I wake up so shocked I almost hit my head on the wall. I wake up shaking and sweating in my top bunk bed from the hardest thunder I’ve ever heard. That afternoon we decided to enjoy a siesta. I’m at the Gili Islands in Indonesia and it’s wet season, so the humidity is killing and siestas are necessary.
Most of my roommates from the 10-bed dorm are in, all sleeping but now we’re all wide awake. Power is out, and a dark grey cloud has fallen over the island, so it’s pretty dark. Some of my roommates are traveling together, and I can barely see who’s in, but I hear some Danish, Japanese and Irish, so I know at least six are in. We all switch to English and we decide to leave the room. I’m leaving first, because I’m traveling solo and don’t have to wait for someone else.
I’m shocked. The hostel’s common area is flooded and I’m in water up to my knees. The normally so vibrant common area and pool are deserted. The reception is unarmed. My roommates have reached me at this point and we look like we just took a shower together, all wet. We’re in shock but we laugh. My normally curly hair is so wet it became straight. We decide to check in on the neighbours, the small warung where we get our daily fried rice. They’re busy scooping away water with buckets and we all help. It’s surreal, like I’m still dreaming. Local kids happily play in the filled with water streets, making it all less horrible. I think about how dangerous it is standing in high water while the thunder is still out there, but I can’t just go back to our ‘safe hostel’ and watch our friendly neighbours struggle so I stay.
After most of the water is out of the warung we walk to the harbor. We talk to almost everybody we come across with; locals, tourists, backpackers, hostel friends… Apparently, a cyclone has hit the area and a lot is destroyed in just a few minutes.
Soon I realize the island has no power, no wifi, no working ATM’s and we’ll be running out of food soon. It’s heart breaking to see the small huts and the few ‘businesses’ and restaurants ruined. To see the food and beer stashes destroyed near the beach, with their broken boats a few meters apart.
I admire the locals: they’re all working hard rebuilding and removing the fallen trees and broken boats, they all stay super friendly and the ones that lost their restaurants because of fallen trees, still laugh when one of the locals makes a joke about another one sitting in a tree. Their spirit is amazing and we all benefit from it.
This cyclone brings us together, because for the next two days we borrow each other money for food, help the locals rebuild and clean up the streets, dance in the rainy streets (literally water’s up to half a meter in the muddy streets) with the local kids and with each other. I feel like a happy kid and I forget the things I usually worry about like work; there’s no wifi so there’s nothing I can do anyways.
We make music with everything we can get our hands on late at night when the dj decks finally decide they no longer work on the only power we had on the island and the birds join us for their morning songs. This horrible thing turned out to be one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed and it gave me the strength to appreciate life without material things, and to make the best out of shitty situations.
As soon as the weather calmed down I pack my backpack to leave this beautiful island. I could stay on this island forever, with all the friends I made, but I decide it’s time for my next adventure. I leave with a big smile and a heart filled with beautiful, simple memories that I’ll never forget.
*Luckily no people died during the cyclone, but many locals had to rebuild their businesses. Of course I didn’t take photos the day it happened, it was too dark and wet anyways, so all photos are from the days after the storm.
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