Jules and I have had a lot of challenges while traveling. Between the two of us, we’ve survived an attempted mugging, fallen through a roof, been woken up by earthquakes and battled through more parasites than we can count. But this past weekend was one of the most stressful, exhausting challenges of our travel career.
Let’s back up a bit. A few months ago Jules’ parents invited us to meet them in Bali to celebrate his 30th birthday. We’ve all been looking forward to it for months and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ve been so busy with work, school and everything going on in our lives. This past week was especially hectic and by the time Friday rolled around, we were dying for a holiday.
We had heard that Mount Raung, a volcano on the island of Java in Indonesia, was causing issues for travelers coming from Australia. Traveling from the Philippines we thought we were in the clear, but were worried about Jules’ parents coming from Melbourne, whose flight was majorly delayed and eventually canceled. Just as we were boarding our flight to Manila, an airport worker told us our flight to Bali had been canceled as well. We were devastated.
When we arrived to Manila, we immediately went to the first Philippines airline desk we saw and asked about the flight status. The employee told us that the Bali flight had been canceled, but that we could catch a plane to Jakarta, a city on neighboring island Java, instead. We figured if we got to Indonesia, we’d surely be able to find a flight to Bali. The only hitch? The flight took off in 25 minutes, we had no tickets and we were in the wrong terminal.
* Cue music from Home Alone running through the airport scene *
I ran to grab the bag from the carousel, Jules raced upstairs to change our tickets and we had an escort run us through the airport to catch the flight. We landed in Jakarta at 1 am, exhausted and confused. And it turned out, we weren’t the only ones. The airport was half full of local and international travelers roaming around, trying to get information on flights to Bali. We met one particularly eager pair of German girls who raced us through the airport, trying to get to the ticket desk before us. This was starting to feel more and more like The Amazing Race.
It seemed that flights were still canceled to Bali so a local recommended that we head to the train station to catch a train to the coast and a ferry to Bali. We shared the half-hour taxi ride to the train station with a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. The train station was desolate at 3 am. We had to wait an hour just for the ticket office to open, but learned from a friendly local that the train ride to the Surabaya (on the other side of the island) would take about 18 hours. After such a debacle, we just wanted to get to Bali, so we decided to take it. We ordered a meal at a small café (our “vegetarian” no meat plate turned out to be entirely made of chunks of grey meat) and waited.
The station filled up quickly and we hopped in line to get tickets. Turns out we had come at the end of Ramadan and the train was completely sold out. Tickets weren’t available until 2 weeks later. We were also told that the alternative 10 hours bus ride would actually be 20 hours because of Ramadan party traffic jams! Between the volcano and Ramadan, it seemed like we had chosen the absolute worst time to travel to Bali!
By the time we arrived at our hotel, we had been awake for 35+ hours and in transit between 3 countries.
We weighed up our choices and decided to head back to the airport. At this point, the Bali airport was still closed. Some travelers were banding together, deciding the best strategy while others (like us) rested in the carpeted kids play area. At 8 am, having been awake for a full 24 hours, we decided to meet Jules’ parents in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia so we could at least wait it out together. Completely disoriented, I fought to keep my eyes open while typing in our information to buy the plane ticket. The plane ride to KL was a blur and by the time we arrived at our hotel, we had been awake for 35+ hours and in transit between 3 countries. The next day was Jules’ 30th birthday, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel. The concierge must have been shocked to see two dirty backpackers, who hadn’t showered or changed clothes in 2 days, arrive at their 5 star hotel.
That night we went for a swim, ordered room service and relaxed in our giant bed. It was heaven.
The next day, Jules’ parents arrived in KL and met us at the hotel. We were all exhausted, but happy to be together for Jules’ birthday. We had a great day together catching up, eating nice food and enjoying cocktails by the pool. We had flights booked to Bali for the next day, but didn’t get our hopes up.
At the airport we heard mixed information about our flight and were told it was delayed till 5pm. About an hour before our scheduled departure time, Jules and I asked around to double check. After getting redirected to about 5 different lines, we learned that our flight was leaving on time! Ugh. * Cue Running through the airport part 2 *
Miraculously, we made it on our flight and left on time! We could hardly believe we were actually on our way to Bali. The flight had some nerve-racking turbulence and at one point the stewardess told us mid-flight that in case of an emergency, we were supposed to leave our belongings behind. Not a very reassuring thing to hear just as we were passing the volcano that was causing everybody so much drama. 20 minutes before landing we hit a patch of clear sky and out to the right we saw our arch nemesis puffing away happily in the not too distant background. Dark clouds of smoke churned out of the top and we prayed a sudden swish of wind didn’t change its direction!
Arriving at the airport, we thought we were home free. Unfortunately I got stopped by immigration because my passport is almost completely full of stamps. I was taken to a back office and told to wait for 10, stressful, minutes. After all the stress of the past few days, the last thing we needed was to get turned away at the last moment. Luckily they found a tiny space to stamp my passport and we were in!!
And we haven’t looked back since. As I type this we’re all sitting out on the huge balcony of our rental house, overlooking the ocean, the sound of the waves lapping below. Although the chaos of our crazy adventure kept us exhausted for a couple days, we’ve officially hit vacation mode now. Jules goes surfing with his Dad in the morning, we spend our afternoons leisurely reading on the deck or going for a refreshing swim just meters from the house, and at night we eat fresh caught fish with Balinese sauces at small tables along the beach. The drama of Mount Raung and our weekend of travel chaos is something will never forget, but we can appreciate our holiday even more knowing that we literally went through hell to get here.