I’ll be honest with you, when we booked our first family holiday in some time, we were all very excited about our trip to Bali – one of the most popular holiday destinations for Australians at the moment. We were traveling with my sister and her family – 12 in total, four adults and our eight teenagers aged from 11 to 22.

We booked into a holiday house for 12 just off the main beach at Seminyak.

On the first morning, my husband and I went out for a stroll along the Esplanade (Jalan Pantai Legian). The sun was shining; the waves on the expanse of beach glorious. Motorbikes were lined up outside the cafes and the hawkers had started.

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Hubby with the motor bikes.

“Transport? You want bracelets? You want belts? Bowls, hats or a seat on the beach?”

We were offered it all in abundance by sweet, polite Balinese with big smiles and cheerful eyes.

Say yes we had learnt, and you’re in trouble. The bartering starts. A glance at a product is taken as interest. “You like? No? What about this …” as they show you an array of their trinkets that emerge from bursting bags strung over their shoulders, on their heads, or stacked by their sides.

A negative response will get a; “How much you pay?” When a ridiculous price is finally suggested; (Your kids bought three yesterday at a third of the price).   How much you ask?

No! You respond, with a counter offer just as ridiculous, but this time low. “Noooo” they look at you shocked. “Come on… You bring me good luck…”  Finally you near on a price. Then they start, “How many you want? Better price for more.”

Well, actually I wasn’t thinking of any, but one is fine. Looking at a case stacked with hundreds of the items, saying one seems a bit mean. Better price for two? “OK, how much for two?” You ask.

They say a still price.

“No thanks. You go to walk away. They grab your arm. “Come on, please. 50,000 (rupiah) for good luck. Of course I acquiesce.

My husband warned me early. “Don’t look, don’t say anything but ‘No thank you.’ And, largely, I had been good. As a result we’d spent a week in Seminyak and Legian and I’d hardly bought a thing – unlike the kids who had enjoyed the spending spree of their lives. Arriving home daily with arms laden with clothes, bags, sunglasses and DVDs.

Changing our Aussie currency to fund their spree hand proven just as eventful. Spotting the booth that offered the best rate, despite the warnings not to go to booths, I walked in confidently with my husband, my sister and her husband. And the exchange went fine.

See, you just have to be careful we all agreed.

In need of change for a bus trip we’d organized with a driver the next day, I dashed back to the booth with my daughter the next evening, delighted to find it still open. I exchanged my $200, which he duly counted out in front of me. I recounted the thee piles of 50,000 rupiah notes, during which he started the transaction with my daughter who wanted to exchange $50. Having pushed my money aside, their transaction was completed and we grabbed a taxi home excited about our impending trip up to Kintamani to see the volcano.

Relating our experience to friends who’d called in for pre- dinner drinks, they raised concerns about the exchange, so I checked my wallet and realized I’d been shortchanged by a third. In effect one of the piles of money had disappeared in a sleight of hand act that I still can’t work out.

My husband’s silent look said it all- I warned you! And so he had. Before we left home while I poured over tourist brochures of where to go and what to see, he had read all the warnings on the government websites. Along with the long list – be careful crossing the road, don’t drink the water, watch what you eat, and be careful riding on the mopeds on the roads, was a warning about exchanging money in Bali.

He started reciting them whenever I talked about the trip to the point that I no longer wanted to go and if I got there, I wouldn’t want to leave our villa. I had a healthy neglect of what he had to say, but I was careful.

The trip up the mountain didn’t provide the balm needed for the sour taste the transaction had left.

Angered by what had happened, the bus driver we’d hired for the day promised to confront the thief with us and suggested we report him to the police. As luck would have it the booth was closed when we called by.

For the entire trip the transaction played out in my mind. I couldn’t enjoy the volcano but it was an interesting trip.

Our party near the volcano.

During the exchange his friend came in and started chatting. Was he a decoy? He said I was getting confused as he was sorting out our daughter’s transaction and I was trying to check my money. I might have had some doubt if it wasn’t for the fact that I had the sum of exactly two piles of notes in my wallet. One was missing.

By the next day I was resigned to the loss, but determined to report him.

We hired the driver again to take us to the booth and confront him with us. By then my doubt had turned to anger.

We pulled up at the booth, which as luck would have it was open but the thief was no where to be seen, so we waited. A short time later his friend emerged from a nearby house. I walked into the booth to confront him, and took his photograph. “No picture. No Picture,” he insisted. “Yes, I need your picture for the police,” I said. I stepped out of the booth and our driver explained how angry we were about what had happened. He quickly called his friend and after a short time, the thief rode up on a motor bike. Our driver explained the situation and he stepped into the booth and started counting out the money.

Of course I couldn’t leave it at that. He got a berating from me about how he had spoilt our holiday. He apologised profusely. “I’m sorry.” He repeatedly said sounding suitably remorseful.

Our early morning stroll left the hawkers behind on a quieter stretch of the road in Legian headed towards the tourist town of Kuta around the bay in the distance. The Balinese hotel staff were mesmerizing as they swept up leaves that had fallen on the lawns around the beach lounges. Others swept sand from the beachside paths near their “stalls”.

I had been fascinated by all the “offerings” we had noticed in Bali. In woven baskets there would be gifts of food – rice, a piece of fruit or a biscuit, some flowers, bamboo shavings, a stick of incense and water. They were left by Balinese at little Hindu shrines that formed part of every home and business, or placed on the ground at entrances. As we sat in outdoor cafes, trendy Balinese young men would come up to the shrine at the café entrance and reverentially place their “offerings” then light the incense, splash water from a little jar they carried, then pray. They all seemed so devoted and quite oblivious to the cafe set watching them. Invariably these offerings would be stacked six, eight or 10 high on the shrines, or on the ground, then fall over littering the ground. Stray dogs and birds would eat the food components.

As we walked along the road I noticed a young Balinese woman, dressed in jeans and wearing a motorbike helmet, place her offering on a shrine then say her prayers.

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She looked so devoted. I was fascinated and had to ask about the ritual. Nicky explained that she presented the offerings three times a day to bring good fortune on her business – painting the nails of tourists on the beach. She also sold jewelry and hats that she crocheted.

With visions of Nicky sitting up late at night weaving baskets, I asked how she prepared the offerings.

“I don’t have time to. I buy them,” she said. She went on to explain that she bought 25 a day at 500 rupiah (or 15 cents) each. Offerings are made three times a day at home, on cars or motorbikes, on businesses and goodness knows where else to bring good fortune.

“You want your nails done Sally, you comes to me.” Although I had no intention of getting my nails done, I promised I would.

A promise is a big thing in Bali. Every barter ends in an agreement on price, a handshake and you can’t waver from the agreement. Reneging on an agreement is viewed very badly – that’s not how it’s done. One of our children enjoyed the bartering so much, he would walk away after enjoying the process and not realising the rudeness of his gesture until we pointed it out to him.

So on my last morning in Legian, before heading to the Monkey Forest village at Ubud, I sought out Nicky with one daughter to get our nails done. She wasn’t hard to spot with her colourful crocheted hat. She greeted me with a warm embrace.

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Forty thousand rupiah – or $5 for my hands. Of course I had to get my toes done too, 80,000. And those of my daughter 80.000.

With the assistance of a friend, they quickly settled into doing our nails, with cleaning sets to wash the nail, drying cloths, brushes to sweep away any stray grains of sand, and then painted pretty frangipani chains on our toes nails.

No sooner had we settled into this fun activity, when two more of Nicky’s friends joined us offering to sell me their wares. By the time Nicky had finished I had bought a sarong and top from one friend (10,000 rupiah), four jewelry sets (necklace, bracelets and earrings) from another also called Nicky (55,000 rupiah each), and a necklace to match my nails (30,000), two bowls and two surfy necklaces on leather  (200,000 rupiah) for my sons from Kate (who told me she had four children and pays $400 US in fees per child for them to go to school), and two stainless steel salad servers (260,000 rupiah). None of which I had intended to buy. More of Nicky’s ‘friends’ started to gather, insisting I buy from them also, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

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And so we were quite laden with trinkets from the beach when we headed to Ubud.

The French style resort was just lovely. A garden to one side grew most of the produce cooked in the little restaurant. It was in the Monkey Forest village and involved a walk through the famous forest to get to Ubud, the quieter, arty community that offered a relaxing change to the tourist zone.

We enjoyed watching the grey long-haired macaques racing around and playing – and fighting in the jungle of the monkey forest, and despite how friendly and gregarious they seemed, I didn’t want them climbing on me. I enjoyed watching from afar as they climbed up the leg of a smoking tourist, took the packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, then took out a cigarette and mimicked smoking. It was very humorous. We also enjoyed watching the little macaques climbing onto the head of surprised tourists.

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 “Mum can you get one to climb onto my head?” One of the kids begged. It seemed to me the less you wanted one to climb on you, the more likely they were to do it.

If I sat down, they would come over and climb on me, sitting on my head to look around. The kids sat beside me, trying to encourage them. I didn’t particularly like the attention. I refused to buy the bananas to encourage them.

On the last morning, while packing up the villa, I slipped over and injured my knee. After the swearing died down enough for my husband to work out had happened, he went in search of ice for my knee. He returned with a block of ice and a piece of lining fabric – with no stretch in it. He strapped the ice to my knee and we headed off for our last morning in Ubud before we left Bali for home.

I limped through the forest feeling very sorry for myself, and not taking too much notice in the macaques. The heat was causing the ice block to melt so the fabric got too loose and the ice kept slipping out. As a result I had to sit down and re-strap the ice back on. The macaques were fascinated by this activity, and I quickly learned that they loved ice. Soon I had a little monkey sitting on my leg licking the ice block.

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Others gathered around. Then suddenly they all dashed away. Thinking nothing of it, I continued with securing my bandage. Suddenly the big daddy of the macaques was sitting on my leg and ripping at the bandage. I instinctively said No! to the macaques, to which he screeched at me then bit me on the hand, grabbed at the ice that fell to the ground. The monkey jumped down after the ice and I jumped up in shock.

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Despite the mishaps, I limped home nursing my hand and thought about what a lovely holiday we had had.

It was great to be able to eat out with the family for three meals a day everyday rather than going out maybe once if we were on a holiday in Australia. It was great that the kids could have so much fun exploring and the area and shopping to their hearts content. It was a destination that e all went armed with bottles of hand cleaners to wash regularly.

So as the frangipani flowers chip from my nails, and I line up for the last of my rabies shots, I’m pleased with my purchases and my new friends back on the beach at Bali.

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