Thursday, August 07, 2008

I got no car and it's breaking my heart / But I found a driver and that's a start

Read any guide to this tropical island of Bali and it will tell you that, here, we have two seasons. We have Musim Hujan (the wet season) and Muism Panas (the dry season). This is nonsense. Uniquely in South East Asia we have a third season.

It’s Musim Mayhem and it runs from mid July to early September. It comes like clockwork every year and leaves a trail (mostly of body parts) when it leaves.

It’s the season when tourists turn up and rent motor cars or motor bikes on their summer holiday.

It begins when a couple of visitors decide that the best way to tour or get around Bali is to hire and drive a vehicle. It has several perceived advantages. Firstly you are come and go as you wish; secondly there is no dependence on a driver and all that entails; and thirdly, and this is the biggie, you are doownnnn with the locals…you look cool as you spin along the Jalans, often shirt off, or brief bikini top on, weaving between the cars and bikes.

But you don’t.

a-dickhead You look like a dickhead, and chances are you are likely to look even worse. The local folks, Balinese and expat both, look on you as a menace.

It often ends at the SOS or BIMC. A friend who works at one of these tells horror stories of beautiful skinless girls or buffed surfies with only one foot left. And a few lifeless bodies too.

Yesterday I drove across the golden lower triangle and encountered multitudes of them. They come in all sorts of varieties:

· There are the surfers..usually on a motor bikes (although sometimes in overloaded old Kijangs with (illegal) roof racks covered in boards like cop magnets). They can be found all over the island but especially on the roads heading to the beaches of the Bukit Peninsula. These are the folks with their shirts off and they look oh so body beautiful. Unfortunately the shots taken after skin hits tarseal , as it inevitably does, are not quite so attractive. There is a reason most Balinese are well covered on the open road, outside the back roads.

· We have the families from Australia, mostly Perth, who hire a bunch of bikes, one for every two people, buy a bunch of those wacky helmets (the pink Nazi styled ones with big rubber horns on them are popular) and meander all over the by-pass, looking for Kuta Beach. They are, apart from their random road blocking moves, both the most harmless and the most, sadly, gormless. But the cops love them.

· The couples, with and without kids, who hire a cheap Avanza or Jimmy (called Jimny elsewhere but the M has mutated here) are often from the UK and can be found on the various roads up to Ubud and around Seminyak. Or, too, at police checkpoints where the officer will tell them their international licence is no good in Bali (it's fine) unless they pay a fee on the spot of Rp100,000. They are more often than not completely lost and miles from where they want. You can find them stopped in the fast lane of the by-pass or northern roads with a map out wondering why the road they've just driven down is not on it.

· The guys who think they are in Ibiza….lads from Manchester or South London or the like. In a Bintang T shirt, with a proper (ie lightweight plastic..retails for about $7) helmet. They often drive with beer in hand and girlfriend on the back. The girlfriend usually doesn’t get a helmet. Also notable for the pinkness of their sunburned skin. They tend to hire the bikes with the fake registrations, so the cops can pull them over (they then split the cash with the rental company). Dangerous only after 5pm when the swerve factor hits and they tend to pull in front of anything that moves without warning (being almost Balinese in that way).

· We have the Sydney Ku De Ta girls in Avanzas, who only go between the Bintang Supermarket in Jalan Seminyak, Bodyworks, The Corner Store (where they talk very loudly about how much they paid for their fabulous villa..always far too much) and Ku De Ta or Sarong (which is the current venue de choice for the loud and agingly fab).

· Then we have the gorgeous Euro kids. They can often be picked by the placement of their helmet..they sling it over the handle bars as the parade their gorgeousness in the sun. They are often found around Kerebokan or Canggu (most often in Jl Laksmana) where they have recently paid about five times the going rate to a local smiling Balinese guy for a villa for three months. Daddy is paying. This lot may be the most dangerous, often leaving a trail of urban destruction in their wake. But, damn, they are beautiful…or at least they think so.

There are of course other sub groups, but the two things they all have in common are the fact they look silly and they should not be there as they’re a danger to themselves and everybody else.

a_dickhead2And why bother (apart from the I’m so beautiful and so down with the Balinese factor)…for about $10 a day you can hire a driver. That driver will know his way around. He will know which unmarked one way roads are one way (and when, unmarked and without warning,they turn two way again!). He will know which roundabouts are roundabouts and which are religious icons (The first you go around like a normal, everywhere else in the world, roundabout (apart from the giving way to other cars bit), the second you go around any way you wish without looking first). He will know where the big sewer holes in the road, most of which have been there for years, are. He will know which traffic light is red and which is green when every bulb has been blown for months. He will not act as a police magnet which you most certainly will if you drive yourself..this one pays for the $10 rather quickly. He will act as a buffer between you and the various conmen who will target you if you drive your own vehicle. He will prevent most other drivers on the road from looking at you with a mix of disdain and horror. He will know the quick back road so you don’t get stuck in the endless traffic jams mostly caused by people like you. He will know how to drive and navigate the rental car that, even if brand new, would be dragged of the road in just about every other country on the planet, and trashed (Toyota, Suzuki and the rest only add the barest safety items that the law requires them to..which in Indonesia is none).

But most importantly he will keep you, hopefully in one piece.

The thing is, the Balinese are some of this planet’s worst drivers, the injury toll on the roads is about 6 times higher than, say Australia. You simply buy a drivers licence and then you are able to put anything with any number of wheels on the often interestingly constructed and maintained roads without question. You then drive however you want and as randomly and irrationally as possible. The police only care when they can make a profit out of it.

But for all that is some sort of logic in the insanity but no-one can expect to get out of an aircraft and into or onto a vehicle and make any sense of it all, no matter how cocky and fabulous they may be.

Only a few weeks to go……

No comments: