SEMINYAK, Indonesia — After having experienced the thrill of motorbike traffic throughout Indonesia, I finally decided to try it for myself in Bali.
All it took was 50,000 rupiyah ($5.49) and a form I filled out on the sidewalk, and I was installed behind the handlebars of a newish automatic Yamaha scooter. The boasted a tiny 125cc engine, which is close to my 1965 Honda CB160 back home.
Unlike my bikes or my motorcycle (none of which have turn signals), the Yamaha took some getting used to. For one, its low center of gravity felt odd. Secondly, I was now driving on the left side of the road.
Negotiating traffic here is akin to swimming along with a salmon run: The movement is spirited and relentless. All well and good as long as I don’t beach myself or land in the jaws of a hungry bear
The drivers, I realize, are actually quite skilled at thinking like water and keep the flow at a constant, steady pace. With a few exceptions, most are excellent at weaving through the madness, even if they are horn-happy. It’s the tourists I actually avoid, since most look like toddlers learning to ride a bike.
I did appreciate seeing one Western family of three climb aboard a scooter — with their dog perched sideways on the floorboard — even if I didn’t see how they fared in gridlock.
The Yamaha allowed me to see a greater swath of Bali’s beaches than I would’ve otherwise.
Kuta Beach was overrun with tourists, strip-mall shopping and Western amenities. Although located on the Indian Ocean, Kuta Beach bore a slight resemblance to Cancun’s scene with the aura of New York’s Rockaway Beach.
Legian Beach, to the north, offered a more laid-back atmosphere, and once I was piloting the Yamaha, the sketchy would-be acquaintances largely dropped off. (An occasional indecent proposal would occasionally still find me, including one from my hotel, Balisani Padma Hotel, who asked, “You like girls?”)
Seminyak, with its more upscale hotels, wide array of beachside resorts and less crowded beaches, better fit the mold of what I had imagined Bali to be.
Excited by my new wheels and a gas fill-up that cost 5,000 rupiyah ($0.55), I even drove back toward the airport to see the wild, giant sculpture in white that greets arriving travelers. It depicts the Hindu epic of Ramayana.
Bali’s crooked streets, undulating between its conjoined beach towns as if mapped by Jackson Pollock, captivated me for quite some time, i.e., got me lost for much of the day, happily, albeit without adequate sunscreen on my legs and forearms.
Note to self: You can’t outrun sunburn.