Monday, 17 October 2011


Day 1
Surprisingly smooth getaway and flight. Child annoyance factor pretty high till I manage to swap seats with D and get an aisle between me and the rest of the family. Of course cheap airline tickets means no food on little trays so we order from very small selection of fancy junk food and celebrity chef lunch treats. Luke Mangan's gourmet new York sandwich at $9 is actually mostly alright. Bugger me.

Also spot an acquaintance from high school on flight, a bloke I remember with great fondness, who now surfs everyday and works for rip curl. Wow. Jealous much and very bouyed that someone gets to live the dream. Hope he's still the nice bloke i remember him being.

Arrive to that familiar cocktail of humidity, pollution and untreated sewage overlaid with the scent of frangipani. We also walk past the departure lounge cafe with mock Western style burgers and chips on display. There's no mistaking this tourist Asia biz.

Pass the visa and immigration points, visit a commonwealth bank ATM in the luggage collection hall (feels so weird and not right and yet so convenient at the same time).

Use our first filthy wet urine stinking squat toilet of the trip. No mistaking an undercurrent of genuine undeveloped Asia.

Douglas, our driver, fights chaotic jammed up traffic (including a road largely blocked by an abandoned van which has both rear wheels missing) to get us to the hotel while Wil, overcoming his initial distress at the lack of seat belts manages to bounce around the back seat and damn near throw himself out the window.

We arrive at the Suri, a delightfully wee complex of just 4 bungalows thoroughly overcome with dense tropical gardens, stone paths, lotus and lilly filled fish ponds, thatched roofs and high enclosing stone walls. Perfectly Bali.

Our room is all timber and whitewash, exposed thatch on the ceiling and sliding glass doors to the outside bathroom, eating area and personal lotus pond. Nice. The kids immediately strip for a swim in the pool and explode the entire contents of their back packs all over the room for that lived in feel.

It's at about this time that we discover exactly why they do that thing in Australia where you have to take you credit card out of the ATM before it dispenses your cash. Ironically I did the exact same thing in Bali in 2000, though luckily realised about 20 paces after leaving it behind and ran back to find it still sticking out of the machine. This time it was D's turn to get distracted, grab the cash and run. Cue some internet research and phone calls to cancel the card and some rapid financial plan b development.

Determined not to get rattled and doing our best to straddle 2 time zones and a growing tiredness (i think saying yes to that offer of a taster glass of french champagne in duty free at 9am may not have been wise) we head out for a quick early dinner to cafe Bali - a typically touristy international mash up of Dutch croquets, Indonesian sate, mee goreng and Mexican quesadillas all made somehow better than they really are by tremendous attention to service and decore.

A walk home via the mini mart for ice creams, beer, water and morning juice and time to tackle the trauma of who will sleep where. The children refuse to share the king single so amy opts for the mattress off the day bed on the floor despite the absence of a mosquito net (cue midnight blood sucking feast and requests to join mum and dad under their tent). Everyone except D is in bed and asleep by 8pm local time (11 back home).

After the aforementioned midnight musical beds, Wil wakes and needs to be taken to the toilet, helped to find his drink, his sleepy toy monkey yadda yadda, can't sleep, is scared, wants to sleep in my already over subscribed bed...all of which results in me sharing the single with him for a toenail scratching night of frustrated sleep.

While I lie in bed listening to the music pumping out from some nearby bar and the honking of taxis and motorbikes as well as an extraordinary number of low flying aircraft and wishing for nothing so much as unconsciousness I am very much debating over the ratio of joy to pain entailed in a tropical holiday with the kids.

Day 2
Thankfully this day entails no travel, no commitments and no visits from the bad parenting police. In fact I thoroughly prove my good parent credentials by diving into the pool fully clothed when the kids get into trouble after straying too deep. Both the kids are scared witless by the experience and I surpass myself by not having a total meltdown. I do, however wish I had been wearing something a little lighter weight than the cotton t that will take about 6 days to dry in this humidity. We are all very aware this is a very small price to pay.

We walk down to the beach where swimming is forbidden for the day due the wildest currents and waves I've possibly ever seen. Instead we sit at a fancy beachfront hotel and have iced tea, pretending we are guests so the kids can swim in their pool. The view is spectacular.

We limp home, have some lunch at the bali bakery (again with the bastardised international cuisine - a 'japanese' sandwich with chicken terriyaki, mayo, lettuce and tomato on brown bread and side of skinny fries) and then everyone except Amy crashes for a lengthy afternoon sleep.

God, the restorative power of sleep! If I have one important lesson to learn in this life it is get a shitload more sleep.

I go to duck out to the shops while the kids get back in the pool only I have to wait a bit since the air con for the restaurant next door (the very funkily decked out Junction) has just kind of exploded and caught fire, blocked the gateway out of our compound. The staff in their uniforms of black t shirts with the restaurant logo on them all stand around outside waiting to be told what will happen. The flames are put out promptly with fire extinguishers and hoses (?!) but the smell of burning electrical works hangs nastily in the air.

I am more than a little disappointed this also means we can't have dinner there as planned and when we head out at dinner time the sign on the door says closed for maintenance. Instead we eat at Kuni's for Japanese - a wonderfully fitted out and serviced Japanese place (affiliated with the Melbourne Kuni's perhaps?). Amy being the only one who didn't nap is showing the wear and tear and even voluntarily passes on an ice cream.

Both kids into the single bed and Amy is asleep almost before her head hits the pillow. D and I read and write while listening to nice music from the iPad. Things feel much more manageable.

Day 3
After consuming the villa supplied set breakfasts - muesli set for me, croissant set for amy, egg and bacon set for the boys - we go about the business of deciding what comes next. With our prebooked accommodation now done until next week we are commencing the party of the trip that is critical to D's sense of pleasurable travel - the unplanned adventure.

While in the past I have been in agreeance over the joys of this bit (the unexpected pleasures and treasures to be found, the bargain rates to be bartered and so on), I feel somewhat less convinced about it now that travel involves four of us and the kids have no patience, no sense of adventure and no capacity to appreciate the process of finding new digs, involving as it does a lot of waiting and weighing of options, doubling back and taking risks.

But this holiday isn't just mine, and I do understand not just the joys that can come from the spontaneous travel, but also the importance of each of us getting something out of the trip that is exactly as we'd like it. All good in theory.

But today it's the business end of this and involves getting a car and driver, negotiating stops and finding accommodation at the end of a long drive. Wil talks incessantly, whines in bursts, finally has a sleep and then wakes to inconsolable wailing, all while our accommodating driver (pork chop, yeah you read that right) drives back and forth on a very narrow and really shitty hilly road on the edge of the sea.

Luckily this place is well off the beaten track (ie it's one of the few place in Bali you can go where being an Aussie is an oddity, where there is no amplified music, mini marts, ATMs or imported beer. Old school paradise) so completely blocking the road to U turn is no big deal.

After what feels like an eternity to me, but is in fact a fairly quick and painless half hour, we are installed in a picture postcard bungalow in stunning garden surrounds looking directly out to sea. The beauty and relative simplicity of the place compared to the classic tourist strips of kuta and legian, and my joy at recapturing our experiences here in this very cove in 2000, is almost enough to gloss over what is an apparent level of environmental degradation in the area that is nothing short of shocking.

What has happened in Bali over the last decade gets me thinking about my travel experiences, and what's happening in the world, particularly Asia, over the last 25 years, and how sad I feel all over again when I think about the double edged swords of tourism and development and my own part in that.

And how my kids will never see the things I have seen before they are dead and gone for good.

Such sobering thoughts in a hot climate can only be dispelled by black sand beaches (so cool!), swimming, beer, local food made well, a good book (the thirteenth tale - marvellous thanks Tania) and the sound of children laughing. The beer also helps you ignore the night time sounds of rodents in the roof should you be so unlucky as to witness those.

Day 4
Rinse and repeat.


manda said...

hi sooz
i often hang around your blog and just wanted to say i really love the honesty of your writing. im planning a holiday with the kids to fiji and im left wondering whether it will it will be anything i imagine, having never taken them out of australia.

Julie said...

oh what a great little snippet of your holiday, captures so well the highs and lows of bali and travels with kids. Especially loved the references to the menus with their mixed bag of superb and bizarre. Have you read 'The Life' by Malcolm Knox? I thought of it when you mentioned your old high school surfing mate.