And we were off. Two mountain bikes, two Americans, and two packs weighing about 50lbs each. Again, we had read that the traffic could be tricky but we were prepared. We had plenty of crazy driving experience all over the world! We took off taking a route that would wind West and then curve North before heading West again towards our destination for the evening: Puri Dajuma, a beachside eco-resort/retreat located a little ways into West Bali [Towards Negara]. We rode down a few streets and immediately saw the Balinese culture and religion of Hinduism through the never-ending temples. Miniature temples can be found at every home and business. The vast majority of the Balinese people believe in Agama Tirta or the “holy-water religion”. It is a Shivaite sect of Hinduism.
We stopped a few miles into our ride to get some water to fill our camelbacks and bike bottles. The sun was beating down, our packs were heavy, our bike seats tiny and hard, and our helmets lacking padding and protection, but we were excited and happy. We saw rice fields and construction, amazing architecture, and roadside “warungs” or little shops selling everything from water and Sprite to fried bean paste to candies to incense to gasoline in glass bottles. We continued on our trek, shortly coming to a “secondary” road. In other words, not the main road that was our destination. We were immediately aware of the immense amount of traffic. While our back and “tertiary” roads were nice and beautiful, the majority of these roads do not run east-west in direction. There is one main road that run east-west that we had to take to our destination.
We biked along, going up and down hills and around steep curves, trying to stay away from speeding cars and motorbikes [the primary method of movement on the island]. After another good hour of riding, sweating, coughing because of the immense amount of air pollution and exhaust from the motorbikes and cars, and literally almost getting hit by cars at least 5 times each, we admitted defeat. There are close to no traffic lines or signs in Bali. In fact, almost a week of being in Bali as I write this post, I have only seen one traffic light and it was flashing yellow. Cars and motorbikes just go on their merry way and don’t take others into consideration [certainly not bicycles]. Any motor vehicle turning left, in fact, does not even look right to see if anyone is coming, they simply go without stopping trusting that if they will get slammed by a car, that car will honk first. Unfortunately, with our bicycles, we did not have horns, let alone bells, let alone some road presence other than looking extremely out of place.
When we originally headed out on our tour via bicycle, we were not doing so because of the book Eat Pray Love. , but I have read several articles in books and online stating how people show up in Bali thinking they’ll be able to bike around on desolate flat roads past rice fields in a nice cool breeze [as in the book and movie]. These articles warn you that no, that is not the case. As someone who has tried and failed, DO NOT try to ride a bicycle around Bali unless you have a death wish. We are pretty adventurous people and true, there are some areas that are less crowded and easier to go around, but honestly, we pulled over after a truck almost pummeled me and decided that we would rather live than live the “adventurous, crazy, try to bike around an island that has a population of 3 million people” life. In the end, we wanted to enjoy our trip and the sights and sounds, not constantly be worried about being hit by a car or motorbike.
Furthermore, we decided that we did not want to use a rental car for the entire trip. The majority of cars here in Bali are manual, so finding an automatic would have been impossible. Driving here also requires an international license, something that you need to apply for in your home country. So, what to do? Interestingly enough, many Indonesians [in Jakarta, for example] have their own drivers. This was also an option in Bali. We decided against that as well. Instead we thought we’d be best getting rides between our housing locations and then using our bikes when we had the opportunity or otherwise exploring via foot in towns.
So, where that found us was sitting on the side of the road by one of the many street ditches that is basically used to capture trash and runoff. Speaking of trash, when we had stopped earlier for a bottle of water [it’s not safe to drink the tap water here], the plastic wrapper flew off the table and I went running after it. The woman who sold us the water just laughed and waved her hands to tell us, “oh don’t worry about the trash, just let it go”. Very surreal. Anyway, back to our ditch. Wild chickens and dogs wandered around and motorists whizzed past. We called Puri Dajuma and asked if they had a driver available to pick us and our bikes up. They did not, so we asked them to call us a taxi. We settled in, dejected and depressed at our failed attempt at “Biking Bali”, but happy that we would live to see another day. We settled in to wait.
At one point two dogs were playing around across the street. We watched as a third came up and barked and bit one of the other two on the leg. That dog whipped around and bit the third dog who was backed and pushed into the street. Not even 2 seconds later, a van hit and rolled over the dog… and just kept on going without so much as slowing down. We literally saw the dog roll under the car. I have never seen anything so absolutely disgusting or depressing in my life. At that moment I questioned our trip to Bali. I know that wild dogs are big here and they are EVERYWHERE and there are no sidewalks and I’m sure dogs are hit about 10,000/day, I had just never seen it so close and so real. I immediately missed Franklin and wondered how he was coping with our departure [his house sitters are loving on him more than we were I think].
About 1.5 hours later we were still waiting and it was starting to get dark. A van seemed to slow down and waved so we figured it was the taxi driver. He pulled over and Andrew went to talk to him. A 10-minute conversation later, we were loading our bikes into the trunk of a man’s van [NOT our taxi driver, just an Indonesian who offered to give us a ride]. We loaded into the van and headed off for our next adventure. We were thankful that he stopped and picked us up and yet wondering at the same time, do Indonesians often offer to drive strangers stranded on the side of the road? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is that the man who drove us to Puri Dajuma was and is my angel and night in shining armor. Without him, who knows how long we would have sat along that side of the road. Who knows if the taxi driver would have shown up. Who knows what the night would have served to us. About another hour driver later, the van pulled down a steep incline, through a gorgeous temple-like gate, and in front of a beautiful, open-air reception area. We thanked our night in shining armor profusely, gave him a healthy tip, and dragged our dirty and abused, pollution-covered bodies onto the nice comfy-looking couches. Minutes later, we were handed large glasses of watermelon juice and welcomed with open arms.
Needless to say, we had some re-arranging and shifting of plans to do. A big shout out to all the Indonesians who were nice to us and helped us that first day. It was tough and exhausting and enlightening.