November 21, 2016
I received an email from the retreat center I would be teaching yoga at in Bali. It said: “After you arrive at the airport in Denpasar a driver will greet you after you exit customs. Look for a sign with your name. Please pay the driver $35 U.S. directly.”
Easy enough, I thought. Except…there were about 50 drivers holding signs and probably another 50 or more men just yelling, “Taxi, you need taxi!?” So I learned right away it’s not difficult to get a driver in Bali, and the fares I paid were always very reasonable. This pre-arranged ride was the most I ever paid in Bali (the driver was so happy; he said it was the most he ever got for a fare!). On my own later I found taxis covering a similar distance for close to $6 U.S.
And then, as a passenger, I learned something else right away. Man, thank goodness I’m not driving! The roads are packed with motor bikes and scooters. That’s how the locals get around, and they make it look so easy. Car in the way? Use the sidewalk. Light red? Oh, that’s just a suggestion to stop.
Sometimes solo, but most often there are two or three people on the bike, plus their bags and whatever else they need to transport. You name it; I saw one guy hauling some major lumber and I wondered how he would navigate the narrower village streets. All ages, too. Moms with toddlers and no helmets worried me, but there’s obviously a comfort level from everyone’s years of experience.
Visitors to Bali can rent a scooter. It’s a cheap way to get around, but I would say don’t do it unless you have experience riding a motorbike or are just naturally good and confident in traffic and ready for surprises. I’ve seen bricks and many other ‘can easily knock you off your bike’ items in the road. One night after a strong rain we came fast down a dark hill to find about six inches of water flowing across the road. I was a passenger and grateful my friend, Bernardo driving had years of motorcycle experience in Brazilian city traffic. He knew how to slow properly and maneuver through. I believe he’s one of the few people who could do that. Thank you, Bernardo!
Did I rent a motor scooter in Bali? Yes! Did I take it out of the peaceful village of Bindu where our retreat center is? No! In the U.S. I’ll ride my bicycle in races, traffic, anywhere, but I’ve never driven a bike with a motor. So I practiced with my newly rented scooter on Bindu’s quiet one mile long main street, back and forth.
A security guard for a resort on the end of the road where I turned around watched me arrive and awkwardly circle away a few times. Finally, he stopped me and asked, “Are you lost?” I told him I’m new at this and just practicing. “Good,” he replied with a mischievous smile. “This road is good for practice; many people on scooters have died here.”
Cruising back into the retreat center after scooter practice I was greeted by Hussein, a co-worker from Spain. He was experienced and confident taking his rented scooter out and about in Bali. He had been watching me race about Bindu and had a kind of nervous look on his bearded face. “Dave, do you have travel insurance?” he asked as I clumsily parked and took my red helmet off. “Yes,” I replied. “Good,” he said.
I saw and did a lot during my two months in Bali, and got where I wanted to most of the time via a taxi or on the back of a scooter driven by the experienced Bernardo. In places like Ubud, Seminyak, hiking up Mount Batur, checking out waterfalls, temples, etc., once I got there I was happy to be walking around. Slow and safe, and not needing to use my travel insurance.