I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published December 31st 2016
Cheap Bali Holiday
I knew I was stressed and needed a holiday when I thanked the photocopying machine after it had done some photocopying for me. When my friend Karen asked me if I'd like to go on a trip to Bali with seven other women, I said yes straight away. Karen was organising the trip to celebrate her friend Robyn's 40th birthday.
Robyn had moved from Townsville to Geraldton in Western Australia and some of her other friends lived in rural Victoria, Townville, Cairns and Alice Springs, so they thought a good place to meet would be Bali.
After months of saving, eight of us from four different Australian States left husbands and fifteen children behind on Independence Day (4th July) 1999 and flew to Bali.
We all managed to scrape the money together by doing extra work including tutoring, cleaning toilets in Alice Springs, and scrounging money from family businesses. Two of the women had windfalls when they were left inheritances from relatives who died.
Karen did a great job of organizing us all, and got the three from Townville a good deal of ten days accommodation and return flights to Bali with Garuda airlines for $1,100 each.
I was determined to have a good time, even though I felt a bit guilty leaving my twelve year old son behind with two broken arms from an accident on a school camp at Charters Towers a few days before we were due to leave.
Gwenda from Warrnambool in South West Victoria joined us at the last minute when another woman had to pull out because her father in law died. Gwenda had never been out of Australia before, or away from her four children and husband.
We stayed at a three-star hotel in the heart of Kuta where we swam, shopped, travelled around Bali visiting temples, volcanoes, artists' communities, silver factories, woodcarving industries, arts and craft stalls, museums, beaches and shopped again. Shopping was one of our main activities, although every second day we hired a van with a driver and went sight seeing. Some of us didn't know each other before the trip, but we soon worked each other out.
Robyn was the major shopaholic. By day four, she had already bought seventeen t-shirts, six pairs of shorts, three dresses, cushion covers and numerous other things. The rest of us would buy just a couple of tea shirts and sarongs while Robyn would buy twenty tea shirts and ten sarongs. I bought one pair of shoes and a putt putt boat for my son. Robyn had six pairs of shoes made, and bought nineteen putt putt boars for various children, cousins, nieces and nephews for Christmas.
Liz, the seasoned traveller, who interrupted her trip around Australia and joined us from Alice Springs wasn't interested in shopping. She was more interested in learning about the culture and arts and crafts of the country. She was the only one of us who could sit quietly on Kuta beach reading or talking to the Balinese women without being mobbed by people wanting to plait her hair, paint her nails, give her a massage or sell her something. She complained the next time she wanted us all to go somewhere without shops so she could talk to us.
While most of us bargained for cheap clothes, shoes and jewellery, Deanna from Cairns took her time and saved her money for quality items. She had been to Bali before and knew exactly what she wanted. When we'd all spent our money on cheap clothing, Deanna bought two beautiful hand carved puppets, two coin figurines and some beautiful Javanese cushion covers with tassels.
I loved our trip to Ubud, but my favourite place in Bali was the Taman Burung Bali Bird Park where we saw Komodo dragons and fantastic tropical birds including toucans, New Guinea birds of paradise, macaws, and Indonesian cassowaries, which are shorter and a different colour to the North Queensland variety. The Park contains 1000 birds from over 250 species.
I was on the look out for the famous "Kuta cowboys". I had read about them in My Lonely Planet Guide, which warned about these young Indonesian men who go after female tourists. We didn't have to look far. They were everywhere offering to "take us home and make us happy"! They were selling everything from fake Nike watches, ink tattoos, silver bracelets, transport and everything else. They called us Australian mammas and were great for our egos. I succumbed to a fake watch, which went for about six months, although it was pretty unreliable and made me miss a whale-watching trip off Fraser Island. I'd gone for a walk along the beach waiting for the boat and saw it sailing away because my Bali watch was slow.
Jan from Warrambool had the address of a leather dressmaker, and had a beautiful brown suede jacket made. It didn't look too good over shorts, but she assured us it would look great over her jeans in cold Warrnambool.
Robyn spent a day cruising to the island of Lembongan by winning a limbo competition. She found some beautiful white lace tablecloths there, which she had been searching for all over Bali for her mother. The Islanders trustingly let her take two, and arranged to collect the money from our hotel next day.
Helen from Townsville was the only one to get a slight touch of Bali Belly, which kept her on black tea and toast for one day. I developed a strange rash on the back of my right thigh. I began to get worried when it kept spreading and moved to my other leg. My groin lymph nodes swelled, and I was sure I had some terrible tropical disease. Finally, I went to a local chemist who said it was due to "small animals in the bed" and sold me some antihistamines and cortisone cream.
The Balinese people are very friendly and talented. We visited artists working with silver and wood, and watched some painting. I wanted to buy a large carved wooden reef scene screen, but couldn't afford it, as my budget was limited.
On the second last night on our way out to dinner, a woman in the street gave Robyn and Deanna a rose and invitation for the next day. It included a free taxi ride to a five-star resort at the Southern end of the Island at Jimbaran. There was also a free breakfast, trip to a temple and free seafood lunch on the beach. Deanna didn't want to go, so I went with Robyn on the mystery trip.
We caught a taxi to the resort and showed our voucher at the hotel. They paid for the taxi and took us into the dining room for a beautiful buffet breakfast. We met Mark, a charming Englishman who chatted with us over coffee. We eventually worked out what the deal was. They were trying to sell us "Timeshare" in the resort.
Mark was a very good salesperson and gave us the full treatment, which included a full tour and video. If I'd had a spare $10,000 I would have probably invested in it, even though Mark called us "one leggers", and knew we wouldn't buy because we didn't have our husbands with us.
Robyn had worked in sales in Townsville and impressed Mark so much he offered her a job, but she had to return to Geraldton to her husband and three children. Mark was living cheaply in the local village compound and making heaps of money which he was sending back to England to pay off property over there.
After breakfast, we set off for the Pura Ulu Watu temple in an air-conditioned kombi van with the other "guests". It was a beautiful temple, much less crowded than the other temples we had visited in the north of the island. It was situated on a magnificent cliff overlooking the sea. The monkeys were asleep in the shade so we didn't see them. The next stop was the Café Tirum for our free seafood lunch. We felt like wealthy tourists as we ate our beautiful lunch of fish, squid, crab and fresh pineapple juice right on the beach with our chairs sinking into the sand and watching planes land at the airport nearby.
The ten days went by quickly and we were soon on the way home. I've been surprised by how many women have since told me what a great idea it was to go away with a group of women and leave husbands and children behind. I can really recommend it. It was a lot of fun and after I returned to work I didn't thank the photocopy machine once.