KUALA LUMPUR – Laura Dossova’s dream of a two-week relaxing vacation in Bali, Indonesia last year unexpectedly turned into a six-month stay when the popular tourist island went into a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19.
What was supposed to be an exciting trip to the Island of the Gods for her became an unforgettable memory filled with uncertainties and adventure. But with her positive attitude and ability to quickly adapt to new situations, she managed to savor every moment with joy.
“I dreamed of going to Bali for a holiday and initially it was supposed to be two weeks. I’d read about COVID-19 but at that time I didn’t think that the whole world would be on lockdown for a long time because of it. I had planned my vacation so that’s why I flew there (Bali),” Dossova explained in an interview for this story.
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali on March 18, 2020 was nearly empty except for Dossova, her husband and their seven-year-old son, as well as a few other passengers. Two days after their arrival, Bali was put under strict lockdown by the Indonesian government and the popular island, which was used to see swarms of tourists, suddenly became empty and quiet.
Dossova described the scene as scary because in just one short week, nearly all tourists and foreigners left the Indonesian island abruptly leaving only a handful of foreigners. Many domestic and international flights were canceled and at that time, most of the flights that were available were repatriation flights.
She thought of returning to Kuala Lumpur at that time but on the same day as her flight to Bali, Malaysia announced a strict international border closure and lockdown.
“At that time, I just moved to Kuala Lumpur with my family for about six months. So, I have to return to Malaysia as my son is studying in an international school there. Since my flight was cancelled and I needed to apply for the approval to enter Malaysia, I decided to stay in Bali,” the entrepreneur from Aktobe said.
Although the lockdown in Bali has driven most of the foreigners out, those who chose to stay get to enjoy the beautiful island in peace and they also get to enjoy staying in what was once expensive villas for a discounted price. The price of a villa in the south of Bali, Canggu was about $500 a month from about $300 per night.
For one whole month, Dossova stayed in the villa with her family given the strict lockdown measures in Bali and the closure of economic activities. Public places, sightseeing areas, beaches and shops were closed except for the grocery stores.
In May 2020, Bali cautiously re-opened its economic activities only to those living on the island albeit with strict controls by the local authorities. Wearing face masks in public was made mandatory for everyone and a fine of $7 was imposed on those not complying with the rule.
Many foreigners did not abide by the rule as the fine was very low to them. Therefore, local police found a unique way to deal with them – by making those who are caught not wearing a face mask in public to do 50 push-ups and 15 push-ups for those who didn’t wear their mask properly.
Dossova took the opportunity with the re-opening of businesses to stay in different locations in the island as well as to explore different places and experience the local culture. One of her best memories is her stay in Ubud where she rented a villa that is surrounded by rice paddy fields and steep ravines.
She also went hiking to the popular Mount Batur, which was the first volcano that she went to, as well as waterfalls, zoos and safaris, and the famous Mason Elephant Park & Lodge where she bathed and fed rescued elephants.
“It was a memorable experience for me because I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time. I went snorkeling and swimming; I saw live dolphins up close; I eat exotic fruits every day – fruits that I’ve been wanting to eat since I was in Kazakhstan. Everything in Bali became cheap and because there weren’t many people in Bali, I got to enjoy all the activities without worrying much about social distancing,” Laura said, adding that she also learned how to ride a motorbike. Eventually, motorbikes became her mode of transportation when she was stuck in Bali.
For half a year, she adjusted her life on the tropical Indonesian island. Language isn’t a barrier because the locals speak English and they treat foreigners with respect and are very helpful.
She visited a Balinese family at their home and participated in a charity project led by a group of foreigners who have lived in Bali for a long time. The closure of economic activities has negatively affected the locals whose income depends on tourists; therefore, the group of foreigners helped them by donating money, food and clothes.
There were a handful of Kazakh people who were in Bali during the lockdown and they all kept in touch with each other via a Whatsapp group created by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Indonesia. All the questions and inquiries about repatriation flight, health and many more were answered and help was given to those who needed it.
In early September 2020, Dossova received approval from Malaysia’s Immigration Department to enter the country and lady luck was on her side when she managed to catch the last flight out of Bali to Kuala Lumpur on Sept.5.