Road to Nowhere

CEPAKA, Bali ~ In my Kijang I reverse cautiously out into the traffic, the parking attendant gone astray. I peer into the rear-view mirror with apprehension, desperately hoping to spot a break in the seething mass of demonic motorcycle riders bearing down at breakneck speed, not one about to make way for a reversing vehicle. I grit my teeth, close my eyes and make my move into the unknown.

Within seconds I could be excused for believing I was in Manhattan as I’m deafened by a myriad of sounds akin to big-city traffic – sirens, beeps, bells, foghorns, whistles and an assortment of large truck horns blast at my inner senses, all from motorbikes.

I’m in the frenetic stream of traffic, and as I keep a watchful eye on as many heavily laden bikes as I am able, I momentarily feel immense pride at the skill of merging with the locals on their roads.

But I was wrong, and my nightmare was only just beginning. As I pull up to the first set of traffic lights with this revving mass of overly anxious bike riders peering into my car from all sides, I quickly push the automatic door lock. Suddenly there is a knock on the driver’s side window, and to my horror, there standing beside me is a most impressively attired policeman, indicating me to drive around the corner and pull over to the side of the road. Having reverted back to my original state of apprehension at driving, panic-stricken I fumble in the glove box for my international driver’s license – at least I had had the forethought to carry it with me.

“You have broken the law,” the officer told me, delivering one of the finest Balinese smiles I could ever wish to see. (Where is my camera?)

“You have crossed the line,” he chastised, “you must pay a fine.” “What line did I cross?” I lamely enquired.

“I must see your permit,” he continued, ignoring my question. My mind was racing – doing a runner was out of the question, because I was surrounded by hundreds of motorcyclists all vying for the honor of being the first to be killed. Besides, the policeman, too, had a bike, and they maneuver far better in heavy traffic than a Kijang.

Anxiety was giving way to real concern, and I needed to resolve this curbside mini-drama as quickly as I could, in order to resume the rest of my life and return to the Grand Prix Circuit that’s regarded as a normal day on a road anywhere in Bali.

And so the officer accepted a Rp20,000 (US$2.18) payment of my fine, despite my pitiable attempt at trying to show my ignorance as to what line I had traversed.

I reentered the never-ending flow of traffic. Up to this point I have been on the road for five minutes, and with another 40 left for my trip home, I was no longer filled with any euphoria whatsoever. I am once more enveloped by quadruple-driven bikes – my record for multiple riders on a single bike still stands at five. These undaunted motorcyclists carry a variety of supplies along with their entire families, including chickens, hand basins, pieces of timber and bamboo, a full range of toys for resale and as many other items as you could possibly imagine.

I now find myself at the head of the speeding pack, and like any red-blooded expat Aussie, with a clear road ahead of me, I do my level best to remain the leader. Oh, what a feeling of power (and safety).

And just think – tomorrow I get to do it all over again.

By Henry James

Contributor | The Bali Times

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment

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