Enchanting Bali

We have procrastinated writing this blog post for the last several months because we know it will be the last travel post we write for a while due to COVID-19. Our visit to Bali happened February 13-20, 2020…and a few weeks later, the whole of France was placed into strict confinement, and the entire world turned on its ear. However, if we had to choose a “last trip” to look back on, Bali was a fantastic choice. What a wonderful experience it was!

For a bit of background, all of the schools in France have what is colloquially known as the “ski break” in February. Most of the people travel somewhere in the Alps or the Pyrenees to ski European style. However, after our first cold, wet, grey winter in a really long time, we NEEDED sunshine and heat. We spent so much time debating, but finally landed on Southeast Asia. After debating between Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali…we ended up landing on Bali after finding a sweet deal on the Q Suites on Qatar Airways.

I’ll start with our amazing experience on Qatar…there is no better way to fly than the Middle Eastern carriers. Fern has been on all three of them (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar), and the kids and I have traveled on two of them (we’ve not done Emirates yet). Both the hard product and the service are top notch, and I will seriously go out of my way to book business class on these airlines if I can.

For those who haven’t traveled in the Q Suites yet, let me tell you, this is one experience not to be missed. We traveled in a “quad” in the middle, which allowed us to open the dividers between the seats to sit face to face with each other. Such a nice perk for families, especially for meals. When it was time to sleep, Belinda and I were in the seats that could be made into one double bed, and she was excited to sleep with me rather than be far apart. Never fear…if you don’t know your seat mate that well (or don’t like them), there is a divider that can be kept in place!

Upon arrival into Doha, we immediately went to the Qatar Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge for a quick bite to eat before our connecting flight to Bali. There is a huge “lake” IN the lounge, y’all! It was probably the prettiest of the airline lounges I’ve seen so far. As our flight from Paris to Doha was a redeye, we were there early in the AM. I have a theory that the rules of time and space cease to exist in airports. You want to drink red wine or whiskey at 7AM…no problem! While all I wanted was coffee after such a short flight, plenty of people were proving my theory correct!

The beautiful Qatar Business Class Lounge

We left the lounge and headed to our longer of the two flights to Bali. No Q Suites on this flight, but still very comfortable and excellent service. After about as many movies as we all could stand, we finally arrived in Bali late that night. After clearing customs and answering many questions about our health status (since COVID-19 was raging in China at that point), we were off to the hotel.

To stay, we chose the Sofitel Nusa Dua because our daughter liked the idea of the swim up pool to all the rooms. When we arrived, they’d upgraded us to the presidential suite and connecting room, so rather than the swim up pool, we had two private pools. The room itself was amazing, and having the private pools and large patio area was very nice. Although, our kids definitely preferred being in the large pool.

The resort was very quiet while we were there. Actually, all the resorts around the Nusa Dua area were super quiet as Indonesia had imposed a ban on Chinese travelers, who make up a bulk of their tourists. So there was no problem getting loungers at the pool or beach, restaurant reservations, or tours. We made the comment about how sad this all was for the Balinese economy…that the tourists weren’t there. We had no idea that this would crater the tourism industry around the world in an unimaginable way.

We spent the first day of our trip lounging beach and poolside. We wanted nice and lazy, and we got it. It was beautiful, although I will say that the beaches washed up a lot more trash than any other beaches we’ve visited. The resorts employed people to pick up all the trash (much was plastic wrappers and bottles, sadly), but when we were at the beach in the morning, much was still visible. The pool was fantastic, however. The water temperature was good, and the smell of the plumeria flowers perfumed the entire area. We did take a walk along the beach to see all of the other hotels along the strip. We ate dinner at the Italian restaurant at the hotel that night for something easy, and although we were all still tired, it was very good.

The next morning, the hotel was having a special brunch, and we were invited to attend. The brunch was lavish and beautiful, and we enjoyed it very much. We spent the rest of the day at the pool, and then that night made a retrospectively terrible decision to go for Teppanyaki at one of the neighboring hotels (this will make sense later).

The highlight of our trip to Bali was our visit to the Mason Elephant Park the next morning. We had booked this day trip before we ever left Paris, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. We started off with washing an elephant. I mean, we sprayed her with a hose and scrubbed her, and touched her, and…oh, my goodness. I’ve never been so close to such a giant animal, and she was so gentle and sweet. And those eyes! We were in love with elephants from that first encounter.

After washing the elephant, we went to feed them and take photos with them. They’d wrap their trunk around you and “hug” you, drop a hoop over you, kiss you…whatever they were asked to do. And of course they were given many treats along the way. It was funny to see them try to find their favorites in the treats people were feeding them…if you gave them something they didn’t want, they’d drop it on the ground for later and go search for something else!

After we fed the elephants, we went for an elephant ride. The girls rode together and the boys rode together. In between us, was a young elephant “in training”…riding with her trainer, but no guests. Turns out, this elephant was afraid of chickens, and what did we encounter on our forest trek…chickens! She threw trunkfuls of sticks at them to shoo them away, and even sounded her “trumpet” at one point! It was funny to see such a huge animal afraid of something so small as a chicken. Our elephant’s trainer told us that she didn’t like dogs…it was fun to hear about their different personalities.

The absolute highlight of our day, however, was finding out that there were baby elephants in the park. There was one that was just seven months old, and then there was one that had been born overnight and was just 11 HOURS old. Naturally, we weren’t allowed to touch the newborn, but we were allowed to go see it, and it’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. For the slightly older baby, we were allowed to give it treats, and it ate them up eagerly. When I started to walk away, the baby wrapped its trunk around my wrist and pulled my arm to try to stop me and get more treats.

After our experience there, I think it’s safe to say that the elephant is now a Fernandez family favorite animal. I’d never been around them like this before, and I’d relish any opportunity to go and spend more time around these gentle giants.

It was on the ride back to the hotel that our trip took a turn for the worse. Remember the teppanyaki mistake I mentioned? Well, we were served a scallop appetizer that tasted “off” to Fern and I, so we skipped it. Kenneth, however, was hungry and wolfed down the whole thing before we could warn him. About 20 minutes into our 1 hour plus drive back to the hotel, food poisoning caught up with him. I’ll spare the details, but I’ll always feel sorry for that poor driver and the cleaning I know he had to give his car afterward.

The last photo of Kenneth before he got sick

From that point on, all plans for our vacation changed a little bit. Kenneth was super sick for about 12 hours, and then felt generally crappy for another 24 hours after that. So, we stayed close to the hotel. He was able to stay in the room, and we basically just swam and visited the beach with Belinda, taking turns and going back and forth to the room to check on him. Our butler at the hotel was really great. He had a nurse come to the room and give Kenneth some medication to help him with nausea, and made sure we had whatever he wanted to eat and drink. As the “Bali Belly” is a common occurrence for Western tourists, they were very prepared.

Finally, on our last full day there, he was feeling back to 100%. It also happened to be the Balinese holiday of Galungan, which is their most important holiday of the year. It celebrates the victory of dharma over adharma, and is supposedly when ancestral spirits will visit their earthly homes. We took the opportunity to walk along the beach to the various temples to see the offerings to their gods. All of the offerings were colorful with flowers, and the air smelled of incense. It was a nice opportunity to experience something so culturally different from our everyday life.

We had a very nice ride home on Qatar again, back in the Q Suites. Unfortunately, our time in Bali went way too quickly, but I’d go back again in a heartbeat and explore some of the many things we missed since Kenneth wasn’t feeling well.

When we left Bali, we had no idea what the scope of the global pandemic would become, and that just a few short weeks later, we wouldn’t be able to travel more than 1 km from our home in Paris. We are so glad that we took the opportunity to go, as far-flung travel now seems but a distant memory…and who knows when we’ll get the chance to once again explore the world.

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