Bali · Indonesia

Back to Bali

Bali has been a bit like a holiday within a holiday. We no longer had to start our day with school work, we didn’t have to pack our bags every few days and we didn’t need to get out and explore. This was it, our final destination. We had come full circle.

So why come back to a place we had already been? Well, it just felt right. It felt easy and on reflection a gentle transition back home to Australia. In Bali we are surrounded by other Australians, we can order a salad or even a smashed avocado on toast, language barriers are minimal and it’s familiar. Food aside, the last three weeks of our trip in Bali has given us time to reflect, readjust and ready ourselves for life as we knew it. We have been lucky enough to meet up with friends and family here in Bali and enjoyed time spent chatting over a cocktail or a Bintang, eating out ( ok that’s not new for us), shopping ( yay , finally I can buy stuff that doesn’t need to fit into a backpack) and of course some pampering at a day spa. We also enjoyed Christmas together in our tropical surrounds with minimal focus on present receiving.

So now that we are literally on our final day of our Asia adventure ( we fly home tonight), I’d like to say we have made some profound discoveries about life. The truth is, we are now experts on everything relating to travel, Asia and world politics. Just kidding. We are still the same people with a few more more irritating travel stories to tell. Ok , the kids have grown a few centimetres but they still prefer chicken nuggets to fried rice and Murray may have lost a few centimetres around his waist but he still loses his glasses on a daily basis.

It hasn’t all been cocktails and sunsets. We have visited doctors, stayed in some very cramped accommodation, spent hours on the road and in airports, been bitten by countless mosquitoes and felt hot and sweaty for months on end. Despite all that, the pros have definitely outweighed the cons. We are lucky enough to have visited some amazing places, spent quality time as a family, learnt a bit about the world and most importantly be present in the moment. We set a major goal, achieved it and had the time of our lives. It took a bit of luck, a lot of planning and a major leap of faith but it was SO worth it. Australia, home, here we come…

Indonesia · Sumatra

Sumatra – Bukit Lawang and beyond

We arrived in Bukit Lawang exhausted and in desperate need of some time to re-energise. This was largely due to our 4 day stay in Yogyakarta where noise travelled through paper-thin walls and lucky us, on Good Friday the Christian church service commenced at 4am and was right next door to our hostel. On top of that our flight to Medan was delayed 12 hours, the AC in our hotel room for the night didn’t work and the city doesn’t seem to sleep ( very loud). Oh and we forgot to give the kids their travel sick tablets for the following day’s drive into the jungle …. need I say more.

Bukit Lawang was literally like a breath of fresh air when we arrived. We stayed on top of a river which was beautiful, amazing and SO loud. Murray and I woke up during the night thinking it was thundering down with rain only to discover it was the noise of the river. We could sit on our veranda for hours and watch the monkeys playing in the river and it felt like the furthest place from Sydney on the face of the earth. We swam in the river, went for walks and enjoyed the isolation. On day 3 we bravely signed up for a jungle trek in the hope that we would see some orangutans in the wild. We were not disappointed. The jungle trek was one of the best and most memorable days so far. Admittedly the first half hour of the trek was a bit dicey. We climbed up a mountain edge that literally dropped off at points with no barrier. I could see the look in Murray’s eye ( it basically said – wtf are we doing here.. and with our kids??). Before the jungle trek Murray had Jokingly said “if we don’t see an orangutan I’m going to get one of the guides to dress up as an orangutan and jump around”… ha ha, funny right? … well maybe not so funny for him when I heard Maya tell the guide “my dad said that if we don’t see an orangutan…” Hilarious.

Danger aside, we saw orangutans up close and got to feed the charismatic native funky monkey. Brooke’s initial claim that ‘ the jungle is boring’ quickly changed to ‘can we come back here again tomorrow?’ The girls got to hand feed these amazing creatures, who with their human-like fingers, gently took all of the fruit we had to offer. To top it off, we rafted back to the village on big blow up tubes, down rapids, veering dangerously close to rocks only to be careered away by the trusty bamboo poles used by the chief river guide ( who was probably about 14 years old). It was a blast.

After Bukit Lawang we stopped in a place called Berestagi for a few days. It was memorable, but not in a great way. Our hostel was joined to an amusement park, which could only be described as odd. The girls enjoyed it but all Murray and I could think about was whether we were going to survive. The most bizarre ride had to be the train with broken laser guns that you pointed at the cute cartoon like animals and shot dead. On top of that , we were the only ‘bule’ ( white person) in town and our photograph was in demand. I had to pretend I couldn’t speak a word of Indonesian ( or English come to think of it) just to push through the crowd of ‘photo please? ‘ .

Our hotel had an amazing buffet breakfast, Asian style only.. and oh the phone call at midnight just to check we still needed our driver the next morning was bizarre. They also tried to fit us into a room with 2 king single beds .. what the?

Needless to say once we arrived back in Medan ( not a city I could ever live in – if you’ve been there you might relate) I could have dropped to the lushly carpeted floor of the JW Marriott and thanked Allah that we were back in a hotel that understood us and our western ways. We spent a day swimming in the pool , wandering around an air conditioned mall and stuffing ourselves on pasta and nachos. Not a single soto ayam ( Indonesian chicken soup) was consumed that day… thank goodness.

Indonesia, you have been wonderful and trying. We love you and we shake our heads in wonder at the same time. We plan on returning to Bali at the end of the year, which is a world apart from the rest of Indonesia. Medan , I think we can safely tick you off the bucket list.

Next stop , KL, Malaysia…

Gili Air · Indonesia

Lombok and Gili Air

Leaving Bali wasn’t easy. Especially knowing that we were leaving behind family, hot water and room service. We also opted to fly rather than take the fast boat across ( mainly because boats and I don’t always mix) to Gili Air. This meant that we stayed overnight in a town in Lombok called Senggigi. We booked home-stay type accommodation and were picked up from the airport by Steph, the owner of the home-stay. During the car ride our very accomodating host overheard Brooke complaining about how hungry she was and decided to take us to lunch so we could try a traditional Lombok meal called ‘nasi balap’; which from what we could gather was rice, spicy coconut, peanuts and beans. The girls had pretty much lived off hot chips and spaghetti so naturally I was concerned about how we were going to navigate this politely. Lombok is known for its chillies and spicy food, our kids don’t do spicy. Thankfully Maya ate a respectable amount of her meal telling Steph how delicious it was. Phew! Brooke ate nothing of course.

The next morning we took the public boat across to Gili Air. This involved lugging all of our bags and 3 kids onto a crowded boat packed full of local produce to deliver to the cafes and restaurants. There was no peer/ jetty and no one waiting to help us at the other end. Thankfully we were able to grab a map and work out where we needed to get to. Fortunately it was only a 15 minute walk to our accommodation, Rosie’s Garden, which felt more like 15 hours in the heat carrying our bags. There are no cars, taxis or motorcycles on Gili Air. Mental note, on the way back we would pay for a horse and cart.

We all agreed it was worth the effort when we were relaxing by the beach, drink in hand, watching the sunset. Gili Air is completely unrecognisable from my last visit over 20 years ago. I remember an island without fast-boat access, a scattering of accommodation options, no electricity and evenings spent on the beach talking with the locals and watching the shooting stars. The girls refer to my frequent recollections as ‘in the olden days…’ ha ha. Now days, most of the coastline is developed with beach-side bars and accommodation. There are cafes, shops, spas and pretty much everything you could possibly need. There are also boat loads of tourists on the islands. The food and drinks weren’t cheap ( by Indonesian standards) but the quality was good.

Gili Air has been a bit of a highlight so far. We rented a glass bottom boat for a day and snorkelled with the turtles and fish. We stopped off at Gili Meno for lunch and a visit to a turtle hatchery where eggs are collected by local fisherman and brought there so that the young turtles can hatch and grow ( about 1 year) until they are released back into the ocean.

Maya also took to snorkelling like a true mermaid, diving under the water to get a closer look at the sea life. She didn’t want the day to end!

Besides enjoying a slower pace of life, we played on the beach, rode bikes, watched the sunset, ate chargrilled corn and enjoyed island living. It was definitely a welcome escape from the business of Bali and just what we needed before bracing ourselves for Yogyakarta.

Bali · Indonesia

Bali – relaxing start to a trip?

Bali was the promise of relaxation, cocktails by the pool and shrugging off the stress left over from regular routine and planning a lengthy trip. It didn’t disappoint, but relaxing holiday? Not entirely. Anyone who has been to Bali and has ventured outside their hotel knows that there is chaos and danger at every corner. If the cars and mopeds aren’t trying to run you over as you cross the street, the sellers and hagglers are trying to wear you down and make you buy some ugly trinket or fake handbag you don’t need. On top of that the heat smothers you like a blanket leaving you drenched in sweat within minutes of stepping outside your air conditioned room and the kids start whining ‘how much further?’ before you have taken even left the hotel premises. All of the good parenting mantras you said to yourself when you woke up ( we won’t eat too much junk food today, I’ll order vegetables for lunch and I definitely won’t drink alcohol again) are forgotten immediately as you offer an icecream bribe to get to the corner of the street. Oh , and I’m going to need that cocktail when we return.

Did I mention that we started our relaxing week in Bali with my sister, her three girls and my mum ( aka nan)? Thank-god for nan who quickly became the leader of our tribe. Nan , a Bali-guru, who visits Bali at least 2-3 times a year made sure we didn’t catch the wrong taxi, get short-changed by the mini-mart cashiers or taxi drivers ( my sister tried to pay $21 for a $2.10 taxi ride – easy mistake) or get overcharged for a fake pair of adidas shoes. Nan knew what restaurants to eat at, where to watch the sunset whilst sipping on a cocktail and where to buy the cheapest souvenirs. She had us and the six kids rounded up and safely across the street each and every time.

Yes, there was plenty of hanging out at the pool and the drinks service was great and to be fair when you have someone to clean your room daily, someone to cook you meals and even someone to give you a massage when you need one I guess it was relaxing. Anywhere you go with three kids, heat, overcrowding and traffic chaos is unlikely to be a walk in the park ( a lush green park with a cool breeze that is). We are slowly adjusting to the new chaos and the new parameters for relaxing. Bali, we love you , we will be back. If you were too relaxing we might not be prepared to move on to the next busy, hot and chaotic spot!

Where next? Lombok and the Gili Islands.