Traveler: Jamie Colosimo
When: April 2017
Bali Part I:
For many, the thought of this Asian paradise exudes an exotic allure. After all, when traveling from America, Bali is pretty much as far as you can get away from the states. The flight alone will cost you about a full day of your life (completely worth it, I assure you, though you’ll want to consider an Extended Layover). But here’s something I hadn’t considered when booking our first family vacay to Bali: To Australian’s, a trip to Bali is the equivalent of, say, a trip to Mexico for us. It’s practically right around the corner, separated only by the Timor Sea. So despite its foreign appeal, Bali is surprisingly westernized in the sense that a great majority of those in the tourist industry are accustomed to dealing with English-speakers.
Now that’s not to say it’s been ruined by tourism either. What I truly loved about Bali was the way it retains its traditional culture even with the influx of outsiders. As the only island of Indonesia in which Hinduism is the primary religion, Bali is much different than the environment I had come to expect from South East Asia. There’s a pureness about Bali which is undoubtedly due, at least in part, to its spirituality. Faith is not an afterthought to the Balinese. It is embedded into their everyday life. On any given day, there are countless ceremonies, parades, and rituals taking place around the island meant to celebrate life and to express gratitude toward the Hindu gods.
What I also found endearing was the emphasis placed on family in the Balinese culture. Almost everything, other than perhaps religion, is secondary. This concept was best explained to us by our driver, Bagar, who confided that he doesn’t understand why Americans seem so overly ambitious. To him, a job is merely a way to contribute to the family. In essence, it’s not what you make, but what you make of it. The Balinese prefer to focus their time and energy on having fun with family and friends. This explanation of the Balinese lifestyle resonated with me. After all one of the reasons travel is so rewarding to me is because value is placed on the ephemeral. I chose long ago not to base my happiness or perception of success on the accumulation of materialistic things. People and experiences – that is what I believe one should value.
With that said, here’s a little confession: Bali is the closest you may ever come to living in the lap of luxury. What we might consider a slight splurge in the US – say a few hundred dollars – is enough in Bali to fulfill your wildest travel desires. Skeptical? Read on and I’ll tell you how our little family of four adopted an elephant, swam in an infinity pool surrounded by baby rhinos, slept in elaborate villas and even hired a personal driver & a nanny – all for less than your average trip to Disneyworld!
Hire Some Help
Finding a Nanny
Bali was the first trip we ever attempted as a family of four. Now one might prematurely assume that a having one adult per child is sufficient ratio. Wrong! Seasoned parents understand that when you are dealing with infants and toddlers, an even playing field is not enough. The more hands on deck, the better! Nevertheless I’ll admit the idea of finding childcare in a foreign country was a bit intimidating. Even when hiring a sitter in the states, there is a very real anxiety in entrusting the life of your littles to a total stranger. I didn’t make the decision lightly. I spent a considerable amount of time researching our options and came upon Bali’s Best Babysitting. What impressed me most about their company were not only the outstanding testimonials but also the ability to personally pick the nanny that you feel is the best fit your family. It helps too that it is the only Australian owned and managed childcare company on the island which means that their clientele is comprise primarily of English speakers. While I’m all for the authentic experience, when it comes to childcare, communication is key and “lost in translation” is not a worthwhile risk.
I reviewed the nanny profiles on their website and carefully decided on Sri:
Sri is a mother of 2, energetic and full of fun. Young and enthusiastic, kids love Sri’s bubbly nature. Sri has been working as a sitter and nanny in Bali for 7+ years. Sri is very good with young children & babies and loves a cuddle! She is very quick on her feet and great with energetic toddlers! Sri is one of our most popular nannies. She is advanced First Aid and CPR trained.
Swimming: Yes, pool
My same age, a mother of two, happy-go-lucky, loves babies and cuddles! I mean she was basically my Balinese twin, right? Ok, ok… more importantly she was experienced with young children and boasted advanced first aid/cpr credentials but personality certainly deserves bonus points in my book. Overall, she seemed like the perfect match for our energetic little tribe and, in the end, we couldn’t have made a better choice. From the moment we met her, Sri was part of the family and she was AMAZING with our kids!
I have a tendency to be helicopter mom. You know, always hovering over my children, even when someone else has agreed to take over the reins. It’s just difficult for me to let go. Type-A personality all the way! Sri eased me into it. Little by little, she convinced me to take time for myself. At first, we just brought her and the kids along on all our excursions but after a few days, I felt confident enough to go out for a walk or to the spa without worrying about their status and safety. The hubs and I even snuck in a few dinner dates – a true rarity for us these days! And each time, we returned to the sound of laughter and singing. On our last day in Bali, I had to blink back the tears as we said goodbye to Sri because I knew how much our whole family would miss her.
The streets of Bali, especially in the cities are chaotic. There seems to be unspoken rules of the road known only to locals and, if you want to get around in the most efficient, yet careful manner possible, I strongly recommend you hire a private driver. This was a new concept for us. On all of our prior family vacays, we had either rented a vehicle or relied on public transportation. With two children though, comfort and safety have become paramount concerns for us. Except I wasn’t sure where to start. Google searches proved less productive than I had hoped so I took to blogs and discussion threads hoping for a more personal recommendation. It was here that I found a name (Made Dodi) and an email . No fancy website. No official company listing. Yet, I made the leap of faith and reached out to Dodi. In the weeks leading up to our trip to Bali, we coordinated our schedules via email. I had created a route using my Connect the Dots method on Google Maps. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see.
Yes I like to map out each journey in detail. Planning is half the fun right? ( and did I mention the Type A personality?) Still, I was SO nervous our driver would be a no-show. What you will soon find about the Balinese level of customer service though is that they go above and beyond the call of duty. The moment we met our driver, Bagar, (who, as it turns out, is Dodi’s nephew – it’s a family business!) our friendship was forged instantly. He didn’t just drive us around. He gave us insights into the Balinese culture answering our persistent questions honestly and without hesitation. Instead of simply taking us from place to place, Bagar joined us on each adventure whether it was exploring temples, playing in waterfalls or shopping at the market. He provided translation services with the locals as needed. He took us to places and sites we hadn’t even considered.
Best of all, he took care of our kids as if he were a long lost uncle. One day, while hiking, my husband got injured pretty badly when a bridge we were crossing suddenly broke. Without hesitation, Bagar carried our daughter on his back for remainder of the hike – 2 miles uphill – and then cleaned and bandaged my husband’s gash. A true Jack-of-all trades, Bagar was a godsend, and I have no doubt that his whole family shows the same sense of dedication to their family business.
Where to Stay:
Santi Mandala Villa & Spa
Bali accommodations will forever ruin the way you travel. The quality to cost ratio is seriously skewed from a Westernized standpoint. I wasn’t sure what I expected when I reserved a private villa at Santi Mandala Villa & Spa for about $100 a night. There had to be a catch right? It simply sounded too good to be true. It wasn’t. After being delivered via golf cart to the doorway, there was a slight Alice in Wonderland feeling as the door swung open… and then – instant joy! A beautifully decorated courtyard with outdoor kitchen & living area was revealed. A private plunge pool beckoned to us and we happily obliged. Our suitcases never even made it inside. With the high walls surrounding us, privacy was not of the slightest concern. Then and there, we stripped right down to our skivvies –the kids too! Just one big happy, half-naked family! But to spare you of that mental image, here are a few quick stock photos from their website so you can start envisioning your own poolside party:
Mara River Safari Hotel
I would like to pretend this hotel, a treehouse hut overlooking an animal park, was for the kids… buuuut I’d be lying. My inner child was jumping for joy as we stepped out on the balcony to find Zebras happily grazing below us. My daughter delighted in throwing carrots, saying “catch it” as if they might actually leap into the air at her command. From the infinity pool – which, mind you, also includes a floating bar – you could happily sip a Bin Tang while baby rhinos casually played just a few yards away. At night, you have the option to jump aboard an open-cage safari which takes you directly through the animal enclosures at the precise time of day that many of the animals are most active. During our tour, a tiger jumped right on the roof of our vehicle! Even the hotel’s restaurant offers a front row seat to the lions’ daily rituals with floor to ceiling windows that literally put you face to face with these ferocious felines.
Granted, this might be the type of experience you’d expect to find in Africa which is the only reason I had to minus a few points. However, for the value (around $250/nt) of this once-in-a-lifetime type experience, we simply couldn’t resist and I highly recommend you give it a try for at least a night or two before retreating back to the traditional villa-style accommodation for which Bali is more well-known.
Before you book check out the calendar…
It seems there is ALWAYS a celebration of some sort in Bali. Unbeknownst to me, I actually booked one of the most significant times of year to travel to the island: the Bali Hindu New Year or “Hari Raya Nyepi”. In the days and weeks leading up to Nyepi, villages throughout the island are bustling with activity. For us, this meant the opportunity to observe & even participate in the many rituals, processions and ceremonies. My favorite part of pre-New Year’s celebration was the Parade of Monsters in which Ogoh Ogohs, or giant hand-painted demons held up on stilts, battle it out for the cheers, jeers and quite often laughter as proved the case when some of the not-so-well constructed Ogoh Ogohs fell apart mid-match. As is typical with foreign travel, children make the best ice breakers when it comes to befriending the locals in Bali. Just keep in mind that some of these “monsters” may be a little intimidating to a baby or toddler so be prepared to distract or shield their eyes as necessary. Mostly though, we found the experience incredibly fascinating and oh-so-much fun!
“Hari Raya Nyepi” or New Year’s Day is often referred to as the “Day of Silence”. All the roads in Bali are closed. You are forbidden to leave your house or hotel except in emergencies. Even the airport shuts down to prevent any new arrivals or departures. As a parent, I also knew that my spirited children would not willingly participate in any so-called ritual of silence. So I came up with a clever plan. Remember the Mara River Safari Hotel? THIS is where we welcomed the Balinese New Year. Since the road to resort was closed off to outsiders, we had the entire animal park to ourselves with the exception of a few other strategically minded guests made up mostly of –surprise, surprise – young parents! High fives all around! We totally got this child-rearing thing down…