So before we left for this big adventure, I was a bit nervous about how I’d actually feel once I set foot in developing countries like Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Especially with our kids along!
You see, prior to this trip, I’d never set foot anywhere outside of North America (other than Hawaii, but I don’t think that counts really since it’s still part of the United States and not all that different from the mainland.) If we weren’t so hell-bent on changing our lives we’d never have had the courage to go through with this.
Researching a destination can only take you so far – it’s no replacement for actually experiencing it. Our first long stay was in Bali, Indonesia.
When we first arrived in Bali, I’ll admit to being a bit shell-shocked.
I’d be lying if I pretended we didn’t have some misgivings when we first arrived.
Traffic was chaotic by western standards, with motorbikes zipping around vehicles, heedless of the lane markings. It was common to see entire families on a single motorbike. The things people could manage on these bikes was incredible. There was the driver holding their baby. Toddlers standing on the footrest between their parent’s legs. Women sitting side saddle on the back, flip flops dangling precariously from their feet, yet somehow never falling off.
Shops along the roadside often resembled shacks. (We hadn’t gotten to the more built up parts of Bali yet…)
Dogs wandered around freely, whether or not they were strays, or had a home was hard to tell.
You could say we were a tad bit out of our comfort zone.
And I was having a lot of trouble understanding our driver. Although he spoke English, it was heavily accented and I could only understand about half of what he said. Not his fault of course. I admire anyone who can speak a second language (a skill that I lack)…
At first glance, you can’t help but think “Holy shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?”
We weren’t going to be staying in a resort, where we’d be insulated from the unfamiliar by the staff and resort amenities. No. We’d we staying in a local residential neighbourhood, in a rented villa, all by ourselves.
I’m not complaining though.
So here’s the thing. All of the above was NOT complaining…
I know it might sound like it to you, but it’s just that it’s kind of a shock when you arrive from your very different life in the West to a foreign country on the other side of the planet, with young kids in tow, and are trying to figure out if, indeed, this escape-the-rat-race thing will work in this new place. You can no longer drink from the tap, you’re fearing the infamous “Bali-Belly,” you are scared of the medical system here, and you have yet to prove to yourself whether or not all of your online research findings that made this place appealing in the first place were accurate.
We’d Arrived At Our Home for the Next 2 Months
So we arrived at our villa, and were greeted by the Australian owners who we rented the place from. I was thinking “Thank God! Someone who can explain where the nearest grocery store is.” Yeah, I like to eat… think about it a lot actually.
Our hosts gave us the lowdown on the neighbourhood, including necessities like directions to the grocery store, where to order drinking water refills for delivery to our villa, and the contact info for a good doctor (good info to have on hand “just in case”). 🙂 We unpacked our stuff, went for a walk to that grocery store, found a nice restaurant for dinner…
Going for a walk was the best thing we could have done to get comfortable with our new surroundings.
On that walk we figured out where the bank is, where to catch a taxi, confirmed that the neighbourhood did, indeed, seem as safe as our hosts had said.
True, we were holding tightly to our kids’ hands (we had to walk down the lane quite a ways, and share the space with the occasional motorcycle… and dogs running loose…)
It was nothing like any place I’d ever lived in before, but it definitely had its charms. I loved the concrete walls surrounding the properties – they had a certain character to them. Some even had paintings on them, ranging from the serious, to quirky.
Oh, and the dogs who wandered the streets were friendly. After a couple of weeks of seeing them every day, I grew to love seeing them around. I was impressed by their street-smarts – they even looked both ways before crossing the street, and knew that a honking horn meant to look out. “Roof dog” was the only one I wasn’t so fond of – after dark, he’d hang out on the roof of “his” car park, barking frantically at any passers by. We learned to avoid his street after dark.
I took a walk on my own almost every day we were in Bali. I loved to explore the neighbourhood, figure out where all the little side streets led to.
I got a huge thrill when I saw wild monkeys in the treetops one day. Although I never would have noticed them if a local man hadn’t gotten my attention to point them out. I felt so lucky that he showed them to me!
There was every sign that people cared about their neighbourhood – they’d diligently sweep away the fallen leaves from their driveway and the roadside lining their concrete wall every day to keep things clean, plus water their landscaping to keep it lush and pretty. I was a world away, but these things were just like home.
Twice a day, like clockwork, there’d be the smell of burning leaves in the air – every morning and afternoon at the same time – it seems people burned their yard waste rather than get rid of it by other means.
Neighbourhood roosters would crow at all hours of the day. I got a kick out of seeing the roosters and chickens wandering around freely.
The beach was a 15 minute walk from our villa. I’d walk through a paddock, pass several banana trees, pass the lone cow that was always there, then get past the cloud of wasps, and finally the shacks where some local women were selling clothes to tourists. And then there was the little restaurant on the beach, and the souvenirs being sold along the boardwalk. Chaotic music was made by the wind chimes for sale.
At low tide, the fishermen would walk out into the sea to catch fish. There’s be, oh, I don’t know… maybe 30 of them out there at a time? They’d wear rubber boots, long sleeves to protect themselves from the hot sun, and woven wide-brimmed hats. And out they’d go. The sea was shallow for about 100 or 200 meters, so it was very cool to see them standing so far out, in only knee-deep water. They usually didn’t stay out once the water was more than waist deep.
People took a great interest in our kids compared to home – anywhere we’d go, strangers would be saying hi to the boys and trying to get their attention. People seemed to have a great love for kids in general here.
I was falling for Bali. It had a charm that was unlike anywhere else I’d ever been.
Life was very different here from home, but pretty damned good.
I lost count of how many mornings I’d step outside into our yard, turn my face to the sun, close my eyes, and just bask in the warmth for a while.
It might sound like an exaggeration, but I felt euphoric at times. I mean we’d done it! We’d pulled off our great escape, and it felt like the world is ours. We were happy here and loving every minute of our new-found freedom.
We could afford to rent a nice house. We had a gardener tend to the yard every day, and he’d clean the inside of the house and change our bedding/towels every 3rd day.
We didn’t feel like dropping off our laundry at the neighbourhood laundry service, so, since we didn’t have much to wash, every couple of days we’d spend 5 minutes and wash our laundry in the sink, then hang it in the backyard to dry. I know! We hand-washed our laundry. Sounds sooo rough, right? But it’s not. It’s not rough at all when you don’t have to spend 8 hours a day at work and when you don’t have anywhere else you need to be.
Most days I’d make the 15 minute walk to the grocery store and back. I liked the exercise, and the fact that it was exercise with a point to it – I was actually going somewhere, as opposed to jogging to nowhere on a treadmill, which I’ve always hated. My arms got stronger from carrying the bags home, and I liked that. It was exercise by accident. My favourite kind. Paul would have gone, but I liked it too much to give it up. Well, I would have if he’d insisted, but he didn’t, sooooo…. the trip was mine, all mine 🙂
And the crazy thing is that while our modest villa cost us around $1000 Cdn per month, that was cheap by Bali standards, for a house. Most villas cost much more than that. People will pay a lot for fully Westernized homes to rent, especially if it’s a splurge for a short vacation.
Right next door to each other you could have an insanely decked out Western-style house with every modern convenience including a swimming pool, and a traditional open-air simple home with very little in the way of modern conveniences complete with roosters in the yard etc.
One of the most striking things about Bali for me was the enormous contrast in living standards and amenities from one place to the next.
You could go to Kuta, and shop at a modern mall, as upscale as any neighbourhood mall in North America. You could go to Waterbom, a waterpark easily as amazing as anything in North America. But then there are tons of people living here who could never in a million years afford to shop at that mall, or go to that Waterpark. I’m sure some can, but I suspect that most can’t. I wished I could wave a magic wand and fix that.
I thought a lot about that. You can’t help it.
I got drunk on eating out for dinner every night.
We could afford to eat out for dinner every single night, as long as we didn’t pick the expensive places. But expensive was relative. Here, “expensive” was $5-6 per meal. But if we could find a cheaper place, we could dine out every night. We found this little family owned restaurant where the 4 of us could eat dinner for a total of $10 or less. Then, we found a place with even better food (including the BEST lemon chicken I’ve ever had in my life!) where the 4 of us could eat dinner for a total of about $12-$14.
And there was the night market. I’d never been to a night market. And I was DYING to finally get a chance to check one out… visions of cheap and delicious street food dancing in my head.
It was cool – the 4 of us could eat out at the night market for about $8, even cheaper than our cheapest restaurant find. And there were some really delicious dishes there. But it was a 45 minute walk to get to the night market. So we’d take a taxi, which would cost us $1 each way, bringing our total cost for that meal to the same as our cheapest restaurant find.
And then the buzz wore off.
The downside to eating out every night when you’re on a tight budget is that there are only so many options available to you: usually some choice of veggie stir fry, fried rice, fried noodles, omelets, or pancakes. Or even chicken satay if you head for the night market. But despite the fact that all that is delicious, you start to crave a bit more variety…
So once the novelty of eating out for dinner wore off, we bought a rice cooker, and started cooking easy meals at home for dinner. Sometimes it was just nice to NOT have to drag everyone out for a walk to find dinner. And there are perks to eating in more – we could put the money saved into dining out at those “expensive” $5-6 a plate restaurants, which offered a lot more variety in our new price range.
The truth about living in a developing country for the first time…
So was it worth it? To leave everything in our “cushy” developed Western country for the great unknown? To live in a developing country without all the safety nets of home?
For us, the answer is a resounding yes. We chose Bali because it was reasonably safe, free of malaria, had internet access, and was low-cost. This allowed us to spend less time working, and more time doing the things we loved. It gave us more time to spend together as a family than we’d ever had back home, and that, was priceless.