I’m packing up all my stuff in preparation for my relocation back to Melbourne this weekend, so haven’t got enough time to sit and write the rest of my Laos journey. I promise I’ll work on it once I got the time. As I was playing with a surfboard-shaped keyring (one of those mass produced in China or wherever) with the word ‘Bali’ printed on it that I found in the pile of… junk, I recalled my experiences there.
Any half-decent traveler would have heard of the expression ‘Bali belly’. I did not know it, well, not before I got first hand experience.
It was at the end of 1994, I was flying home from Perth, Western Australia, where I had just completed a one-year exchange programme at university. When I looked for the cheapest flight home, I came across Garuda Airlines, which connect flights at Bali. I’d never been to Bali but read a little about their community in a subject called ‘Rural Society in SouthEast Asia’. I had no interest in SE Asia but that seemed to be a subject I might be able to follow even with my really poor English back then, so I took it. Anyways, the ticket was much cheaper than other airlines and I wanted to just save money. Besides, it may turn out to be an interesting stop-over. So my friend and I took the same flight there, she was flying out on the same night while I checked in to the youth hostel in Dempasar for one night.
It was really hot. But I enjoyed walking on the back streets of Dempasar. All the tourists were on the beach side. There was nobody around me, except for the locals. I had a chat with the young store keeper at the cigarette stand around the corner who was Balinese and complaining about the Java people moving in to their homeland. Market was fun. Lots of shops selling the same sandals and umbrellas and meat and vegetables. Then while I was watching the bike parking being organised, I became friends with the carpark officer. This gentleman took me to the cafeteria upstairs of the market where he treated me to a cold coke. With a bit of chat to relax and cool down, I took off for more walk. I also joined a half-day tour up the mountain and when the tour bus took us to this large restaurant which obviously catered only for the tourists, I took a walk to eat at a small hut or possibly house where a mother was cooking and baby was lying next to the kitchen counter (or was it on the counter?). I was sweating but wasn’t drinking much water. I had never traveled on my own at a place where you need to buy a fresh bottle of water. Surprisingly for a man who lived in hot Western Australia for a year, I did not care much about dehydration and had not yet had a habit of drinking water constantly while being in a hot place, like Bali.
I came to a public school and was totally inspired by the smile of the kids with their white teeth literally shining from their dark faces. As the day went to the mid-afternoon, though, I became feeling a bit ill. I felt I needed to take more water, and in the supermarket I came across, I bought a can of POCARI SWEAT. That should fix it, I thought. I walked back to the hostel, had a cold shower (no hot shower at the hostel) and fell down to the bed. I was so weak I couldn’t do anything else. Some time later I woke up and was on my way to the toilet when I stepped on my Rayban sunglasses which I must have dropped on the floor when I came home. But my system was in an urgent need for toilet. From there on, it was a return trip to toilet every 10-15 minutes. The evening came and hostel’s bus took me to the airport. I was so weak after the draining and could not even lift my own bags. Mind you, they were REALLY heavy with textbooks and one year’s worth of (considering that very small amount of) clothing in the pull-on duffule bag for check-in, and even heavier dictionaries (yes, it was before the time of the internet and we actually used heavy dictionaries) in my backpack. They were so heavy that if I had them in the checked luggage it would have cost me some money on excess lugguage. So I had them in my backpack, which I would carry as if it weighed like a feather on my shoulder as I check in. But this day, it was not a feather; it felt like a heavy piece of metal with soft and slippery straps on. I couldn’t keep it up, and i couldn’t pull my travel duffle across the entrance hall to the departure check-in counter. Somebody from the airline or airport officer offered to help me with my bags and he struggled to move it to the check-in counter. As I put my ticket and passport, I was so sick that I had to rest my head on my hands. The girl behind the counter asked if I was okay, so I said I was a bit sick but had taken medicine (which I did – I used to carry basic medicines prescribed my surgen back home). She told me that I did not look well and asked if I wanted to go to the medical room; at this point, I was just so weak and would have loved to lie down a bit more. So I accepted the suggestion and let her take care of my check-in while I followed somebody else to the medical room. Doctor saw me, seem to know what happened to me, and after he heard that I had taken anti-biotics already, he said the only thing he could do was to inject some stuff. I didn’t really know what it was but it was done and I rested on the bed.
When I was called to board the plane, I was the last one and the door closed right behind me. A short flight to Jakarta gave me an opportunity to make best use of the onboard toilets, then we alighted the plane at Jakarta for a short wait for connection. The time was around 11pm and the terminal was deserted. Not many shops were open. The main thing was that there was a toilet down the stairs.
After about an hour we were called to board the Osaka-bound plane and we were on board. It was different from a familiar 747’s but it was an MD. Looking very fresh and new, and design rather clean, I could tell it was a new plane. And I am sure they had toilets. I needed to wait till the take off. The plane taxi’ed to the run-way, then outside the window the engine screamed louder as the plane accelerated. But somehow it was only half-pitch; it was not the top note that you hear as the engine is running at its faster speed of full power towards take-off. It was only half-power, almost, like it’s hit the limit. And it started to slow down and then gradually came to a halt. O-ooh.
The plane was stationary for a long time. I got a permission to go to the toilet. Came back to my seat and the plane was still frozen there. After about half an hour we were back to the gate but took forever before we were allowed off it to go back to the terminal’s waiting area. I was pretty dehydrated from the repeated visits to the toilet, but there was no shop open. We were waiting for a while to see what was going to happen, when the flight attendants came walking away from the plane. And they went to one direction. Then yet after a while, the pilots came, then off to the same direction. I wondered if there was anything, and just caught them walking into a room with dark glass doors. It was the first class lounge. I went inside, told them I was sick and needed fluid, and was given a relaxing couch and orange juice.
It was 5 hours later, as it was getting a bit brigher and we could make out the shape of things outside the window, when they declared that we were not flying today and that they were taking us to a hotel in town. So we surrendered the passports and got on a minibus with only our hand luggage in our hands. In the lobby of the hotel was a room with a switch-board operators and a few telephones and chairs. People were already walking in there to make phone calls to whoever is awaiting on the other end. I was just too weak and still needed, though not as frequently, a quick access to the toilet. So I gave up on queuing to call my family who were planning on traveling to the airport in a few hours to pick me up, and got the key and went to bed.
It was around 11am when I finally woke up. I felt much better, probably the medicined worked, too. I took the lift down to the cafeteria to find a buffet. All I could eat was a small pack of yogurt and orange juice. There was no update about our flight. Nobody is telling us when we expect to leave. I went back to the room and watched TV.
In the evening we finally found out that we would be flying on the same flight a day later. So we were shuffled into mini-buses again and went to the airport. We bi-passed the immigration (we did not ‘enter’ Indonesia after we departed it in Bali) and found ourselves in the same departure hall. This time, the latest MD-11 had no technical glitch that pilots were telling me about in the lounge the night before. That MD-11 rely heavily on the computer-based control that when the computer hit a bug it cannot be easily over-ridden by manual operation like 747’s would allow the pilots.
Later I found out that Bali is famous for the diarrhoea problem and even earned the word ‘Bali belly’. Eating fresh vegetables, fruits or ice cube or using glasses from restaurant not specialising in catering for tourists were considered health-risk. I did all that, stepped on every possible land-mines, on top of walking around with far from adequate amount of water supplied to my system. So I got sick, spoiled the last git of my journey, but I learned it, the hard way.