On Road in Bali – A Travelogue!

By | November 19, 2008

by Bhagawati

(reprinted from Bali & Beyond)

Welcome to the cultural experience of Bali’s roadways.

To drive in Bali is an art in itself which must be analysed in depth.

The initial traffic experience may shock the fragile, jet-lagged nervous system of the first-time Bali visitor.

There’s a well-defined pecking order on the road. Tourist buses and trucks have the right of way. Next ranks the bemo (public mini vans which stop, without signalling at the drop of a hat), followed by rather frightening monster-wheeled jeeps with dark windows, favoured by visitors from Jakarta who follow a different set of traffic rules altogether. (Jakarta drivers are made conspicuous by their “b” license plates.) Kijangs and Jimnis abound thereafter, with an array of sedans thrown in.

Next up motorbikes, scooters and any other motor-enhanced two-wheelers. Buzzing and zooming in and out of the traffic like mosquitoes, they overtake on the left or right and crowd into any tiny space available. These can seat up to five. They also transport an array of goods, from live chickens and ducks to long wooden poles, large panes of glass or plywood (held by a passenger), huge crates or baskets with eggs.

These are blissful and fearless warriors. They think nothing of entering traffic without a glance at oncoming vehicles. They seem to be invincible. Escaping a new miss, they’ll turn and smile, “See, nothing to it!”

Ah yes, helmets – required by law while operating motorized two-wheelers.

You’ll see the strangest varieties of head “protection”. Some look like medieval armour; some are sprayed with graffiti; there’s a World War II combat design; and bicycle helmets, little more than a plastic mixing bowl. Most have no strap and are held on by one hand. Balinese en route to a temple celebration are exempt from wearing a helmet.

We mustn’t forget the visiting foreign surfers. They fashion surfboard clamps on the left of their motorbikes which should be classified as a dangerous weapon. Give them wide berth.

We move on to the bicycle riders. They hug the left shoulder moving at a meditative plod, managing to avoid falling into the canals despite the traffic. Occasionally, they swerve right in front of traffic to avoid a pothole, with no warning or a glance. This requires defensive driving at its best!

Also along the left shoulder are kaki lima, those ingenious food vendors which feed a large percentage of the population. They push a cart with steaming rice or soup, ice cream or fruit, or gaily coloured drinks in plastic bags with a plastic straw sticking out. Seeing anyone signal for sustenance, they stop the cart on the spot and serve, right there.

Pedestrians are next.

It is dangerous enough to walk along the roadway (as you might have gathered) but the sidewalk is no safer. These have been constructed with great aplomb in recent years. But monsoon rains and opening segments to clean drainage canals below means large holes uncovered for ages – or forever. Additionally, two-wheelers use sidewalks as alternate roadways when they can’t get through traffic on the real road. You might step out of a shop when one zooms by. Mind the toes.

We aren’t done yet, not by far. There are the children to consider, walking or running to and from schools; there are chickens frantically flapping their wings to avoid being flattened and served for dinner; dogs in deep slumber right in the middle of the road, rising slowly when honked at, or just glaring in response. In the suburbs and villages, you will find cows being lead to their graze, ducks herded with a flagpole to nibble bugs in the rice paddies and geese walking up and down the street just for fun.

There are always Processions!

Bearing in mind the myriad of temples and daily celebrations on the Balinese calendar, there are always processions taking place somewhere. One comes across beautifully dressed women carrying fruit offerings piled high on their head, filing slowly along the road, or large groups of women and men walking with a noisy gamelan orchestra, sometimes with the sacred Barong in tow. One stops the car in the road, observes and enjoys such an event – there’s no other choice — and only moves on when given the signal from the organizing committee.

And, when the season’s just right, when the strong winds blow from March to August, a riot of kites come out of storage. They can be as big as a house, carried by a gaggle of men from the village to a field to let them soar. This transit requires not only a lot of people but the entire width of the road. Needless to say, traffic comes to a standstill while everyone admires the fancy contraptions blocking the road.

A newcomer to the traffic scene will be amazed at the ease, patience and smiles that abound amid the seeming chaos. Remember, there is no such thing as right or wrong in driving here. The Balinese have their own rules. A visitor is well advised to relax, be careful and enjoy the Balinese “traffic culture” along with the island’s other unique aspects.

A Balinese road is a happening where life’s fullest takes place. Those going with the flow are rewarded with a great display of precious humanity. Those who don’t – get ulcers!

Courtesy of: www.baliandbeyond.com

And on the other side, Glimpses of Jakarta Traffic!!

by Shazar

One of the craziest things about this enormous city is the traffic!! It took one and a half hours this evening to drive back from the Golden Hotel right across the other side of town, where the 2nd AIDS conference is being held. (about 20 kms). “Macet” Bahasa Indonesia for traffic jam.. almost all the way home. An empty street is unknown, even on Sunday there are millions of people going millions of places, and driving is like being in the chase scenes in a Mad Max movie.

Being the last car across the intersection this evening, and looking out my window to see a line up of somewhere near one hundred small motor bikes, all spewing black smoke out of the rear muffler, lined up and ready to careen across the intersection .. small bats out of hell.. heading toward my car window with pure intent of ‘getting there’ wherever ‘there’ may be. The streets .. no lanes marked.. squashed together with four cars abreast.. trucks, buses.. battered and beaten by all of their life times on these jammed streets. Everyone vying for position.. those with no nerves come last.

Thank God for air conditioning, for otherwise we would suffocate in the polluting streams of smoke billowing out of the rear end of buses, chock full of people – and becaks, (rickshaws – 2 stroke engine nightmares) and sundry other vehicles, interspersed with Mercedes, Hondas, and large four wheel drive Pajeros and other expensive wheels. But as usual the ‘air con’ is on freezing and by the time we have finally reached our destination, I am half frozen and almost shivering and glad to spill out in to the warm and humid, and polluted air.

No wonder these people are all showing up with heavy toxicity on the EAV/CEDS health testing. You can almost guarantee a reading on lead, carbon monoxide to say nothing of the pesticides that are showing up. I often almost despair of what I am doing here. If I have any illusions about assisting the world to be a healthier place, I must admit that Jakarta and its inhabitants and their level of information about what constitutes a healthy diet is almost beyond my comprehension! How to assist when almost everything is loaded with sugar? When margarine is the order of the day and a nation, who are almost to a man or woman, sensitive to lactose due to their cultural heritage, but who all believe that as the TV tells them, milk is good for you!