May the Gods Protect my Scooter
There are only two ways to visit the unspoiled Bali you’ve always imagined: in your dreams, and by motorbike. The surf in Uluwatu is golden and yoga in Ubud is enlightening, but I realized that to truly experience Bali, I had to get on a scooter and get lost.
Luckily it’s dead simple to rent two wheels in Bali. Everyone and his cousin will rent you an automatic scooter for around five dollars (50,000 IDR) per day, complete with a helmet and a quick lesson for newbies. My guy, Putu, speaks English with an Aussie accent and keeps a selection of lovingly maintained scooters and motorbikes parked in his home courtyard. He met me at the Puri Mango guesthouse in the resort town of Sanur with an acid green Honda Vario; it looked like I was straddling a mutant grasshopper. Foreign drivers technically need an international license, but with police corruption built into the system it’s well known that if you get pulled over, just flip the cop a fiver and you’re good to go. I once asked for change on 100,000 IDR and the officer smilingly obliged.
Bali’s traffic is organic. It transcends road rules and relies on body language and intuition over road signs and signals. But it doesn’t take long to learn the language and become part of the flow. I mimicked the locals on two wheels, weaving through the chaos of chicken trucks and ceremonial processions. I learned to cut out of traffic jams by hopping up on the sidewalk, and to honk my horn out of compassion, not aggression.
With a rain poncho stuffed under my seat, I navigated my way through the mayhem of the tourist beach towns, toward the volcanic heart of the island. Paved roads stretched up into green hills of endless rice terraces dotted with colourful temples. Suddenly I was in postcard perfect Bali. The smell of burning garbage was replaced by rain soaked earth and mouthwatering satay cooking on roadside grills. Cruising past green ribbons of young rice shoots, I understood why UNESCO chose to protect this living World Heritage Site from encroaching development.
After two hours, I arrived in Munduk for a weekend of sweeping views and black velvet night skies. I checked into a family run hillside guesthouse and relaxed with a fresh young coconut at their rooftop restaurant. On a clear day in Munduk, you can see the Bali Sea from 800 metres elevation, and when the clouds roll in your mind gets lost in mystic skyscapes. Refreshed, I set off on an easy hike down through a traditional food forest for an energizing swim under the Tanah Barak waterfall.
The owner of the guesthouse told me not to miss “the big tree,” so the next morning I got back on the bike and drove twenty minutes to one of Bali’s most sacred banyans in the tiny village of Gesing. Legend has it that during battles against the Dutch colonialists, local heroes hid inside the tree.
Climbing into the cool sanctuary created by the banyan’s massive roots, I left an offering to the gods, asking them to preserve this island paradise – and to guide my scooter safely down the mountain.