My first visit to Bali was nearly 20 years ago. You might say it was less than successful. You see, although I enjoyed a little taste of Bali’s endless beaches, terraced rice fields, tranquil temples and the colour and chaos of Balinese Hindu culture… being young and utterly, utterly stupid, I also tasted way too much bourbon.
So much, in fact, that after a huge night in Kuta, I ended up so tanked that I tried to buy a horse. Yes, a horse. Of the live, whinnying variety. Think Phar Lap, only smaller, smellier and less dead. It may have been the two gallons of bourbon I’d just consumed, it might have been the humidity, it could have been brain damage caused by having listened to Ace of Base playing on loop at a dodgy bar… but there I was bartering with a kart driver, convinced in my spectacular stupor that I’d be saving my little pony from a life of slavery and servitude.
I was also confident, in the way only the truly pissed can be, that I’d have no problems smuggling a horse back to my beachfront resort without anyone noticing… or waltzing it through customs the next day for the trip home.
Clearly it was one of my finest moments, and by finest I actually mean dim-witted. The resulting hangover was up there too. I’d even go so far as to put it in my top five of all time. Quite a feat.
But that was then and this is now and my embarrassment had finally faded just enough that, a few months back, I decided to brave a second bite of Bali, only this time as a parent.
And, armed as I am with a touch more maturity and the responsibility of two small children, I am almost certain that this time around drunken equine acquisitions followed by a day of pain and puking can be avoided.
To be safe, I’ve ditched the party atmosphere of Kuta for more upmarket Jimbaran. We’re visiting the completely fabulous Ayana Resort and Spa with the kids in tow, and every one of is treated like rock stars from the moment we arrive.
The kids are stupidly excited by the pretty purple fruit drinks to sip (which I check to ensure are free of Bourbon) as we check in, and a melodic soundtrack is provided by Balinese musicians.
And they’re not playing Ace of Base! It’s a promising sign. A buggy picks us up to take to our room but as we walk through the brightly painted front gate of a Cliff Villa it becomes obvious that there has been a mistake.
They must have muddled the accommodation… we can’t be staying here. Can we?
I mean seriously, I’ve stumbled across European castles that are smaller than this place.
But there’s no mistake, it’s all ours! Hells yeah!
Locating our jaws from where we’d dropped them on the marble floor, we snap them back into place, wipe away the drool and head off to explore the bathroom, which is roughly three times the size of our apartment at home.
The swimming pool size bath is brimming with floating flowers, and a gift bag with a family of rubber duckies is presented to the kids.
Meanwhile, I am presented with a cell phone, a mobile hotline to the personal butler that we, as villa guests of the Ayana Resort and Spa Bali are privileged to enjoy. I don’t have the first clue what to do with a butler but am quite prepared to spend the next few days working it out.
That’s just the kind of brave soul I am, people.
Any fantasies I may entertain of enjoying the pretty petalled bath are obliterated by my already naked kids who dive through the layer of roses and frangipanis. At the exact same moment Sugarpuff proceeds to vomit purple-tinged puke all over the pretty petals.
Noooo! We’ve not even been here an hour. And as far as I am aware she hasn’t been drinking bourbon. As paranoid as I am after my last trip, I scan the room for hidden horses and am relieved to find none.
This wasn’t in the AYANA Resort and Spa with kids brochure! And I really can’t bring myself to call the butler, so instead of lolling in the luxurious tub, I find myself on my hands and knees scrubbing vom out of it while the fam, including a fast recovered Sugarpuff, giggle happily and lounge on an enormous daybed in the bale (Balinese pavilion) that overhangs our private pool. Bastards!
Though I must admit they’re incredibly cute bastards, who are hard to stay cross with!
Leaving them to their private poolside party I sneak off to road test the signature ‘seven chakra dhara’ treatment at The Thermes Marins Bali Spa, the one place I feel I should be safe from both puke and ponies. I melt at its awesomeness, then return to the villa and the madness and mayhem that is my family.
Once Sugarpuff’s splendiferous motion sickness incited hurling has well and truly abated, we pool hop across the resort.
Choosing only one from the five on offer – each complete with an array of fantastical spurting fantasy creatures and waterfalls – proves impossible.
The mythical creatures that dot the resort create a fab arena for a little hide and seek.
And a spot of improv…
While the sun decks, lounges and bean bags provide a relaxing escape for people who aren’t related to our kids.
Our day of blissful leisure is interrupted only by the temptation of satay sticks cooked over charcoal on an authentic Javanese cart outside the resort’s Damar Terrace, where we spend far too many hours.
As hard as it is to tear ourselves away from Ayana and her satay sticks, I want the kids to experience a little Balinese culture so we head to the 11th Century temple at nearby Uluwatu.
Perched high on a steep cliff overlooking the ocean, the location is as remarkable as the temple and the perfect spot to view a Bali sunset.
It’s a Balinese national holiday and the place is chockers! Sugarpuff takes a fancy to a local gentleman and quite literally throws herself at him.
In a profoundly touching gesture, he scoops her into his arms and carries her into the temple courtyard, where tourists are not allowed, for a priest to bless her before returning her to me with a gentle smile.
It is moments like these that make travelling with children so special.
A buzz fills the air as a traditional kecak dance begins. About 50 loin-cloth clad men form a circle around a fire and throwing their hands in the air begin a percussive chant of “chat-chat-chat”
Two ornately dressed female dancers join in on the spectacle – sizing each other up and circling one another – while the men continue their chant. It is strange, noisy and colourful, which is right up Raffles and Sugarpuff’s alley! They love it.
It’s not all sweetness and light at the temple, though. The temple is also inhabited by a bunch of mischievous monkeys. Hats, sunglasses, and cameras are particularly popular among the pilfering primates and while some may exchange stolen goods for fruit, it is better not to have to enter negotiations with the bolshie bandits. Especially when you’re with kids becasue monkeys do bite and a rabies shot will not make for a great memento of your trip.
Having said that, the kids do enjoy a few moments of monkey magic, from a suitably safe distance. And while the monkeys are cute and furry, I’m happy to day I don’t feel even the slightest inkling to purchase one. So far, so good!
The kids have been so well behaved that the following morning I take them to the hotel’s gift shop to choose a little memento of our stay. Raffles immediately sets his heart on a carved timber item. My heart stops as he holds it out to me.
It’s a bloody horse!
Kill me now.
So once again I find myself in Bali purchasing a freakin’ pony, only this time I’m sober. Oh well, I guess it will offer me a reminder of both my Bali breaks. And at least this one should be easier to get through customs…