Bite Out of Bali

By Richard Boughton

My friend Adam Fenton, editor of Bali Style magazine, and a long-time resident of Java and Bali, has long been acquainted with the scourge of rabies in our pleasant paradise – as well acquainted as one can be from afar, in the sense that there’s a difference in intimacy between knowledge and first-hand experience.

Recently, however, his perspective changed when he looked the beast in the teeth and came away with a bite on the calf and an open sore in his peace of mind.

Still rattled the next day when he met me at Warung Sanur, Adam relayed his story with the help of several fortifying mugs of Bintang.

He had been riding his bike, he said, along Jalan Danau Poso, when he saw a dog coming towards him. The dog was on the walkway; Adam was in the bike lane.

“It was just a little dog,” Adam said, “and he looked like he knew what he was about. A sober sort of dog. He seemed to know where he was going and why.”

And yet just as they passed in opposite directions, the little dog suddenly turned its head and bit Adam’s calf. It wasn’t a bad bite, but it left a little dent, a little tooth mark, and then the little tooth mark developed a little drop of blood.

“So he just bit you and walked on by?”

“That was the first thing about the incident that got me worried. The fact that he acted like nothing had happened. He never even broke his pace. Never snarled or growled or any such thing. And so I’m thinking, this dog is some kind of sociopath. Mad as a hatter. Or worse yet – this dog might be rabid!”

The safest thing to do, as Adam concluded, was to get treatment as quickly as possible. And this is where the real story begins. Pedalling up the bypass to the first clinic he could find, Adam entered only to discover that they had no rabies vaccine. Pedalling on, he received the same news at the next clinic, along with a giggle from the receptionist. He was told he must go to a hospital.

Onward my friend pedalled, developing growing symptoms of irritation, exhaustion and acute thirst which must be, as he reckoned, either from panic syndrome, heat exhaustion (having ridden, by this time, the equivalent of some 20 miles) or indeed the onset of rabies.

The first hospital Adam reached had no vaccine, either. He was told to move on to Sanglah.

Rabies has claimed the lives of more than a hundred men, women and children in Bali in the last couple of years. It’s a problem of epidemic proportions that has been in the news the world over. It’s also a disease curable by a timely injection of the proper medicine. Here, then, is the question. Why is the medicine not readily available at every roadside clinic, or certainly at every hospital?

This is the mystery of Bali. That which pervades so many aspects of life on the island. You may as well ask why it is that when they improve the roads they ruin them instead. Why does the government bother with making plans when no practical implementation of the same ever follows? It’s a critical failure in reasoning, a disconnect between the existence of an issue and the application of a solution. In short, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

And the common man is left with this wisdom alone: Don’t get bit in the first place.

Richard can be contacted via

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Practical Paradise

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