So, I’ve been a little quiet lately. You probably thought I was busy sipping on cocktails and soaking up the sun or maybe surfing.
I was. In the fleeting moments of slumber that I’ve had on this round-the-clock, 24/7 carer, chauffer, night nurse, cleaner, and frazzled parent of two children.
I thought the journey here alone with two screaming and unruly kids was the worst thing that could happen. Then the day after we arrived, Cataleya came down with a high fever. Two doctors and two different medications later, she’s still sick.
Valentino has been climbing the walls, aching to run, play, go outside. And we’ve been marooned in our ugly shoebox apartment which bared no resemblance to the description or the photos whatsoever.
It was stuck on the side of a heavily transited Balinese road (which is every road here) where no one respects crossings, if you don’t watch your step you could disappear down an uncovered manhole, and you have to weave your way in and out of mopeds and cars with your baby stroller.
By yesterday morning, I’d had enough. I scooped the kids up, left that Godforsaken apartment and moved to a resort. That provoked shrieks of delight from the children as we zigzagged and bumped our way through the streets, watching out for street sellers and mopeds.
I have to say, it was utterly terrifying, although, I started getting the hang of it after not too long. There simply aren’t any traffic rules, so you just keep your eyes open and do what you feel. I felt like turning and crossing where Google maps told me, so I did, skimming past wanderers in the road.
When we reached the Jayakarta Club and Cataleya saw three swimming pools with real children in them (rather than the enlarged frog pond at the last place), she assured me she felt better. We snatched a few moments of fun in the water before it all started going wrong again.
More fever, this time with screaming, vomiting, and clutching her stomach, another doctor and more meds. It appears that we may have been giving her a dosage fit for a 50-kilo adult and that’s sent her little stomach into a spin.
Valentino has gone off to the kids’ club to stretch his little legs and have some fun and I’m lying next to Cata while she sleeps. For some reason, this is only possible during the daytime.
Bali so far? A nightmare. But not because of Bali’s fault (apart from the two-hour immigration queue). At least we’ve finally glimpsed the ocean and splashed in a pool. This time yesterday, all we had seen was a contaminated, congested, and filthy road where streetfood sellers toss their scaps into the floor and mangy dogs pick at them.
Spain to Bali with Two Small Kids
Before that, we were pretty much constantly in motion. Really, the good thing about traveling across continents, taking three airplanes, and dramatically changing time zones and cultures with two small infants is that nothing else in life will ever be as hard.
Once you’ve had a writhing, screaming, flailing, kicking, scratching, hysterical toddler on your lap while the other kid’s running down the aisle bawling for her lost toy and jumping on the seats as passengers glare at you muttering about how you can’t control your children, you’ve pretty much hit your lowest point.
Valencia to London
I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t really have any notion of just how hard it would be. And we had several factors working against us. From the very moment we took off and Cataleya said: “where’s Mimi?” I knew it was all downhill from there.
Mimi is Cataleya’s best friend, blanket, toy, companion–they have been inseparable since she was five months old. Now we were facing 24 hours of traveling and, let’s face it, a new chapter of her life without her faithful companion left in an airport lounge. It was the worst start possible. I would rather have lost the passports.
Once I did manage to console her that we would either find Mimi or get a mini Mimi for our vacation, all she wanted to do was be held. But that’s a little difficult when the flight attendants are forcing you to hold the other baby and imploring you to get her back in her seat.
Then the iPhone died.
They only had salmon left for dinner (which was thrown across the plane) and we were only halfway through the first two-hour flight. I was exhausted already and we hadn’t touched down yet.
Who knew Valentino had such an aversion to flight safety?
Seriously, he was OK during the air (more or less, of course, it’s super fun playing the game of pulling up and down the blinds, throwing the food, phone, and any object close to you, and trying to fit three people in a toilet)…
But, oh boy, when the time came to strap him in… my arms and legs are black and blue and scratched from the sheer force that he struggled and kicked with.
More than once, I had to let him lie on the floor for a time-out, although that invited the flight attendant police in force making me feel like a crappy mother for not successfully strapping him to me.
I think it’s like giving birth. No one ever really tells you just how painful and horrifying it will be–or they’ve forgotten just how hard it was afterward. It’s the same with traveling with infants. It’s something you have to get through to reach your desired outcome.
I was politely told to keep control of Catelaya as I was fighting to keep Valentino from harming himself or breaking the plane–and reminded that my children shouldn’t be bothering other passengers.
It was awful.
We still had 19 hours of flying time ahead and I was about to leave the boarding passes in a shop.
London to Hong Kong
As we reached the gate after miles of walking, carrying, running, stressing, and trying to scout out for any kind of toy that would do to replace Mimi for the flight, I left the boarding passes in a shop.
I’ve been on thousands of planes, trains, boats, and buses. Never have I ever lost a ticket. I have now.
Taking on an endeavor like this with two tiny babes makes you lose your mind–and your personal belongings.
Luckily, fate never sends you more than you can handle. Or at least, if it does, it sends aid in some form or another along the way.
As I was desperately scouring through my backpack on the floor holding up the boarding line, a gentleman came up and asked if I had lost my boarding passes. I wanted to kiss him.
The staff member taking the tickets was also nice to me. Kind. Helpful. It was unexpected. He said it didn’t matter if I had lost them, as long as I had my passports, they could always print more.
Most people treat you as if you have ebola when you’re flying alone with kids. Especially if you dare to fly in Business class, where most people believe they are better than everyone else. Well, I’ll frivolously spend my money however I feel like without their looks of judgment.
I will be writing a letter of complaint to British Airways for the appalling treatment during the first flight. It knocked me off keel, made me feel like we were second-class citizens and didn’t belong, and as if I couldn’t do it.
Thanks to the kindness of these two strangers, we put the first flight behind us and we were away again.
Another plane, another gruesome takeoff.
At one point I was so concerned about Valentino that I took my eye off Cataleya. She was about to strangle herself with the seatbelt. Not wishing to be outdone, it seems, she decided she also didn’t want to be strapped in.
Thankfully, a kindly passenger (whom she bothered profusely for the next couple of hours), spoke to her calmly and lent her his telephone to watch Bible stories.
The staff was nicer as well. They were mainly women and very understanding. As the captain announced that we had a 13-hour flight to Hong Kong ahead, I nearly died. I had no idea it was that long.
One hour in, two children needing to defecate at the same time, and zero to eat or drink since both kids had decided that throwing everything that came in sight was entertaining, I cried–inwardly and outwardly. What a stupid idea.
You know those babies and those children on those flights you don’t want to remember? That was us.
It got better though.
After the several trips to the toilet balancing two toddlers on my knees and shoulders, snatching at bites of bread and giving them some snacks from our suitcase, they finally fell asleep one by one. Not in a position in which I could comfortably share either seat with them but I managed to perch, keep my legs out of the aisle, and lie there with half an eye open on both.
Meals eaten? Zero. Movies watched? Didn’t even get the headset out. I spent the next six hours dying to pee and terrified to move lest I woke one of the beasts.
As we finally arrived in Hong Kong, I was feeling exhausted. Honestly, after the drive back from Portugal and the nerves before the journey, it was now several days since I had slept more than an hour or so.
And I had to strap Valentino into the seatbelt. All hell kicked off once again as both my babies started screaming and almost foaming at the mouth. You get the idea, I won’t go on. But now I was covered in milk, orange juice, red wine, sweat, blood, and tears.
Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali
In case you haven’t been, Hong Kong is a very very large airport. After several miles of walking, dragging, chasing, carrying, sweating, and being incapable of finding the gates, I realized we were walking around in circles.
At this juncture of the journey with the thought of another six-hour flight ahead, I was about to fall on my sword. In fact, I had come as far as I possibly could and I was ready to raise the white flag. There is no shame in knowing your limitations. This was mine. I could not get on another plane with those two kids right now.
We went to the Hong Kong airways ticket counter. For a fleeting and cheerful moment, they said it was no problem to stay in Hong Kong, to collect the luggage here and take another plane to Bali.
However, deep-rooted social unrest and violent protests have turned Asia’s most progressive city into place unfit for tourists. I was advised against staying, especially because it was likely that the airport or the airline would be closed in a couple of days. We would just have to push through.
Thankfully, after finding the train and locating the gate, we had 30 minutes in the lounge to recuperate slightly. I managed to get some food into the children and I had a beer. They stretched their legs and found a little boy to play with as I enjoyed a full two minutes to myself to watch the increasing trouble brewing on the streets of Hong Kong not far from the airport.
The flight was as awful as you can imagine at this juncture. The children were more tired and weary than before. Valentino went through the same half-hour sh**storm as we took off and Cataleya leaped over the seats, refusing to sit down. When it was over and we came into land, we repeated the ritual. I will be sure to cut Valentino’s nails before the next time we fly. As we touched down I felt an enormous sense of relief. But the misery would continue.
I hate Europe in August. It’s hot, packed, expensive, and full of tourists. Well, it turns out that so is Bali. It wasn’t quite enough to go through the traumatic journey alone to test my limits. We would have another two hours of waiting in line at immigration, visa, back to immigration, customs, and then filing a complaint for lost luggage.
I was done with Bali before we left the airport. And it took so damn long to leave the airport. I spend my life writing about technology that can give us portable passports and speed up the process around the world, eliminating passports and boarding cards. How far away this is from becoming a reality.
By the time we reached the hotel, it was almost 3 am. We were given their worst room with no bathtub, no kitchen, no space, and no WIFI.
Some saving graces so far have been smiling people, the swimming pool moment mentioned above, me pimping my ride (photos to come) and Cataleya’s giggles in the swimming pool. Both the kids really like the milk here as well, which is good.
As for me, mixed feelings. Worried and pissed at the “vacation” that is not going anywhere near as planned. But we have been to the supermarket and been given our change in sweets. That was a plus. It took me back to traveling through central America.
Also, I’m, a millionaire. I have 4 million Rupiah in my pocket right now. And we have Mimi back. She made it all the way wedged into the stroller that was found two days later. It will get better and when it does, believe me, you’ll be hearing about it.