Bali and Beyond – an old travel diary

Wednesday 1-4-98, Kuta

Final day in Bali. I woke up about 11:00 AM. Went for a swim in the pool and felt really good, after waking up a bit seedy. Not so for Christine. She threw up before going to bed, had a bad sleep and awoke with the world’s biggest hangover. She looked like death warmed up and I lost of count of how many times she threw up during the day. (I remember far more of this than I should, considering. I don’t know what I was thinking, drinking that Jungle Juice, but then that’s Bali. I did a lot of stupid things in my youth, this being just a sample.)

We ordered lunch at the hotel. I ate mine and Christine couldn’t stomach hers. She went for a nap in the afternoon, and I chatted with Tony. (Once again, we try to picture the intangible Tony because not only did Michael chat with Tony around the pool, but I recall my afternoon nap was done in the air-conditioned delight that was his hotel room.) I had a swim in the pool and had a massage. One-hour for IDR25,000. AUD$4.50. It was a very good massage right beside the pool. Very laid back and relaxed day. (For him. I wasted a whole day in Bali from getting wasted!)

Christine began to feel heaps better by late afternoon. And we are both looking forward to UK. Caught the shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport. (The Denpasar International Airport is huge now but back then it was the low-set red-brick building that is the Domestic airport now. There are still no air-bridges but that first blast of humid smokey air when you step out of the plane and onto the tarmac is one of my favourite sensations.) I’m still amazed how everyone drives/rides, motorbikes like maniacs. (He’s still amazed about this now but that doesn’t stop us from joining in!)

The plane is huge. Looks like it might be a long night. (How right he was. It was easily one of the longest nights of our lives.)

Bali is an eye opener. We will try to get out to the islands on the way back. I worked out one person could live like a king for six months in Bali for less than $5000, including airfare. We met some surfers who are doing this. What a life! Could maybe handle extended stay in Bali in a quiet location for a few months and watch the world go by and practice some surfing. (I don’t recall Michael ever mentioning this thought at the time. I think I would have jumped at the chance but considering the huge change that was around the corner for us, it might have been a short stay. Besides, while I am in love with Bali now, back then it was all about Europe, castles, art and seeing as much of the world as possible.)

Living in Bali would be a fascinating experience, but you can’t help but feel for the locals with the poverty, pollution and living conditions. Makes you appreciate even the small things in Australia.

The Flight. Bali – Jakarta – Abu Dhabi – Frankfurt – Brussels – Amsterdam – London.

Bali – Jakarta. One hour, one hour in transit.

The airport is huge and very classy. Lots of stuff for sale that would be less than a dollar in Bali. (I have zero memory of this airport and that’s saying something because I remember everything. I’m like an elephant. I don’t even recall stopping in Jakarta!)

Jakarta – Abu Dhabi. 7.5 hours, one hour transit.

(We were stunned when people in the “smoking section” of the plane lit up as soon as we got to cruising altitude. When we booked our flights in Australia we asked if the flight was non-smoking. Smoking was banned on flight in and from/to Australia in December 1987, so it was bizarre to us that more than a decade later people were still smoking on flights. Can I just add here that having a non-smoking section on a plane is like having a non-smoking section of a bedroom. Thank heavens the world has changed at least in this small way.)

The airport was amazing though pretty small. We arrived about 2:00am local time. People everywhere. All the shops were open, and people seemed to be buying anything and lots of it at very expensive prices. All kinds of people to be seen, including the occasional guard walking around with a machine gun on his back. Airline hostesses (these days we would say flight attendants, of course) from some airline with little cones with netting on their heads like a genie. Looks weird to us, but that’s normal to them.

Hubby at Abu Dhabi International airport 1998

(I must have recovered from my hangover at this point because I remember Abu Dhabi airport well. The centre of the shopping area had an enormous centrepiece in a honeycomb pattern in blue, white and gold. Considering that Brisbane didn’t have an international airport until 1988 we were easily wowed. I remember queuing for the bathrooms with women from all over the world and managing to jag one of the few pedestal toilets in the place. I only know it was a lucky dip because we were talking to people later who said they had all had a crash course in using a squat toilet in the Abu Dhabi airport.)

Abu Dhabi – Frankfurt. 6 1/2 hours.

Didn’t sleep much but watched two movies, The Game and George of the Jungle. We weren’t allowed to get off the plane in transit but could see from the windows that the airport is huge. There were planes everywhere, probably over a hundred. (I may have slept through this part because I had no idea we’d transited through Frankfurt until I read this.)

Frankfurt – Brussels. 45-minute flight. 45 minutes in transit.

Once again, we weren’t allowed to get off the plane, but we managed to convince the staff to open the cabin door to let in some fresh air. It was very cold outside.

Brussels – Amsterdam 45-minute flight. 4 hours in transit.

We complained so much about the smoking on the flight that the airline gave us food vouchers, but we were both sick and congested. (We both suffered pretty badly from sensitivity to cigarette smoke so after we ate, we grabbed a few sachets of salt and a couple of clean paper cups and found a bathroom to ‘do the saltwater thing.’ You dissolve the salt in warm water and snort it up your nose. An odd thing to do in a public bathroom to be sure but what did we care? We were Aussie backpackers and had no shame.

It only occurred to me many years later that we could have taken the train into Amsterdam to have a quick look on our transit time, but we didn’t know it was possible. I think that’s the best thing about having access to the internet while traveling these days with smartphones and Wi-Fi, you don’t miss out on little spontaneous adventures.)

Amsterdam to London. Finally. 50-minute flight.

We got our bags really quickly. No delays. We were through customs within 15 minutes of landing, and we were ready to go. Overall, it was the flight from hell.

Thursday 2nd April 1998. Gatwick to Oxford.

We arrived at Gatwick Airport at 5:00 PM. (Michael may not have been hungover when we left Bali but left to his own devices while I was otherwise occupied, he hadn’t dressed for the English springtime. He was still in a t-shirt and boardshorts and we hastily grabbed warmer clothes from his pack. Gatwick was a great choice for arriving and for hiring a car. We’ve done Heathrow a few times and it’s a zoo. Things have likely changed in the 24 years since this trip, but the ease of our arrival was greatly appreciated after the long, long journey to get there.)

The hire car company picked us up from the airport and took us to the depot. The car was very small, but we were finally on our way. Left depot about 6:00pm and the traffic wasn’t too bad as we were going away from London and had missed peak hour. Drive to Oxford one-and-a-half-hour drive, both very tired. Arrived Oxford about 8:00pm. Looking for cheap place to stay but there was nowhere cheap. First B&B was GBP45, and she said it was the cheapest around. Checked out another few but all about the same price. Went to YMCA but it was full. Went to youth hostel and paid GBP30 for a room. (My kingdom for back in 1998!)

It was very cold, wet and windy. (A shock to the system after Bali.) The chill is like nothing I’ve experienced before and I’m wearing everything warm possible. Amazing scenery when driving. Lots of churches with big spires, green, green grass everywhere. Not like Australia – lots of vast open spaces with sheep everywhere. Which seems strange, seeing as there are so many people on a small island.

Went to find food – bought some KFC and got lost going back to the hostel. I put the bags in our room and went to park the car around the corner. I drove into the exit instead of the entrance and was reversing out, but the movies had just finished and there were hundreds of cars leaving the car park. No one would let me out. I waited about ten minutes, reversed out and parked the car. (I’d like to think that people would be kinder now.)

Finally went to sleep about 10:00pm. People in hostel were very noisy. I slept well because I was tired, but Christine had a very bad sleep as I snored. The people next door were having jiggy jig (using one of the few words he picked up in Bali!) and people through the night were opening and slamming doors as there was no curfew.

Christine was still sick after the flight and hadn’t recovered.

(This was my first experience with bad jetlag. I should have taken a sleeping pill, but I only had one ‘sheet’ of them and was saving them in case I really needed them. In hindsight, I should have taken one that night. I’d struggled with insomnia for years and had had hypnosis about twelve months before we got married. It was a game changer. I could now “Sleep for Australia.” On my last flight from Paris to Singapore I slept for six hours, without medication, sitting up, in a very full Air France plane that smelled of pee.

Now I know Michael had pondered the idea of an extended stay in Bali I feel for him and the shock of arriving in chilly-old England. I had visited England just a few years before and loved it. My mum is second-generation Australian, and she instilled a love of England in me so though I am Aussie born and bred, I feel my English and Irish roots. Even now I could probably settle in a little thatched cottage (or a manor house, or a Grand Designs-worthy Barn conversion) for a year in the Wiltshire/Devon countryside but I doubt Michael would be terribly eager.)