1 Feb 2014

The Two Sides Of Paradise On Gili Trawangan

Our next stop after Bali was Gili Trawangan the largest island of the three Gilis, a stunning archipelago of the North West coast of Lombok in Indonesia acclaimed by many as island paradise. We’d also heard that it's a popular swimming and breeding ground for turtles and as we love turtles we were very excited for our visit and boarded the early morning two hour fast boat.

gili carriage horse on gill t indonesia

Unfortunately our first sight once we'd disembarked on to the east coast beach of Gili T was rows of small horses attached to bright yellow carts waiting to take tourists to their accommodation. Gili T is pretty small, most guesthouses and hotels are less than 1km from the port. Now we knew there was no transport allowed on the Gilis but we were not expecting this, surely the bicycles and pedicarts you see in India and elsewhere would be a more obvious eco-friendly choice?  

Obviously we declined a ride but many other tourists did not and Vicky witnessed a small blond horse buckling under the weight of its literally bulging cart containing two obese tourists, their enormous luggage and a giant cardboard box containing a TV or something for a hotel whose name we could not make out. The poor thing could hardly stand up never mind trot and was slipping in the wet sandy puddles. It really did not sit right with us and it immediately made us wary of Gili T’s claims of paradise.

gili carriage horse on gill t indonesia

The horse carts are everywhere along the main east coast strip waiting for their next ‘over priced’ fare. Many of the horses were constantly chewing their mouth piece and shaking their heads, clearly very uncomfortable and on others we could see bright red wounds on their body especially around their ill-fitting harnesses. We were not the only visitors on Gili T shocked to see that these horses were not being properly cared for, there were quite a few disgusted faces.

In contrast, a quick search for #GiliT on twitter and Instagram revealed that most visitors thoughts are 'no transport just horse drawn carts this is paradise!’. Oh dear. We continued our online search for more facts about the ‘situation' and soon discovered Gili Carriage Horse Support Network on Facebook which led us to Delphine an amazing lady who lives on Gili T and also works at the Gili Eco Trust.  

gili carriage horse on gill t indonesia
"This little guy's cart is overloaded with drinks from the Big Bubble Dive bar."
We were dismayed to learn that there is a kind of Horse Mafia Network in operation on the Gilis which came into play around 2008/9 when the islands started to get busier. Many of the horses are owned by a handful of very rich people who employ the drivers and get them to work as much as possible with no compassion for the horses. Its all about the cash. When Delphine and her team realised the mafia system, how it was working and how the drivers and owners did not understand horse welfare they began to host free clinics and educational events on each Gili island. 

A few years ago the living conditions of the horses were so bad that the horses were given well water (brackish salty and dirty water) so they were dying very quickly of dehydration and kidney failure, their shelters also had leaking roofs and/or many horses were standing in mud and shit. Through tactical education at their free clinics Delphine's team insist that each horse should get fresh water. Today they estimate that almost 80% of the horses are getting the fresh water they need as an easy system of desalinised cheap water is in place now. Delphine is currently setting up a new system with the island security to offer FREE fresh water to all drivers and owners as long as they register when they come to fill up a bucket or jerigen. Lets hope the figure is soon 100%!

As a Westerner its hard to comprehend that the horse owners don’t understand that a horse needs to drink fresh water when its working. Delphine owns horses on the island herself and has trained her staff to Western standards, today with her team she continues to organise cat and horse clinics about twice a year and responds to any animal emergency on a daily basis.

When they witness an overloaded horse cart, untreated wounds or dehydration they do not have the power to stop or arrest the driver/owner and the Indonesian government has put no rules or regulations in place regarding loads, equipment, wounds, hours of work etc for Gilis Carriage Horses. Together with JAAN Jakarta Animal Aid Network, Delphine writes letters and petitions to the government to ask for their help but unfortunately the Indonesian government usually do a day of vitamins injection to all horses after a letter like this and thats it. Can you imagine how frustrating that is? They will never give up and continue to invest their time, money and energy in these clinics, medicines, and vets to come and help - if only the government would back them so that they can move forward.

cat charity on gill t indonesia
"The cutest charity spokescat ever!"

Donations come from a few divers and businesses on the Gilis and other welfare associations. Cheri from the Gili Carriage Support Network also helps with donations, raising funds, recruiting volunteers for the clinics and getting other associations such as BARC and BAWA to help. So, how can we help? Lookout for fundraising initiatives on their Facebook page, opportunities to volunteer and sign any petitions such as this one. If you ever visit the Gilis please do not use a horse cart - take a deep breath, carry your own luggage and reward yourself with a hot shower and cold beer afterwards.

bicycle beach gili trawangan indonesia

Aside from the horse carriages situation Gili T is a natural beauty, especially if you cycle away from the incredibly cramped east strip of seafood restaurants and bars to find your own patch of secluded sandy beach. Our favourite and only activity (other than sunbathing by the pool) during our short stay was to cycle around the island with a snorkel and flippers each to see if we could spot a turtle offshore, alas we did not as the sea was a bit too choppy. It took a lot of effort to get around Gili T on a bicycle, at some points the path was just sand which is impossible to cycle through so be prepared to hop off and push!

gili trawangan indonesia

Interestingly there are no police on the Gilis instead they have a village head who has the final say in all matters and they only allow late night parties on certain nights of the week, sadly this means the Gili Carriage Horses work even later than usual too. There are also no dogs allowed but there are plenty of cute cats. We stayed at Gili T Resort and it was a great coincidence that this basic guesthouse had provided accommodation for the Horse Clinic volunteers. The room was simple but they served a decent breakfast and the private swimming pool was a haven.

gili trawangan indonesia

On our last evening we stumbled across a used bookshop on the main strip close to the jetty and politely enquired about prices. The owner quoted the equivalent of £7.50 for his well used books, very expensive as Steve quite rightly pointed out but the man erupted into a fit of protests 'this is my business' 'get out of my shop' 'f@*k you' obviously we left but he continued to shout at us and flip the bird much to the amusement of his neighbouring business men. Maybe he’d had a bad day or was high! We visited Gili T during the low (wet) season and business seemed pretty quiet.

beach sunset gili trawangan indonesia

After two days and nights on Gili T we decided to cut our stay short, we could appreciate its beauty but the grotesque hunger for the tourist dollar was too much for us. We really hope that the Indonesian government puts a stop to even more resort and/or restaurant developments and passes some laws to protect the Gili Carriage Horses very soon. Gili T is in desperate need of some ‘Responsible Tourism’.

Our next stop was neighbouring Gili Meno which many describe as a Robinson Crusoe style island experience, here’s hoping...

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  1. its so sad, its even sadder that they are not even old, a few years ago they were lucky to live past two years apparently :(

  2. or unlucky as they are on Gili T

  3. Yes, life for Animals can be very hard here. I live since 9 years in Lombok but I can tell you that about 80% of the people here are so poor that they have not enough to eat or even to pay a doctor. In public hospitals they just leave you even you will die if you can't pay in advance. How sad that a corrupt Government is not helping their people - how about Horses, Cats and Street Dogs.

  4. Hi Petra, Thanks for your comment. There is so much that the government needs to do to help the local community, we hope that they will make some positive changes soon!

  5. I have sent this letter to my embassy, please feel free to use it to send to your embassies:

    I am a Canadian tourist who was recently in the Gili Islands in Indonesia a place where there are no motorized vehicles and is marketed as an ‘island paradise’. We cut our trip short due to the HORRIFIC work conditions of the emaciated carriage horses. We saw such abuse; a carriage broke under the weight of tourists and the horse was sent flying in the air and then the driver beat the horse. We witnessed malnutrition, dehydration and visible open wounds and swollen tongues of horses. We spent days asking questions about where they have shelter and fresh water -it was a joke to the drivers and we were told by several people on the islands that they are given a mixture of salt water to drink and they work up to 18 hours a day in the unforgiving heat hauling heavy loads of stone and building supplies. These horses are forced to pull excessive weight and are not provided with proper rest or drinking water. These horses also are forced to work when they are sick or have harness wounds and there is no vet or farrier on the island. When they are worked to the bone and no can longer pull they are sent to slaughter. These are wild horses that have been taken from neighboring islands & brought to the Gilis to begin a life of pulling excessive weight and being abused in the burning hot Gili sun.

    We spoke to lots of tourists who were mortified by the unethical treatment. There needs to be rules and regulations about the standard of care these poor horses endure. They are serving the tourist industry and need water, shelter and breaks. Now that they are expanding tourism on this island this needs to be addressed once and for all.

    The images of these long suffering carriage horses should be an embarrassment to local leaders, the Minister of Tourism and the hotel owners. It reflects badly on all them whether or not they have any direct connection to this horse trade. We know that improvements do not happen easily and they do not work. BUT there are alternatives that are not costly and would make tourists feel good about coming to the island and supporting this abuse and neglect.
    Watch this video:
    It is time to shut this inhumane industry down and substitute it with something that is 21st century, charming and green the Solar Powered Tuk Tuks are now available and would be an effective way to transport tourists and cargo. AND The horses must be given to a sanctuary and allowed to live out their lives in peace.
    Business leaders in the Gili Islands should invest in the solar powered Tuk Tuk‘s, which will shuttle tourists around. Carriage drivers will not lose their jobs and can be retrained to operate these solar powered tuk tuks. It will be a win win all around.

    1. Thanks for sharing Beth, you have done the right thing. I hope the government take notice of our concerns soon, the conditions are absolutely appalling.

  6. Dear Sticky,

    Many of the horses on Gili islands are treated badly no doubt about it (while some aren't), and until they get provided desalinated water they are forced to drinking the brackish well water, which leads to sickness and early death. But so were the people living in Gili Islands not so long ago, it's not until recent years that even the locals buy drinking water in gallons. Before they drank the well water, boiled it but still brackish. Indonesia is a developing country, the people living on Gili islands are relatively well off today because of the booming tourism, but in Lombok and even more in other parts of Indonesia, people are still living under terribly poor conditions. When they can't even afford to bring their own children to a doctor, is it reasonable for us western tourists to demand they treat the horses better? This is a complicated matter, and yes some of the cidomo owners are rich, and they charge horribly high prices for the fair and a bigger part of it should be used for the welfare of the horses (and make sure the poor driver gets descent pay).

    Indonesia has incredibly beautiful nature and tourism can be an important driving force to change an unwanted course of development. If the mantas, sharks and turtles are worth more alive as tourist attractions and that tourist money does also benefit the fishermen not only the foreign investors and corrupted governments, it is more likely we can stop the hunting, cyanide and bomb fishing. If tourists are protesting against littering and cutting down rainforests for palm oil plantations, maybe the governments will listen (well I don't know how likely that is, since they for sure make loads more money on the palm oil) nevertheless, tourism is a huge income for Indonesia.

    Our own actions and demands are also very important - you mentioned yourself you had a private pool by your bungalow. With fresh water? With limited supply of fresh water on the islands (it all has to be brought by boat from Lombok) you are practically swimming in the possible drinking water for the horses, or even human beings. We can make a choice - if we are demanding air condition, the result will be larger electricity usage. Again, with limited supply. And do you think the electricity production on Lombok is beautifying the landscape with sustainable solar power or wind power plants..?

    if you can't stand the overloading of the cidomos, demand you take two carriages instead of one, or walk. We have the choice. And whatever tourists demand, the locals and the government will produce, to keep us happy.

    kind regards,

    1. Hi Nyonya.

      Thanks for your comments.

      During our stay on the Gilis we witnessed something that as Western tourists was distressing to us. We did our research and wanted to share our story with readers of our blog. We did not use any horse carriage during our visit, not because of the price but because of the condition of the horses and the overloading. We have no intention of ever using a horse carriage when we are able to walk. Having consulted with Gili Eco Trust there is a definite problem on the islands and it seems simple for the government to implement new regulations. It is in the owners interest for their horse to live longer too.

      Yes, we recognise that Indonesia is a developing country. We hope that the government will use the countries income from tourism in more constructive and sustainable way for its population soon.

      Thanks again for your feedback.

  7. In a country where families with 2 children and a motorbike survive on a salary of about $150, the horse owners in Gili T are doing quite good. With crazy prices of $5-$10 for a short 5 minutes transport job they easily make $100 on a bad day. Now indeed $10 doesn't sound much, but this $10 dollar would give you a 45 minutes taxi drive in a brand new air conditioned official licensed taxi.

    The Gili T mafia just laughs with the genuine efforts Westerners put in to give the horses a better life. Free medication, free water just gives higher profit but they don't want the horses look too fit; fit horses are just not good for tips. Bad shaped horses and a dirty tshirt for the driver; that brings up more emotion and thus more money.

    That Delphine gal seemingly has unlimited motivation. She does a fantastic job. But for more than 10 years I've seen these horses suffering. Not so much changed since. And the horse owners? They laugh. The less effort they do the more rewards they get.