No matter how hard you try, you can’t plan the perfect day. You don’t have control over other people, what they’ll say, how they’ll say it, what they’ll do; and how it will affect your mood. You can’t guarantee it won’t rain or that there won’t be any traffic and you’ll arrive on time, that your kids won’t get sick or your flight delayed. In fact, pretty much everything in this life happens in spite of your best intentions and plans.
This epic summer trip, the working vacation living in Portugal, living in Bali, taking tours out on the side, flying to Singapore, driving a rental car in the labyrinth of Denpasar, surfing gigantic waves, going on adventures to water parks and monkey forests… it’s all coming to an end. We’re heading back to Spain on Friday.
And it certainly hasn’t been perfect.
With more ups and downs than a helter-skelter, traveling with kids alone has been hard. Although, I think I’ll grudgingly admit, not as hard as I thought it would be.
Probably the very worst thing of all is the airplanes, airports, layovers, and some of the white-knuckle car rides. Driving around chaotic, potholed streets in the dark desperately trying to back up the car after heading down a one-way street with two kids fighting and screaming in the back. I’ve never been very good at driving in reverse, least of all in a car with no sensors and an army of mopeds flying at me left and right and people grazing the doors as they walk past.
Driving in Bali Has Opened My Eyes
It’s funny. Usually, you’d see a place on the map just two or three kilometers away and think it would take a few minutes. You certainly wouldn’t expect 32, not by car anyway. But everything takes so strenuously long to get to here. The narrow streets, the congestion, the pedestrians, animals, street sellers and people on the back of mopeds.
When we drove to Ubud, Bali on the weekend, it looked as if some people had their entire lives balanced on the back of a moped.
Carrying fruits, eggs, and a variety of vegetables to market. Dozens of towels, pillows, or even a mattress, birds in cages, and anything you can think of can fit on the back of a bike here–and come flying past your window.
There are a few traffic lights but they’re taken as a suggestion. The signage is poorly lacking, leading tourists to hear the heinous Google robotic woman say “make a U-turn” as if becoming a contortionist with the car was possible.
I become a woman possessed when I get behind the wheel with a mouth like a sailor. I can’t help it. Driving here is like being in a video game and it requires 100 percent concentration which is not easy with two kids in the back.
I mentioned it before, but it still leaves me agape just how few accidents you see and how well everything just functions. It must be all offerings to the Gods in the shape of a little banana leaf basket with a flower and incense stick inside.
Well, someone is looking after all those people in Bali and avoiding their near and certain death each time they set foot on the street.
Driving to Ubud, the roads were less hectic and cramped than Legian and Kuta, although we got to go through several bizarre roundabouts and twists and turns just the same. The helmets were swapped out for triangular straw hats and cyclists on bikes, or sellers peddling their wares on the back of an unmotorized vehicle.
This is the real Bali, they say as if the rest of it were just pretend. I understand what the tour guides mean. Here, you can see the lush green rice paddies, the majestic fauna of the Monkey Forest and have a run-in with the grouchy and aggressive creatures if you so wish to. The market sellers are less pushy and the car fumes lighter, but the poverty is also greater.
Stray a little from the main streets and you really see how little so many people live with. Perhaps that is the real Bali–real poverty, real simplicity, and yet, still such an outward friendly disposition, a wide smile, and overwhelming human kindness.
Komaneka at Monkey Forest Ubud
Set off the road but right in the center of Ubud was our jungle retreat Komaneka. It was absolutely perfect. I wanted to finish Bali with a bang and spent the extra cash to get a large room (junior suite) with an infinity pool under the canape of lush dense forest. I didn’t realize that we would have our own butler, that the bathtub would be under the stars, or that the room would be bigger than our apartment in Legian.
Not only that, but the people treated us with such kindness, they were so welcoming and friendly, and even helped me find Valentino’s shoe.
I’m not proud of it, but I almost had a breakdown after getting up at 6 am to go and see the rice fields so that we could be back in time to change rooms at the other hotel… only to waste 30 minutes looking for a shoe that was right there two minutes ago.
It’s stupid stuff like that that can make you lose your mind. The meltdowns in the street, the ungrateful behavior, the tears, the moans, having to miss out on the things you’d enjoy, like trekking up volcanoes or snorkeling to see underwater buddhas… that’s all fine. You’re traveling with kids, after all; your itinerary will be more filled with swimming pools and parks.
But them randomly losing stuff and wasting time looking for it–that is what pushes me over the edge.
So how was the Monkey Forest? Well, we didn’t go to the Monkey Forest in Ubud because we had a sufficient dose of monkeys simply by standing outside of it.
It’s a shame since there are temples in there I would have liked to have seen. But a scowling large determined monkey with an evil eye bearing down on your toddler is enough to make you think twice. I had to fend it off by throwing food and objects at it, and it was enough to terrify the kids and make everyone agree that we didn’t need to go inside.
We still had the best adventure ever in Ubud. Here in Bali, in general. In Singapore, during all the travel, and in Portugal. This summer will go down as one of my best and I’m so fiercely proud of my beautiful children, growing up, understanding the world, seeing people at face value and making friends without a single thought for the clothes they’re wearing or the language they speak.
I haven’t been very well for a fair bit of this trip. I’m not sure why. I did see a doctor in Portugal but we thought it was some kind of food poisoning. Now, I assume that it’s something more since it’s not really going away. It’s not bothering me enough to stop me doing things but I did let out a “what would happen to you both if I had to go to hospital here?” moan. I didn’t realize Cataleya was listening. “We’d come with you mommy, of course,” she said naturally with zero hesitation.
Proud Momma Moments
The love you have for your kids is ferocious. They are the only people you can live your absolute worst and best moments with and it doesn’t matter. The love is unbreakable.
I’ve sworn at them plenty of times. I’ve wanted to kill them when they got marker pen on the sofa or Cataleya threw herself on the floor of a fancy restaurant in Singapore–and when Valentino has his melt-downs in-flight. They can be as awful as you could ever imagine a bratty child to be. And then they can be amazing.
Catalelya has taught herself to swim. At four years old, she didn’t know how to swim a few weeks ago. I think it must be a combination of so much time spent in the pool with watching older children, but today, she actually swam the full breadth of the big pool with no armbands. My heart nearly burst with pride.
As for Valentino, today he said “bath time” after me. He’s not really speaking all that much, he’s probably confused. In his short life, people are speaking to him in different languages all the time. But he’s picking up words and he understands commands–and what he doesn’t say he makes up for in smiles, cuddles and sheer goodness.
Apart from when he’s on an airplane, this child is a pure blessing from God, the most thoughtful funloving and happy little boy I could hope for.
The Bali Baby Sitter
After Cataleya got pneumonia, the whole sending them to daycare idea got thrown out the window. I mean, it may have been OK, but I was hardly willing to drop them off at a place that I now knew to be a 35-minute drive away in hair-raising traffic with no air conditioning and with Indonesian cuisine included.
It just wasn’t going to happen, they would have needed a much longer adaptation period. So, in order to work, we have had a Bali baby sitter come for several hours each day Monday to Friday. They love them. They bring toys, beaming smiles, and let the kids do whatever they want, which is pretty much spending all day in the pool and the playground.
One lady in particular has a piece of my heart forever. Teething throughout this journey, Valentino has chomped his way through even my extra and extra pacifiers. Yet, it’s almost impossible to buy a pacifier in Bali. We’ve been to several supermarkets, pharmacies, toy shops, all the places you might expect to find one but to no avail.
Tuti asked her daughter where she bought her children’s from and it turns out from a dedicated baby store in the capital. I probably wasn’t going to make it there since it’s impossible to park a people carrier anywhere. The streets are designed for pedestrians and now for mopeds, with no room to swing a cat.
Tuti offered to buy one for me and bring it here. Especially given the fact that she was not free to look after the kids since last week, I didn’t really believe that she would. Today, I had a call in the hotel room, and she had come with an Avent pacifier especially for Valentino–and she wouldn’t let me pay for it. Not her time, not the pacifier. She wanted it to be a present for him.
I welled up. It’s the second time in so many days. This isn’t the easiest period of my life and I’m incredibly sensitive when people are nice to me. When we left the Komaneka hotel yesterday, they handed me back the key to a shiny clean car. I could not believe it, I was stunned.
I’ve been driving around looking for a car wash for weeks since ours was filthy and covered in all kinds of animal feces, but there is a dearth of car wash outlets in Bali. The hotel groundskeeper just cleaned it for me to be nice. I pretty much bawled right then and there.
Bali, I was suspicious of your people at first. That many smiling faces anywhere else in the world is usually fake or a sign of something malevolent underneath.
Here, I would say for the most part, that people are just openly kind. They’re happy that you’ve come to see them, that you’ve entered their world and they want to do something nice in return. I ache with joy that we did this, journeys from hell aside, sicknesses, hiccups, and false starts, this has been the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done and I’d do it over and over without hesitation.