In winter I like to dream about the perfect Bali escape. But it seems my dreams are stubbornly rooted in the fantasy realm. Maybe you read an earlier blog about a family holiday come undone when the airline grounded two of my immediate family for passport irregularities.


Actually, now I think about it, there are a few Bali holiday realities I’d prefer to permanently shunt back into my dreamworld. Like the time my four-year-old was scratched on the chest by a wild monkey. Or the time we were in a car lurching along the winding road from Seminyak to Ubud when came first reports of the Global Financial Collapse, giving my motion sickness a whole other dimension.


You know what? This year we did actually make it and spent the first few days casting off stress in the familiar ambience:  heavy skies and luscious greenery, the smell of sunscreen intermingled with smoke from temple sacrifices, the thump of the Indian Ocean peppered by the laughter of our children free-ranging from surf to pond, eyes bloodshot from hour upon hour of swimming.  I was pinching myself. Maybe dreams do come true. Well, for a couple of days anyway. Day three saw us segue from the pages of a glossy travel mag to those of a medical journal.


Our youngest child was the first man down, clutching at his abdomen and saying that his ‘brain hurt’. Strangely, after a few days of this his face seemed to puff up just as he announced he was feeling better. The middle child was the second to fall and the hardest hit. I guess I’ve seen my share of sick children over the last eight years and have even, on occasion, had to accompany them to Emergency at the Children’s Hospital but I can say hand on heart, that this was the sickest child I’d ever seen in my life. At one point, after an eight-hour vomiting session his eyes seemed to flutter back in his head and he collapsed on the bathroom floor. It was then we called a doctor who recommended the local hospital.


Some tense days of watching his slow recovery followed and I found myself trying to make light of my own intermittent stomach cramps as “just a touch of Bali Belly”. But when we were leaving a local restaurant and heading back along the beach to the hotel, I suddenly found I’d left my body and was floating above the ground at one point hovering above the hawkers selling fireworks on the shore. By midnight I was hugging the porcelain. There was by then an accompanying swoony lethargy such as might descend on a consumptive 17th century poet.


After all the vomiting I was able to sleep and when I awoke I was momentarily relieved that the relentless nausea had faded. That was when a clawing headache set up camp, drilling into the top of my spine and gouging the back of my neck before moving its metallic grip around my head, painfully squeezing its tentacles into my brain. It sent fingers of pain into the joints of my hands and then, some hours later, just as I was telling the kids ‘Oh thank God, my headache’s finally gone,’ it jabbed me in the calves. This bug has a sense of humour, I thought, as the kids wrought havoc in the bathtub.  When the children resumed their destruction of the hotel room I began to doze off again but felt my body twitching like an old dog in the throes of a bad dream. When I moaned to my Sickest Child about how crook I felt he replied cheerfully ‘Don’t worry, Mum, you’ll feel better in four to five days’, which I thought was a commendably specific time frame for a six-year-old to have contemplated.

After a few days I finally began to feel normal again and got myself together for the family expedition to the Water Park, as we’d promised the kids faithfully on day one that we’d go. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for The Workaholic, he succumbed to the illness just as the minibus arrived to take us to Kuta. When we returned to the safety of our sunbeds (I won’t describe the experience at the Water Park because I don’t want to lapse into depression today) I was stung by a bee, which my four-year-old later referred to by a moniker I won’t mention here, except to say that when he loudly announced it to the other hotel guests I muttered “Well, I just don’t know where he gets that language.” The bee sting was at least a mild distraction from the headache.


Day ten came at which point any reasonable bug would have ventured on to greet guests at the more salubrious Garden Villas. On what happened to be the only night we’d arranged for a sitter and had booked a table at a top-notch restaurant, I could only sit staring forlornly at my Polish Donkey, unable to take even the smallest sip. There was just no way my body would allow me to drink or eat, or at times to even lift my hands from the table top. That night, as the surf crashed heavily below, I had hallucinogenic dreams, sensations of viewing holiday snapshots as if from above. “The bug is in my brain,” I murmured to the rabid monkey who had returned in a fever dream and was staring at me from the corner of the bed. By this point I was actually looking forward to the midnight flight out of Denpasar.


Four days after returning home and I was still being visited by force ten headaches that not even a codeine-laced analgesic could make a dent into. Only one of us had survived the holiday with their health intact, that is, until a whole week had passed back in Oz when wham! our Immune Child was alternately vomiting or complaining of a clawing headache. Seems the bug had filed adoption papers then stowed away in my hand luggage, popping out for a few days of sightseeing before returning to kick back and relax with us at home.


Perhaps it would have been better if the passport malfunction grounded us all this year. Or the strike for that matter. One thing’s for sure, when in future someone tells me they’re suffering from Bali Belly, I will be all ginger tea and sympathy.