Bali by scooter

On day two of our bali trip we gave in to the lure of scooter hire – a notoriously cheap backpackers mode of transport on the island. And for a price of only $12 (AUD) we were able to hire 2 scooters and spent a whole day exploring Bali with complete freedom to choose where we wanted to go and where we wanted to stop.

I have no regrets.

We started early to make the most of the day. Our Airbnb host being kind enough to arrange the hire for us and ride me into the centre of Ubud, while Sam rode double with Casey on a seperate family scooter to collect our rentals. Once there, we signed a single receipt, handed over some cash, selected helmets, photographed the scooters and were off! Almost… We just had one slight hiccup to correct. That would end up turning into quite a panic..

Just as we were discussing how to get to our first destination we realised that none of us had bought our drivers licenses to the hire office… A simple enough problem to solve one would think. All we had to do was return to our accomodation and collect a drivers license (at least one of us would be covered if we ran into police) before departing for the day.. But this simple solution quickly went wrong..

Our plan was to follow our host back to her home on the scooters we had just hired so that we could set off immediately from there.. We departed with me on one scooter and Sam and Casey doubling on a second (as Sam is the most experienced rider of the three of us). But it quickly became apparent that our Scootering skills were a little rusty.. And although we weren’t struggling to balance and we weren’t crashing into strangers.. we were having some trouble keeping up with our host! Who SPED off ahead of us, eager, obviously, to be done with us for the day and have us on our way. And although at first she seemed to be stopping at intersections and pulling aside to wait for at least me to catch up with her, her patience didn’t last long. And in my panic to keep up with our host I lost track of Casey and San in my rear view mirror.. And suddenly, I  couldn’t see either party as I found myself rolling down an entirely unfamiliar street.

Panic set in as I continued to follow the road for a few more minutes sure, at first, that our host must still be ahead of me. Then, doubt sunk through me, as my racing ahead through traffic yielded no results to my search. Finally, fear hit, as I came to the realisation that I must have taken a wrong turn at some point and was now lost in a foreign country, where I didn’t speak the local language, alone, with a scooter that I had no documentation for (Sam had the hire reciept for both scooters with him).

But surely? I reasoned, Sam and Casey must be coming up behind me at any moment. Even if I had lost our host, they should have been following me, as I was the one in the middle of our chain?!

So I pulled over.

I waited.

Traffic passed. More traffic passed.

From this far back in the queue there was no way that they could have seen me and been following me..

They weren’t coming. Was it possible that they had overtaken me without my noticing? Questions like this rushed through my mind as I perched roadside with my scooter trying to call into action my logical mind instead of my panicked one.

I had to at least try asking for help. So I scootered forward a few meters towards a couple of men manning a roadside refreshment stand and letting out a big breath to calm myself asked “Mas Ubud?”. And my fear must have been written all over my face because the younger of the two men didn’t just explain to me that I was indeed going in the wrong direction and needed to turn back, but took a moment to calm me, distracting me from my stress by asking me where I was from, telling me to be careful and telling me I was going to be OK. And it was this one moment of kindness that was all it took to calm me back into a sane mind. Knowing that there were indeed kind locals on this island and not just tour operators out to milk me of my money was all the relief I needed. So I thanked the kind men, turned my scooter back into the traffic and returned up the treelined hill I had just descended in search of a “white statue” at which I now knew I had to turn left. And surely enough this white statue was an excellent marker and soon I was back on the right path. And although I had many doubtful moments along my way, convincing myself at times that I needed to ask for more directions or had missed a second turn off, a familiar store or landmark would always present itself just as I was beginning to loose hope and would urge me to keep on going.

After the longest 15 or 20 minutes of my life I made it back to our accomodation. To the screaming of Sam and Casey and our host. Feeling proud and capable and alive.

As it turned out Sam and Casey had seen me take my wrong turn, but had only followed me briefly before second guessing my direction and second guessing whether it was me at all that they had seen make the turn. So they too had had to turn back and fluke their way home to our accomodation without our host. And in fact they only made it back moments before I did. They had only to endure a few minutes of terror, calling my cellphone which was in Sam’s backpack and realizing how isolated I was before I sped passed our driveway and jumped with significant relief from my scooters seat.

It was, we all agreed, a truly ‘Bali’ experience. One which tested our abilities to think straight under pressure and left us ultimately feeling giddy with relief, refreshed and more confident.

And we still had a whole day ahead of us… So with all of our affairs finally in order we took off in the direction of Jatiluwih – home to the most beautiful rice paddies in Bali.

And surely enough after a long but exhilarating 2 hours of travel; sweeping between cars, buses, scooters, pedestrians, stray dogs and what ever else the roads of Bali could throw at us we arrived in Jatiluwih. Incident-free.

We stopped here for an hour or so for lunch at a gorgeous outdoor restaurant that served traditional foods and seated guests in small hut-like platforms with low tables and cushion seating, and which had a spectacular view out over the terraced rice fields. The food was delicious, the fields were beautiful and the service was friendly and we were already completely satisfied with day two in Bali.

But there was more to see!

As rain clouds gathered and condensed overhead we sped off towards Baturiti botanical gardens. But unfortunately those rain clouds didn’t hold out for long. Soon a light shower was falling upon us as we fled to our next destination. And unfortunately with all of our morning distraction we were quickly running out of daylight as well. But as is the nature of rain in the tropics the shower didn’t last long and we arrived at the botanical gardens with ease. For a few dollars we gained entry to the largest botanical garden I have ever seen, and spent an hour strolling though what was really more of a park (with trees and hills) than a garden (with flower beds and conservatories). And along the way the rain began to fall again – a little heavier this time. But as we were already wet from our ride we were not deterred and continued through the park quite happily in search of flowers and cacti. And soon we had an additional member to our pack following us loyally about the place – a gorgeous stray dog who we belovedly named ‘Pooch’. He even followed us into a conservatory and frightened some other, less friendly guests. In fact in our hour with Pooch we grew very attached to his quiet and gentle nature. He was by no means a rabid stray and when it came time for us to leave him and return to our scooters we were quite reluctant to say goodbye.

The gardens themselves of course we’re also lovely and with rain coming down they were blissfully empty. The size of the space was the only obstacle, with so much ground to cover to find a flower bed. But we managed to lay eyes upon many cacti and a few orchids in the couple of garden spaces that we did find amongst the park, so we were ultimately pleased with our visit.

And we headed off with the rain halted again, deciding that our next stop would have to be Ubud to return our scooters before our deadline at 6pm.

But half way into our journey… The rain came again.. This time MUCH harder than before.

Soon we were pulled over in a monsoon style downpour with low visibility, dropping temperatures and a deadline approaching. We knew we had to continue.

We quickly transfered everything precious and electronic from our backpack into the under-seat compartment of the scooters, wrapped a sarong around Sam’s shoulders (in a meek attempt to stop his shiverring) and pushed on into the storm.

We continued to weave through traffic, avoiding cars and scooters and potholes as before. Heads low to avoid the rain flying into our faces. And I must say, while I later found out from Sam and Casey that they had found the situation very stressful and we’re panic-stricken for a large part of the ride home.. I personally quite enjoyed the drama of the situation. I enjoyed being so exposed to the elements. So in nature. And surviving. Owning every turn and obstical with relative ease. Wind on my face. Undergoing a true, unadulterated adventure. It was real freedom. It was wild freedom. It was exactly what I seek in Asia.

And we arrived back in Ubud well before 6pm. Mission accomplished.

Our night ended with another delicious Indonesian dinner and a show – a traditional Balinese dance performance that we found in the middle of Ubud which was both entertaining and beautiful. The female dancers were immaculately dressed with beautiful make-up and intricate headwear and performed their subtle, bird-like movements with precision timing. While the males donned huge, heavy costumes that were terrifying and showy. For an entrance fee of only 100,000 Rupiah (about $10AUD) it was a brilliant end to the evening.

And we again made it back to our bed late and ready for a deep sleep.

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