The year was (gulp) 1982 and I was heading to Australia with three friends. I think this was before the term ‘gap year’ had been invented but we were off for a year to explore the land down under and anywhere else that happened to cross our path.
The cheapest flight we could find was with Garuda, Indonesia’s flagship carrier, on a trail that stopped so many times it was more like a bus route: leaving London’s Heathrow we touched down in Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Karachi, Singapore and finally Bali.
To be very honest, as a naive 19-year-old, with more knowledge on current rock trends than geography, I'm not sure I had ever even heard of Bali, never mind contemplated it as a stopover on our great adventure. But when we arrived in Bali, a full 40 hours after leaving London, the steward informed us that the next leg, onto Perth and then Sydney, had been overbooked and they were looking for volunteers to stay in Bali and take the same flight the following day. My friends and I, in no real hurry to reach Australia, accepted, collected our bags and left the terminal.
And that moment is one that has stayed with me always. As a farmer’s son coming from Lincolnshire I had never seen, smelt or heard such a place. I had travelled, more than most of my age. I’d spent a year at college in Canada, during which time I’d toured both Canada and the States, but this was something different… totally different, mysterious and surreal, and it blew my mind.
Everything from the warm sticky tropical heat, the huge vaulting palms and the sweet smell of the clove cigarettes, to the people on their rickety old push bikes and the coconut seller by the side of the road, with evocative conical hats and colourful dresses, amazed me. Wide-eyed and speechless it was a new world where everything seemed more colourful, vibrant and real. Like the world on steroids.
We found a small guest house on Kuta Beach – which back then was a deserted paradise – put down our bags and stayed three weeks. You only get this kind of culture shock once in your life and for me, it was Bali that provided it. Travel to the developing world had taken hold of me. Little did I know at the time, it would never let me go!
I have been back to Bali many times since and although it has changed and become a lot more commercial, for me at least it still holds a magic, a timeless otherworldly spirit that I struggle to find anywhere else.
(As this experience was before the advent of social media and the seeming necessity we all now have to record ourselves photographically wherever we travel, I don’t have a picture of me in Bali back then. So you’ll have to make do with a pic of me just off the Indonesian Island of Flores last week!)