When it comes to places to lose a child, I can confirm that Bali beats the hell out of Bulgaria and the UK.
It’s not that I make a habit of losing children.
Admittedly, I did once misplace someone else’s in the course of a sleepover.
And I once inadvertently left my own child on an international ferry.
And then there was that time in Bulgaria…
But other than that, in over 1000 days of travel, we’ve not done too badly when it comes to getting lost.
Though I appreciate I won’t be winning any awards for Mother of the Year…
We are in our favourite pizza joint in Ubud, playing table football – out of the many things to do with kids in Bali, this was his choice – and we agree that it’s time to head back.
We have no wheels as he’s not supposed to ride a motorbike for a while after his surgery. (Well, the instructions said “bicycle”, but I’m guessing that covers motorbikes as well.)
His last words? “We seriously have to walk all the way back?”
Mine? “Yep! I’m just going to the loo and then we can get going.”
I emerge to find no sign of my child.
So, after badgering the staff and rooting some poor Indonesian chap out of the gents, I figure he’s set off to get a head start, and I’ll catch him up en route.
I leave a message with the restaurant staff in case I’ve got it wrong, and walk the couple of kilometres back to our hotel repeating “No thank you” to offers of “transport” and wondering why the hell I haven’t caught him up yet.
As I wander down the alley that leads to our bargain hotel (less than fifteen squid for a family room, with a pool!), I get that sinking feeling.
Not that utter disaster sinking feeling.
But just a sense that this might all have gone a wee bit FUBAR.
And, yea, our door is still bolted, and my spawn is nowhere to be seen.
I check with the girls at reception.
I ring up the pizza place, using Skype, but after two minutes of pidgin Indonesian Skype drops the call. In any case, he’s obviously not there.
And it’s getting dark.
And, because there’s only one of me, there’s no one to send out on a recce while I cover the local area.
And, even though it’s my second lost child in Bali, I’m not entirely sure what to do.
Now it’s not, actually, a complicated route. You head up the hill, hang a left and follow that road until you hit the correct alleyway. Even if you miss the first left, there’s another connecting left.
So he’s got to have the sense to go left at some point, right? And hopefully not down a random left into obscure backstreets at stray dog o’clock…
I’m not, it has to be said, especially worried.
Zac’s navigated himself across Hong Kong, around various islands and villages, done trips to the shop solo in Bangkok, Istanbul and elsewhere, and tooled happily around Dahab on a bike.
Bali is a safe island, and Ubud, despite the tourism, is still a small town where everyone knows everyone. Zac has been to school here. We’ve had a house here.
Unfortunately, Ubud is also a maze of more or less narrow roads lined by tiny alleys and this isn’t his end of Ubud.
I wander up our alley, which looks completely different now the stalls and shops have closed and night has fallen, and have a look around Monkey Forest Road and the football field.
I set my alarm for 7.30pm, the time by which he’ll have been AWOL for long enough for me to start making a fuss.
“Your son not here already?” says one of the kids who man the bike emporium which fronts onto our hotel.
“No,” I say. “I thought he was walking back here, but he’s not here.”
“No phone?” they say, with a note of mild disapproval. (As in a lot of developing countries, folk earning $5 a day or thereabouts can and do save up the $50 for a locally made smartphone, and spend most of their time on it, for that matter.)
“No phone,” I say, helplessly. “I did ring Pizza Bagus, but he’s gone.”
“I’ll take a bike and we can go and look for him,” he says.
And this is one of many things I love about the Balinese.
Absolutely no drama. But totally willing to help.
“THANK YOU!” I say. “Let me just get my bag, and then we can go and take a look.”
I’m trying to work out which way Zac could possibly have gone. He wouldn’t have gone downhill, out of town. And I’m 90% certain he knows to turn left. So he must have taken the wrong left?
I know he knows the name of our hotel. And I know he knows what street it’s on.
But he doesn’t have any money on him to get a taxi.
“Right,” I say, to the chap with the bike. “We were in Pizza Bagus. So I’m sure he went up Hanoman, but he could have gone anywhere from there…”
He wheels his bike out.
I gird myself to jump on the back.
And there, in the darkened alleyway, is Zac!
It’s not a tidal wave of relief, but it’s a definite swell of relief. And, mercifully, neither of us are feeling shouty. Just pleased to see each other.
“What happened?!” I say.
“Well, I was waiting outside the restaurant for you, and you LEFT,” he says. “So I waited. And waited. And then I asked, and they said you’d gone.”
“But I thought you’d gone ahead!” I say.
“I was waiting RIGHT OUTSIDE,” he says. “So then I went off back towards the hotel. And at the corner I asked a lady to tell me the way to Monkey Forest Road. And she kept directing me to Monkey Forest. And I said, ‘No, Monkey Forest ROAD.’ And she kept directing me to Monkey Forest…”
I refrain from interjecting that Monkey Forest, the Indiana Jones jungle filled with temples, mossy statues and temple monkeys, is ON Monkey Forest Road, and that at the time he was asking for directions to it he was actually standing on it.
“And then she asked where I was staying, so I said ‘Gayatri‘, and they babbled on a bit in Balinese and stuck me on a motorbike and brought me up here.”
“Wow!” I say. “I hope you said thank you!”
“Yeah,” he says. “But they dropped me at Gayatri RESTAURANT. And I thought our alleyway had a gate. So I was wandering around looking for it for AGES…”
It’s only later that the child safety aspect occurs to me. I’ve talked to Zac about stranger danger, online and offline, and he’s shown, so far, good instincts.
Aged nine, he returned from the shop in a Thai bus station and announced, “The man in the shop said he loved me so much he’d give me anything I wanted, and I thought that was weird, so I came to tell you.”
He also knows that if he’s lost he should ask a mum with kids, a police officer or a soldier, or go into a crowded shop and ask at the counter.
But, all the same, he’s just got on a bike with two complete strangers.
“So…” I say. “Would you have gone if it had been two GUYS on a motorbike?”
“If they were Balinese,” he says. “Probably, yes. I mean, this is Bali, right? And it was a motorbike, not a car.”
And, thinking about it, I reckon he’s right.
In the UK, any right-thinking adult would NEVER pick up a lost child and give them a lift, for fear of being accused of child abduction. A lost child in Bali? Well, as I learnt, child abduction doesn’t figure in the reasoning.
But… what do you think? Was he right to accept the lift?