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You’ll Be OK in Bali

You’ll Be OK in Bali

Words: Camilla Peffer.

On New Year’s Day, Perth teenager Liam Davies was celebrating with a group of mates on Lombok Island. After a few drinks at a local bar, the 19-year-old became ill and was taken to a Balinese hospital. He was then flown back to Australia and admitted to Sir Charles Gardner Hospital, where he later died. Medical reports revealed the cause of death was methanol poisoning, a dangerous by-product of incorrect alcohol distillation. Essentially, Davies’ drink was either spiked without his knowledge, or he drank an unregulated local brew that’s stronger than most Russian vodkas.

Within hours of the official statement from Sir Charles Gardner Hospital confirming his death, news outlets were quick to file reports on the sad turn of events. A young, “fun loving (sic) and active” teen had died as the result of an evening of seemingly harmless fun on a Balinese Island. A Facebook memorial was erected. He was too young. He played lacrosse. He had a lot of friends. The usual post-mortality media offerings.

The majority of news outlets emphasised the need for traveller discretion when holidaying in Indonesia, particularly in regards to drinking local cocktails that don’t abide by Australian alcohol regulations. But, as is common when citizens have access to a digital soapbox, someone’s going to get flamed. This time, Bali’s been touched to the torch. As we saw with Carolyn Webb’s first-class slam in 2011, turning your nose up at Bali has become something of a national sport.

It’s easy to resort to finger pointing when the subject is a foreign country, particularly one with “frankly terrible street touts, and the tacky souvenir shops”. Superfluous Batik print aside, there’s an inclination to demand local laws that adhere to values and rights typically aligned with our homeland. David Mountain from the Australian Medical Association has already accused the bar owners of Davies’ manslaughter and called for an Australian-style regulation on alcohol. Remember: everyone should abide by our laws, which dictate you can’t drive after having a gargle of fucking mouthwash within a nation of the world’s biggest binge-drinkers. At home, every week 70 Australians under 25 are hospitalised due to alcohol-related assault, with an average of four under 25s dying due to alcohol-related injuries.

But hey, we’re from the developed world, so we’re pretty much an ivory tower of morality and a safety, right? And aren’t we all, as Anthony Sharwood so eloquently puts it in his brilliantly objective report on travelling to Bali, just “innocent victims” of our misadventures within Bali’s vast terrain of horse manure?

Sardonic quips aside, I’m hardly implying that methanol is child’s play, or that Bali is 100 per cent safe. Often used in alcoholic drinks to make them stronger, Methanol is a harmful byproduct of incorrectly produced Arak, a popular East Asian liquor with a 50-60 per cent alcohol by volume and 120 proof (Russian vodka is 40 per cent ABV and 80 proof). 

Methanol poisoning caused one reported death in Bali last year, blinded another, and gave a third Australian brain damage. Whether they knowingly drank methanol or their drinks were spiked is not public knowledge. Bali is a playground for budget travellers.

It’s seen an idyllic wonderland for escape, and great for those who want to feel like royalty when you earn your dough waiting tables. You can easily pick up a luxury apartment complete with truck sized beds and enough food to warrant the reinvention of a vomitorium. 

You make a trade-off by sacrificing clean water, a principled legal system, road safety, and a regulated health sector. Despite reports of terrorist attacks and life-sentences, we still consider Bali a home away from home.

Regardless of these reports, statistics from The Department of Foreign Affairs show we’re safer than ever when off gallivanting through the maze of Kuta’s street vendors or stocking up on pirated DVDs.

The number of cases under the ambiguous heading ''Australians in difficulty'' in the department's annual report last financial year was 14,574, which is half the 27,861 in distress in 2008-09; quite a small chunk of the 8.5million people who left the country in 2011.

Even though Bali’s the cheapest international option for Australians, Bali is not the place for all Australian gadabouts. It’s an affordable alternative for those who want to live the life of an indulgent cavalier, or for those seeking an Eat, Pray, Love experience in the sanctuary of Ubud’s monasteries. If discounted decadence is your MO, by all means go buck wild. Just remember you’re upgrading your luxury but sacrificing a bit of first-world health and safety and a (almost) free lunch is likely to give you gastro.

(Images via Shutterstock and FDC)

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