A week in Bali with our good friend Mathieu from New York, using a cute boutique hotel in Ubud as a base while surfing, snorkeling, and exploring an island renown for being an exotic paradise. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
It mostly was. I say “mostly” because on our way to Bali we realized Francois had a fever and muscle pains. Not good when you have just spent a few months traveling around regions known for their mosquitos often being hosts for illnesses such as malaria or dengue fever.
We had a malaria test kit which gave a negative result, but we knew malaria could occasionally generated “false negatives” so – after a day spent driving around the island (think rice terraces in Ubud and hot springs up in the North East) – we went to see a doctor. She was very kind and competent, and administered a number of tests to Francois so we could identify what was going on. Contenders were malaria, dengue, or salmonella. What you would call a “lose-lose-lose” situation.
The verdict was dengue. Luckily, Francois had very mild symptoms so he was not in any kind of discomfort and his platelet count never dropped below 77 (the norm for a healthy adult is between 150-400 and some dengue patients drop as low as 1, putting them at risk of bleeding out because their blood cannot clot anymore). He still ended up in Siloam Hospital in Denpasar for three days during which they monitored his platelet and white blood cell counts.
In the meantime, between hospital visits I did go take a surfing lesson with Mathieu, with Pro Surf at Kuta Beach. As it was my second lesson ever (the first was with Francois in Ireland in 2012), I was thrilled to manage riding my board back to the beach a few times.
We also did a sunrise hike of Mount Batur with Mathieu and a great guide called Guru (no, seriously)… way steeper and therefore harder than expected given all the locals said it was easy as pie, but breathtaking once we got to the top and witnessed the sunrise over the sleeping volcano’s crater ridge. The trail was busy, with the last section before the top – a particularly steep bit where the ground was sandy and deep which made it slippery – that felt like a conga line of tourist hikers (minus the music, unfortunately). Even though the top was crowded, it was surprisingly serene as I looked out onto Mount Agur and watched the sun come out from behind it.
Francois came back to Ubud two days before Mathieu flew back to New York, so on our last day all together we did a package tour: snorkeling, horse-riding on the beach, and a spa visit.
Predictably, because snorkeling was conveniently close to shore, all we saw were dead corals and a few types of fish attracted by the bread our boat captain threw into the water (see image on right). Our glass bottom boat added nothing to the trip and the stop we did at the turtle conservancy is almost too glum to mention (though turtles are incredible and iguanas are too – see photos that will be uploaded when wifi permits). For the record, if you go snorkeling in Bali do NOT go nearby! Take a day trip to one of the Gilli islands or Lombok.
The horse-riding, however, was off the charts. We went to Saba Bay, an area with black sand beaches but not very developed tourism-wise because with every full moon the waves make it dangerous. The stables had some 22 horses, all small in build but healthy looking. We were each assigned a horse and a guide who was also on horseback. I was riding Jenny, who loves racing down the beach – so we did just that, and that feeling of utter freedom and speed was intoxicating. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, I then took off my socks and shoes and went swimming with Jenny! She did not like that quite as much as galloping on the beach, but it was still a dream come true for me so I was on Cloud 9.
The spa was ok; I was too happy to notice much except that they had run out of hot water by the time we were meant to shower (unfortunate). The bottom line is that package deals are NEVER a good idea, but horse-riding on the beach in Saba Bay is 200% worth it.
We were glad to be staying in Ubud, the Brooklyn-type town in the center of the island, full of trendy shops and restaurants, and made famous by the book “Eat, Pray, Love” (and the Julia Roberts movie). Kuta is more of a party-like-it’s-1999 scene, though having a beer on the beach there at sunset was idyllic too – and we bought what is perhaps the most epic souvenir there ever. If you guess, I’ll buy you a drink (try your luck in the comment section below, and if I told you already then don’t ruin it for others!).
Now that we have left Bali and Francois is 100% back to his healthy self, I do hope we will have an opportunity to go back to Bali someday, dengue free, to visit islands and the underwater world that apparently takes your breath away (pun intended).