ISLAND OF SURPRISE
BALI HAS A MIXED REPUTATION DUE TO THE NEGATIVE MEDIA STORIES THAT COME OUT OF THE AREA. WHILE IT WAS NEVER ON OUR WRITER’S TRAVEL WISH LIST, SHE DISCOVERED A GEM. AND WENT BACK TWICE.
I’m going to admit straight up that Bali has never been on my travel bucket list. For years, I’d associated the tourist hotspot with drunken hooligan travellers, drink spikings, drug taking and terrorism. “Bali bogans” is a phrase doing the rounds of the media lately, referring to Aussie travellers there. But it was a chance opportunity, on the back of rave reviews by a growing number of our well-travelled friends, that saw hubby and I on a spontaneous kid-free Indonesian adventure.
Now there are a few key words in that last sentence. When is “adventure” ever a bad thing in the mundane routine of life? And being “spontaneous” is always exciting. Oh, and “kid-free”? Well, nuff said. Parenting can be a tiring 24-7 job and when you juggle that commitment with running a business, some level of employment, extended family and friends, renovating or whatever else life holds for you, it’s usually your relationship with your partner that can fall off the radar. We are lucky to have the most amazing support network around us so when I floated the idea of a much-needed kid-free break it was met with positivity and enthusiasm. Phew. Hubby and I were on our way…
Our Balinese home base for the break was a villa in Seminyak. Not only did the villa option offer us space to stretch out in a beautiful private tropical garden
setting, but the pool that stretched the length of our villa screamed relaxation from all vantage points - even when we weren’t actually floating around in it to cool off from the tropical heat. Seminyak, as the research and recommendations proved, was the perfect back drop. Hip, vibrant restaurants and happening nightlife collided with relaxing and tranquil daytime beachside surrounds. Zen sanctuaries of Indonesian culture collided (not literally, thank gosh!) with crazy busy streets filled with crazy busy scooter drivers, who have little regard for traffic etiquette and were inclined to use pedestrian footpaths when the bitumen got too congested.
And everything was so cheap. We ate ourselves crazy. Roughly $20AUD covered a more-food-than-two-peoplecould-eat lunch. It was hard to finish a $40 AUD dinner for two most nights. Cocktails were just a few dollars and massages were the equivalent to about $6 Aud/hour. Yes, SIX DOLLARS!
Hubby will tell you that I’m always bang up for a chinwag with the locals wherever we travel in the world. People stories are my thing – especially when experiencing different cultures. There is so much greater learning to be had by simply taking the time to listen. In Bali, you can easily get around on foot, via one of the myriad local taxis or, for those who are wanting to tour a little bit, a personal driver is your best bet. We were lucky to meet a driver named Ketut Udi (yes! I met a real-life Ketut in Bali #lifegoals) and, wow, did I talk that man’s ear off. In the two days we spent with Udi, we saw some truly picturesque sights and were treated to some great ‘insider’ tips on where to find cheap and delicious food and where to buy silver jewellery direct from the silversmiths, for example. But it was during our car rides, the chats with Udi about Balinese life and culture were what have remained with me. The people of Bali are so happy and so humble. Udi, for example, survives on an income of roughly $10 AUD per day – to drive tourists around for 12 hours. And he was diligently saving for his upcoming wedding with plans to also build a family home one day. He took us through local villages where women were blissfully washing the family’s clothing in the roadside streams while their kids played happily with their basic toys alongside. Not an ipad, smartphone or handheld gaming device to be seen. Udi took us to beaches where we drank Bintangs while getting our feet massaged for a few dollars by the most joyful old women. They were all simple quiet people living simple quiet lives with not much more than their happiness to keep them going. I took home a load of lessons from these beautiful and truly thankful people, and it made me cast a critical eye over our own hustle-bustle lifestyle, living-large in Australia with our house full of ‘things’.
I think the greatest testimony for any holiday is whether or not you’d go back and do it all again. For Bali, I’d have to say that, yes, we will return one day. Ironically, while we took away so much from our kid-free break, that I’m actually keen to take the kids next time to give them the opportunity to explore and experience this eye-opening place and its humble people and their simple happy lives…
Well, just as expected, the Bali bug hit us (and I’m not talking about stomach cramps from drinking the local tap water!). After living on the memories of our first Balinese jaunt, it was 18 months later that we returned with our two tweens in tow. Rather than the hustle and bustle of Seminyak, we opted for a beachside resort at Nusa Dua for our family retreat. It offered way less crazy and way more beach while opening our eyes further to the beauty of Bali.
We chose one main ‘thing’ to do each day, letting our girls drive the decision-making process. We snorkelled. We held turtles, bats and snakes on Turtle Island. We learned to weave. We ate lunch atop a Pirate Ship (for real!). We let monkeys climb our heads. We held the largest butterflies we’ve ever seen. We shopped. And shopped. And we ate lunch over a koi pond, dangling our feet in among the coloured toe-sucking beauties. I’m always one to encourage true local cultural experiences when travelling abroad and a batik class in the rural outskirts of Ubud was one of those memories we’ll take with us for a long time. My mini creatives were totally absorbed in the experience and when (on our very last day) they were given the option of visiting one of Asia’s largest waterparks or a return visit to do a second batik class, we were stoked to being heading back to Ubud for more waxy cultural fun.
As expected, the kids got really caught up in the daily blessing rituals they witnessed on the beach and business premises. They made friends of the gorgeous Balinese staff. And they ate their weight in noodles and satay. All in all, our return trip to Bali reinforced our love for the island, for its people and its simplicity. Bali proved itself to be just as much a couple’s retreat as a brilliant family holiday destination. And we’ll be fans forever.