Bali has never been on my list of places I wanted to visit.
It’s got a nice deep footprint on the tourist track, and the idea of beaches bodies deep in inebriated Australians just never appealed that much to me. But, when it turned out that the cheapest flights to OZ were between Denpasar and Perth, well, why not spend a week checking Bali off of the list?
Imagine my surprise to find that… I love it.
Our flight left Makassar at 4:00 a.m. which meant that the roads, mercifully, were not a crawling traffic jam as we departed. We medicated our two hour layover in Jakarta with breakfast from Starbucks at the airport (I know, I know… and I hate Starbucks too, for it’s culture killing McDonalds-esque qualities, but I dare you not to be so traumatized by Jakarta that you too run for the first cultural comfort food you can find.) And we stepped off of the plane in Denpasar, Bali just after eleven in the morning, into a staggering, wilting equatorial heat.
A good hour was spent reminding various car rental touts that this was not our first rodeo and that there were fifty more where they came from, resulting in the rental of a Toyota Avanza with an almost non-existent clutch.
Toyota Avanzas aren’t sold in North America, so to get a full appreciation for it, you should Google it and have a look. Technically, it’s a six seater, but that’s with no gear whatsoever. It’s the same car we rented on Borneo for our two week road trip between Kuching and Miri. In that time we became experts at packing four kids, six travel sized back packs, six day packs and three instruments into one and still having enough room left to shift gears in the front seat. The protocol: Violin and mandolin in the trunk. Between the boys in the second back seat: one big bag, another on the floor wedged between the two back seats. Same program in the first back seat row, leaving the two smaller boys’ packs, one wedged in behind the passenger seat, Ezra’s in his lap. Everyone holding their day bag in their lap (I hold two) and the guitar laid along the top of the pile of bags down the center. It’s an adventure. Getting in and out at gas stations or other stops is even more of an adventure.
Ez has taken to muttering about being an origami swan as he crawls over the tilted seat into the far back and has his bags folded around him.
Ubud is toward the center of Bali, up in the mountains, surrounded by volcanos and rice paddies. Miraculously, it has escaped the cookie-cutter fate of other Indonesian cities and has managed to retain some of it’s cultural charm while at the same time playing host to entirely too many travelers… and this is the off season. I cannot imagine the madhouse it must be during high season. It is a quaint blend of the best of hippie traveler culture, Balinese art, and musical society, and upscale eco-resort. Shops and galleries dot the streets, offerings of fruits, flowers and incense in folded banana leaf trays dot sidewalks and doorways. Frangipani flowers are tucked behind Ganesha’s ears, glimpsed through carved doorways that defy description. And there is salad. Lots and lots of gourmet restaurants at Balinese prices with fresh salad on the menu. This is distinctly not Indonesian, at least in our experience thus far.
There are many things that are wondrous to me; the internet is at the top of that list. Through it, we’ve become members of an online community of other families who travel for living, or are serial expats, or are otherwise our kind of crazy. Many of them we’ve communicated with for years but never met in person.
The Kings are one such family. We’d existed in the same circles for a long time before we met for the first time this fall in Penang. They live in Ubud and threw an afternoon pool party for us to celebrate our arrival and introduce us to two new sets of virtual friends at the same time.
I cannot say enough about the generosity of this family. Sabina is as gracious a hostess as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Keith makes a person feel immediately at home and their children are two of the gentlest hearts we know. Little Isla sat next to me and whispered, “I just love Jenn, she’s rubbing my back.” Now that’s a two year old I’d like to rent!
The McNabs are moving to Bali in about a month, having just sold their house in Perth, they’re beginning their adventures together as a family. We’re hoping to see them again in Australia next week, and they’ve generously offered to let us borrow their camper and explore Western OZ for a while when we get there. Who does that on the first date? I’m telling you, travelers are some of the most open-handed people on the planet. Perhaps it’s knowing what it feels like to do without that causes people to be so willing to share what they have.
The Pearces are folks we’ve been following for a while on their blog. They’re an American family with an interesting story. Take some time to read it when you have an hour or two. Ezra and Emily became fast friends and swapped email by mid afternoon. We’re going to spend Saturday with them and add them to the list of the best parts of our journey.
The monsoon rain poured down in sheets filling the Kings’ garden calf deep in water.
The children, oblivious, swam and played in the bamboo kids house and laughed, as children everywhere will do. We parents sat in the fading light and talked long. There is an instant camaraderie between folks who’ve wandered a while. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve felt it. Complete strangers can sit on cushions around a low table, share some tabouleh and feel like old friends. After weeks of struggling with cities we dislike and being the only fair faces in every crowd it was a homecoming of sorts to sip tea on a monsoon afternoon in a garden tucked between rice paddies on a hillside of an island that we never expected to visit.