Hell on two tires: the fine art of navigating the streets of Ubud, Bali by scooter
A friend currently residing in Bali wrote an interesting story of the perils of scooter riding. Worthy of a guest blog post. Enjoy
Let me preface this piece with I am no first time nervous nelly scooter rider. I cruised the mean streets of Key West on my little purple, plastic, Japanese scooter for an entire summer with the biggest hazard being dodging the occasional inebriated tourist on Duvall street. But Bali, is no Key West! Think turn three at Talladega, within inches of 40 of your most fabulous scooter riding buddies dodging, numerous potholes, various hanging vegetation, no street lights, and various wild life obstacles from monkeys, dogs and chickens, to snakes. It is the ultimate live video game that you get to play again and again every time you need to go somewhere. And did I mention, they drive on the wrong side of the road! Great for the Brits, not so good for us hodophobic Americans.
Bali is where the scooter reigns supreme over the car. I have witnessed entire families 2 kids, Mom, Dad, and the family dog all piled on one scooter on the way to school drop off. The ubiquitous orange Home Depot truck exists not. Instead, every construction material imaginable from bricks, to 40 foot lengths of rebar and coconut are some how precariously piled on the scooter for transport from A to B. Lunch time roach coach, think “scooterized” with large metal hot box containers piled sky high on top of each other looking as if they may topple over at any moment.
Rules of the road – there are none and I mean none, zippo nadda. One way streets no problem, passing on the other side of the street at any time into on coming traffic sure, stop signs and traffic lights(although there are very few) don’t apply to the scooter and street signs so you can actually find your way around rare very rare. Turn signals, mine as well just stop manufacturing them on the Balinese scooter they are not needed nor used. But, the horn, now that is another story all together, as the Balinese toot all over town beeping continuously for no apparent reason. The result; full out melodious mayhem everywhere all the time. It is every scooter for himself in a mad race to get from nowhere to somewhere the fastest way possible.
Maybe, the peaceful, non assuming Balinese, find it an invigorating game to play chicken with an oncoming equivalent of a grey hound bus every 2.3 minutes. Or perhaps, they get a kick out of passing as many other scooters as fast as possible with inches to spare in a kind of “see my wheels” sort of bragging rights. I don’t know, but they seem to speed bye me leaving me put put putting away, with my right hand in permanent “throttle death grip” until I reach my next destination whereby I immediately drop to my knees and kiss the earth for letting me remain alive to make it to yet another yoga class.
But by far, the most endearing part of my daily commute is monkey forest road which as you guessed it, goes right into the monkey forest which yes, you guessed it, is a forest full of monkeys. So, I am scooting along minding my own business, oblivious to all the monkey statues outside the local shops that are obviously not for decorative purposes, but rather subliminal warnings of the impending danger zone ahead when all of the sudden I am in monkey world. One climbing over the power line above my head, several running across the street, more sitting on a wall ready to pounce on me at any site of food. God help you if you are scooting along and eating a popsicle or piece of fruit. The monkey forest – the animal kingdom alive and well for your scooting pleasure.
Yet, with all this mayhem, I have yet to see an accident. Apparently, the ability to navigate multiple obstacles at break neck speeds, with your toddler aboard all whilst talking on your mobile is some sort of inherited Balinese genetic trait. One that I will never be blessed to receive. Yet, there is nothing quite like the joyous freedom of riding though the rice paddies at sunset with the wind in your hair until a very large unidentifiable bug smacks you in the face, jolting you out of your day dream just in time to dodge the formidable boa constrictor on the road in front of you.
Peace & Namaste y’all from Bali