Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heavy Metal Thunder

In Ubud, one can rent a motor bike for 50,000 rupia/day (~US$5.50).  After our plan to rent two bikes yesterday afternoon crashed and burned (due to a miscommunication between the price we’d agreed upon with one guy and another bike owner, the lack of a second bike’s availability, and the skies having opened up), we set out this morning to beat the 2:30 sharp rainstorms and to discover some of the hidden and not so hidden gems around Ubud.  The renting part was easy, even the physical manoeuvring of the motor vehicles wasn’t so bad we grew accustomed to sharing the road with other motor bikes, “push” bikes, cars, busses, market vendors, dogs, chickens, etc. all within 2 feet of your bike is easy – it’s calming the nerves that is the hard part.

Steve and I erroneously set out without the proper beginning steps to our journey: there were no deep breaths, barely one back and forth down the closest alley to practice, no set contingency plans, and (we found later) no maps in our bag.  After a mad dash around the dog shit nestled in our path, we pulled onto one of the two busiest roads in Ubud, Monkey Forest Road, joined the herds of other motor bikes (manned, no less, by hundreds of Balinese of questionable driving age) and cars who gently tooted to let you know they were passing your ass whether you were ready for it or not.  Stores selling batik dresses, soaps, tours, masks, and woven baskets passed by in a colourful blur.  No problem, we thought, Monkey Forest Road is a one way street, we’d just go with the flow.  But no…lines on the street and signs are merely “guides” not rules like they are in the areas of the world where were learned to drive.  And oh, “one way” means most of the traffic will be going that way, while the rest will do what it wants.  Tourists and locals wait not-so-patiently for the vehicles to drive by before dodging across the street to avoid the taxi drivers hounding them for a ride or the lovely women offering massages at 60,000 rupia a pop (~$6.60).  We managed to successfully turn right into oncoming traffic (Balinese drive on the left side of the street) and I promptly lost sight of Steve’s blue helmet and pink bike.  When I finally found a safe-ish place to pull over, I did what every good Brownie drop-out should do and instead of looking for him, I stayed in one spot until he found me.  He did, 10-15 minutes later (apparently, Boy Scout drop-outs learn the same thing), upon which we realized there were no maps in our bag and the Elephant Caves of our dreams were essentially unlocateable.  No problem, we’d return from whence we came, or something like that, grab the maps and head out again.  After several more turns into traffic, several near collisions with dogs, and more horn honks than I (as a normally confident driver) care to admit to, we made it back to our hotel room to grab the maps.  I then did what any sensible 31 year-old North American driver would do…

I bawled. 

I cried out of fear, I cried out of relief, I cried over the stupid lines in the street that mean jack shit in this country, I cried because I was pathetic enough to be crying, I cried because we were almost out of sunscreen, I cried because I never want Steve to think of getting a motorcycle during a mid-life crisis, I cried because laughing seemed like the more logical thing to do, yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. 
Then, after several trips to the bathroom to wipe my face off with toilet paper, several reapplications of sunscreen to my tear-stained face, several repetitions of (Steve) Hon, we don’t have to go. (Sarah) No! (snarf) We’re going, I pulled myself together.  (Pardon me, readers) I fuckin’ pulled myself together, channelled Peter Fonda and Steppenwolf, and set out again with not only a map, but a soundtrack.  Yes, my motor bike (who I lovingly named “Heavy-Metal Thunder”) and I perked up all of our senses, audibly sang “Born To Be Wild” while driving through the busy Ubud streets where, at any moment, a gamalon-toting stray dog carrying a refrigerator on its head while driving a motor bike with all of its puppies and chicken friends strapped on can cut you off without beeping – and drove.  

We drove past rice paddies…Get your motor runnin’

We drove past traditional Balinese performances…Head out on the highway

We drove past daily offerings covering the streets…Looking for adventure

We drove past that great local and super cheap restaurant we found the night before…In whatever comes our way

And then we drove up to the Elephant Caves where we celebrated by pretending to be Indiana Jones discovering the temple of doom for the first time, high-fived the fishies over our amazing driving abilities, toasted to our elegant motor dance with coconuts, rewarded ourselves with gallery visits to a village known for its woodwork…and did a lot of other great things that we wouldn’t have been able to do had we not ventured forth into the great traffic lane-less unknown.

Yeah, darlin, gonna make it happen.  Take the world in a love embrace, fire all of your guns at once and explode into space.
We then made it home in one piece, having slowed all of the Ubud traffic down to a crawl by sticking waaaay over to the side of the road while everyone (and their motor bike-driving grandmother) passed us.  In other words, we were hardly nature’s children, born to be wild, but we were overly cautious, pushed a little beyond our comfort boundary, and had an amazing day. When we finally returned, we promptly fell asleep from post-adrenaline-induced  exhaustion before going out again (this time, walking very slowly) to find a cup of tea and a comfy chair in which to write this blog. 

On another note, we have decided to skip Egypt in our travels and will instead tack on some more time in both Turkey and Morocco.  We’ve had a few questions about our Egypt plans and had originally decided to put off the decision until a later date, but due to the sad circumstance that the country is in right now, we will just have to visit the pyramids later in life.


  1. You brave brave brave girl. You truly are born to be wil-ld!

    Loving the blog and jealous as hell. Hope you keep having fun.

  2. Weel done for toughing it out - lucky they drive on the left in Bali - would be really confusing otherwise. You made a good choice to use two bikes as well.

    Shame about Egypt but seems like a pretty prudent decision at the moment. One imagines they will get it back together before too long.

    Best wishes & love to both and keep the blog posts coming.

    Peter (the 1st)

  3. Good call on Egypt, better to have your plans sorted out now, you clearly don't need more stress on this trip! I do have a question though, how's the yoga mat?

  4. Steve does NOT need a mid-life crisis to get a motorcycle.

    But I loved this post. :) I want to see the dog with the gamelan.