The West

Rookie biker lives to tell tale
Afternoon traffic jam in Ubud.

I had tried a couple of solo trips as a 50-something female and actually found myself enjoying travelling alone. In fact, I liked my short holidays so much, that I decided to move to Bali to try living in a foreign country alone. The first thing I needed to sort out was transport.

I needed to get from Kuta to Denpasar each day - and now that I was not earning any money, I was on a strict budget.

To start with, I hired a bicycle. Well, it looked like a bicycle. I had moved about 50m from the shop when I realised that this was the "bicycle from hell". But hey - it was cheap. At roughly $1 a day, how could I complain if it went sideways and the chain kept falling off? However, I did go back and ask for some brakes.

I highly recommend cycling around Kuta - if you want to get your adrenaline pumping or your heart rate up.

I once asked a Balinese friend for directions to Legian. "Go to the end of the gang (lane) and turn left," he said. I got to the end and turned left but all the traffic was hurtling towards me. When I complained about the wrong directions, he laughed and said: "But it's OK. You're on a bicycle - no problem."

A couple of days later, I swapped the bicycle for a motorbike. Now this was really living.

I wobbled away amidst the potholes and the wandering dogs, listening to calls of "hati, hati" (watch out) from the locals, who were watching me nervously and laughing at the same time. I have since found out that the Balinese laugh when they are scared.

I found myself riding along, muttering expletives very loudly. This was like one very long bungee jump. It wasn't just the balancing, and that I had never ridden a scooter or motorbike before; it was also the fact that the streets and lanes of Kuta are full of potholes, dogs, children and people.

Not to mention the traffic. I had no idea if I was meant to ride on the left or not - there seemed to be a "free for all" attitude towards driving. I just stayed in the middle.

I was shaking like a leaf when I finally dismounted after my first ride.

Once I had stopped quivering, I decided that it was actually fun. Within a short time I was off again, trying out my new-found skill.

The reason for hiring a motorbike was that I was due to begin a three-month stint as a volunteer in an office in Denpasar. But riding a motorbike to Denpasar every day . . . could I actually do it? I'd seen the hordes of motorbikes all beeping their horns and jostling for position. How would I cope?

I had an idea: a practice run so that I could get the feel of being a "biker in Bali". I asked my friend, Ketut, to guide me on a trial run.

Believing the roads would be quiet early in the day, I asked him to meet me at 6am at my hotel. Quiet? Wrong. Other obstacles to contend with were the swarms of children going to school on bicycles and motorbikes. I'd forgotten they start school early.

These children all looked as though they had been to circus school. They weaved and darted in and out of the traffic, sometimes on two wheels, often just on one, at the same time as holding hands with a friend alongside them. How on earth was I to get to Denpasar without killing one of these young acrobats?

We made it but Ketut said the journey usually took one third of the time it took us that morning. He was also frustrated by my tendency to slow down and stop at road junctions whenever I encountered fast-moving traffic going across the road.

"You drive like that, you cause accident," he complained. "Nobody understand what you do. Don't slow down or stop. Just keep going, they won't hit you."

Of course, most of the time that's true. From the footpath, the driving looks rather chaotic. In fact, in the midst of it all, there is a kind of rhythm and form.

It all seems crazy but somehow it works.


• To hire a motorbike in Bali, you will need a licence. An Australian international driver's licence can be obtained from the RAC. Local motorbike renters also will assist you with obtaining a valid local licence that usually lasts a month and costs only a small fee.

• Check that your insurance policy covers you for motorbike/scooter transport. Never travel to Indonesia without insurance because hospital treatment can be expensive.

The West Australian

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