RELIEVED! That’s how I felt when I first reached my office by bike. It was only my second day of work here in Bali and at that time I just came back from the US after living there for some years. I was not afraid that I’d be lost, but I realized I was not used to the traffic anymore.
It only takes about 30 minutes to bike from Sanur where I live to Renon, the area where my office is located. But I have to pass busy streets where people are rushing to their destinations with their aggressive cars and motorcycles!
It’s not just in Bali, really. Everywhere in Indonesia there are more and more cars and motorcycles, causing traffic jams in many places that used to be congestion free. It wasn’t like this when I left Indonesia about four years ago, and I can immediately feel the difference once I headed home from the airport on the day that I returned.
But in Bali, things are more complicated because there are not many options of reliable and affordable public transportation. There’s no city bus (to be fair there is one now, called Trans Sarbagita, but the routes are still very limited and it’s mostly aimed for tourism). The taxi is too expensive (for comparison, 15 minutes ride in Bali with metered taxi like Blue Bird will cost you approximately Rp. 28-30 thousand, while 15 minutes ride in Semarang with the same taxi will cost you less than half of that price). So of course, people use motorcycles a lot as an alternative.
If in Holland every person is said to have at least one bike, in Bali every family (including the lower income family) has at least one motorcycle. For example, my landlady has a family of three, but they own two motorcycles (three, if you count the old rusty one they parked next to my room).
It’s also very easy to get a motorcycle; with a down payment of as low as Rp. 100.000,- (10$), you can bring a motorcycle home. And of course, families are getting busier these days. Parents can’t always take their kids to school (and doh, there’s no school busses of course!). Solution: very young kids, as young as fifth or sixth graders, are hitting the small roads of Bali, riding their motorcycles with their school uniform without their helmet on.
You may wonder how the police let them get away with this. I also don’t know. Maybe the police also have kids who need to ride their own motorcycles to school? My friend told me that the police let them ride their motorcycles as long as they avoid busy or main roads, but I’ve seen these kids in busy Ngurah Rai bypass!
They are young and brave, but of course also careless and I don’t trust their judgment at all. But these kids are not the only ones who will make you feel nervous (or frustrated). There are many adults who just don’t follow directions, too pushy, or plain stupid. They are all over Balinese roads.
So there, these are the reasons why I felt really jumpy during my first couple of days biking to the office. I hate to feel this way and I never told anyone about this, because I’m afraid that they’ll see me as this annoying person who just came back from overseas and complained about everything in her country including the crazy traffic.
But the truth is, I need to readjust myself. And there’s nothing wrong about it. Yes, this is my home country, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to readjust to it after living away from some time. For some people the readjustment is very quickly, some people need more time. Some people need to readjust to the climate, the food, the level of noise etc., and I happened to need to adjust to the traffic.
The good news is, after some weeks I can finally feel relaxed when biking in the city, although sometimes I’m still concerned about my safety especially when kids crossed me with their motorcycles. But biking is once again becoming an activity that I enjoy.
Helmet on, ipod on, let’s go!!