Gili Trawangan has a reputation as a great place to hurl yourself into either its teeming ocean or its friendly, hedonistic nightlife. It’s the biggest and most popular of Indonesia’s Gilis, three islands with white sand beaches, coconut palms and bright coral. But while ‘Gili T’ has developed rapidly in recent years, it retains a peaceful feel.
That’s partly down to its ban on motor vehicles, which helps keep the air clean and the hubbub down to a manageable level (unless you’re staying right by one of the pounding beach bars). But the restriction on vehicles puts the strain somewhere else. Everything on the island is either transported on foot or by bicycle, or by the island’s 350-odd ponies.
Ponies and carts carry everything from beer to beds, as well as acting as tourist carriages called cidomo. But while the often-perky colour schemes and harnesses might make the ponies seem cheerful, there are serious concerns for their welfare. And for every high-profile cart serving visitors, there’s a less glamorous one doing more vital work, like the rubbish ponies that toil for 10 hours a day in the blazing sun with only a single break.
Help has come from the Horses of Gili foundation, and from Tori Taylor, the manager of Lutwala Dive on the north side of the island. Taylor is a veterinary technician, and she helps the ponies with scrapes and infections. Horses of Gili offers education on equine welfare, supplies padded bridles and vitamin supplements and has pushed a campaign to supply fresh water for the ponies, which had often only drunk salty water in the past.
Visitors can help by avoiding cidomo and by donating to the trust. Just coming to the Gilis can help the islands’ economies, as well as offering the chance to spot turtles, manta rays and underwater sculptures – or just laze on your back with a cocktail.