found out about didn’t even rate a headline. They were posted on personal blogs. Is it because of tourism? ‘Hush hush, we don’t want to stop people from coming. ‘ What else is going on here? This place should be suffering. The way they treat animals and tourists.
Living in Asia, it’s easy to be attracted to their carefree, no-rules society. But that’s far from what’s really going on. There are rules and regulations in Australia for a reason. Feeling safe is a basic human right, one which I don’t have here. Until you see the other side and feel unsafe, you don’t realise how lucky you are. If something goes wrong, there will be justice. Unfortunately, bad things, preventable things, happen here more than they should.
I never thought on this little touristy island that I’d get so much insight. A place most think is close to heaven is far from it. Behind the fun, there’s so much more going on. Friday, September 16th, the day after the boat explosion, life on the island goes on. The party energy isn’t dampened. This is hard to swallow because no justice prevails. Again, nothing is investigated.
Be fully aware, of where you are
The boat explosion has taught me that you need to make a conscious effort to educate yourself on where you are. If you’re travelling to Gili Trawangan look past the Instagram-famous swing. The horses aren’t being looked after. Don’t turn a blind eye.
One week after the boat explosion in Padang Bai, we catch the Marina Srikandi fast boat home – but we didn’t get far. Five minutes off the coast of Gili Trawangan, we lose power and just float for about 10 minutes. We turned around and pulled back into the port. “We have to change boats. The engine’s gone,” a short, Indonesian man said, pulling a ciggy up to his lips.
Dozens of us waited on the beach, laying down, using our backpacks as a back rest. All the crew did was take that boat out for a quick drive to check the engine was ‘ok’, then encouraged us all to come back on. “It’s ok. The engine is fine,” one of the crew said after I looked at him questionably.
Lives continue to be risked
That journey home was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever experienced. With images of the previous week’s explosion in my mind, my nerves were already heightened. The engine gave way three times on our way back to Bali. We were floating in the middle of the ocean as waves dangerously thrashed us around. There was a moment where I wasn’t sure whether we’d make it back. That was about the same time a crew member came up to us and asked: “do you want to drink beer?” Fearing for my life, they were still trying to make a buck. Unfortunately, everything here is about money.
We were the lucky ones. We did make it home, but there continues to be no attention to safety – no maintenance, no checks, no learning from their mistakes. These boats keep travelling every day, while the families of those lives lost are continue to grieve.
One moment can change a day. One day can change a life. It can change how you look at everything.