By: Gigi Manukyan
As a seasoned traveler, I would say that I’m pretty good at avoiding scams…for the most part. However, getting scammed is an experience every traveler will have to experience at least once in their life. Let’s just say mine was hands down the most epic scam of all time: the “fast boat” from Bali to Gili Trawangan. So what makes this scam epic is the amount of people in on it–not to mention how ridiculously common it is.
So Bali was the unexpected second to last leg on our SEA backpacking trip back in summer ‘17. Long story short, our flight from Phnom Penh to Hoi An got cancelled and the hot Scottish men we met there convinced our drunk asses at 3 am to buy flights to Bali leaving for the next day (will save that story for another day). After four days of frolicking around Bali, we decide to join them on the island of Gili Trawangan (Mistake 1). The hostel that they had bought their boat tickets from were sold out for the day we wanted so we set out to town to see what kind of deal we could score (Mistake 2). After 30 minutes of hopping from one tour agency to the next, we finally found a “trustworthy” place that had tickets for two days later. They told us there were two modes of transport by sea to Gili T: the fast boat or the much slower ferry. Since we wanted to get to our Scottish boos ASAP we opted for the more expensive fast boat option (Mistake 3).
The morning of our departure comes and the day starts off on the wrong foot almost immediately. We were told that our transportation would be arriving at 7 am sharp so we prepared to be ready and out in time. To our dismay, our driver decided to come 40 minutes earlier than planned, then proceeded to yell at us for not being ready on time. Accusing us of delaying them from showing up on time to the harbor. Turns out we were one of the earliest for the line of pick-up. After picking a dozen or so more passengers up, we head to the harbor. The harbor was super crowded with Westerners eager to get their island fix. Our driver brought us to the woman from whom we were supposed to get our boat tickets from. However, there was a giant problem: all the “fast boat” tickets were sold out. Let me reiterate, all the RESERVED tickets, for which we had paid extra for, were somehow sold out. The man who was berating us for being late was now nowhere in sight. And this was only the beginning of the hellish rollercoaster ride.
So if the “fast boats” were sold out, how exactly were we going to reach the island? The public ferry. Let me clarify, it’s not like any of the ferries in New York. It’s actually a cargo ship. Yep. They threw us on a cargo ship that was meant for transporting oil. Our originally two hour ride had turned into a six hour slow trek across the ocean. It was impossible to sit inside because not only was it absolutely disgusting, but the seats were swarming with bed bugs. The only safe place was outside on the large deck under the piercing sun. Because I am olive toned and rarely burn, I more often than not forget to wear sunscreen. Let’s just say after falling asleep for a couple hours under direct sunlight, I burned…badly.
After six excruciating hours of shriveling like a raisin, we made it to land (barely). Much to our dismay, our journey was not yet over. Instead of arriving to Gili T, the ferry took us to the island of Lombok. Here is where part two of the scam commences. The couple men, who were to escort us to the speed boats that were to *finally* take us to Gili T, told us that the location had been changed and we were to be transported to the other side of the island. Another two hour commute. And the best part? We had to pay these men to take us.
Again, we were stuck in a lose-lose situation: either we pay up or be abandoned in the middle of nowhere. We paid to be crammed in a beat up van with thirty other people. The van was absolutely overpacked and I was seated on a plastic stool in between actual seats. I was stuck in that uncomfortable position for nearly two hours as the van sped through the mountains. We were moving swiftly, until we hit unexpected traffic. It caught us off guard as there weren’t many cars out on the road. However, as we moved forward, we realized there was a mob of people surrounding a building. Why? Well, from my understanding of the situation, there was a hostage situation in the bank. Police officers wearing black masks and holding AK47s were preparing to enter the bank. Our van had no windows and we were stuck in the same position for about 15 minutes. A lot could have gone wrong in those 15 minutes.
After silently praying for this crisis moment to pass, we finally made it back onto empty roads. At this moment, I was drenched in sweat, starving, holding my pee, heavily sunburnt, and on the brink of a mental breakdown. I needed to get to this island, to my 6’7 Scottish man in the next hour, or I was going to fling myself out of this van.
The van finally stopped at another harbor, and we were taken to the speedboats. I kept waiting for the catch, but it was the end of that. We had survived the scam and were now en route to the infamous party island after ten hours of unnecessary transport. When we got to the island, which was maybe a mile in length, we headed straight to our hostel. Mind you, most housing is sold out, especially in the summer. So when we found a hostel that had availability, we booked it immediately. When we got to the hostel, they told us that all the beds were taken. After ten hours of mindless traveling, I was done compromising. We were not leaving that hostel until we got some sort of sleeping arrangements. Because Luana and I had lost all faith in humanity by this point, we were going to settle for anything. And that we did. We ended up staying at the open attic of the yoga studio across the road. We had absolutely no privacy, but were able to sleep under the stars in a decently comfy bed.
At the end of it all, we were covered in spider bites, ghosted by the dreamy Scots, and scammed again on the way back; yet, I would relive it again, if it means having another amazing opportunity to travel with one of my favorite humans. Get out of your comfort zone, and explore this beautiful world.