By the time we’d negotiated the Saturday afternoon traffic from Ungasan to the Kuta hospital, the blood pressure reading of the driver and patient sent medical staff into a serious spin and the passengers needed a hefty sedative and a lie down.
We thought we’d left early enough to avoid the seething masses of maddened motorcyclists hell-bent on getting from southern Bali to their villages for the weekend. We’d miscalculated, badly.
Bikes wobbled and weaved all around, rocketing suddenly in front of us and screeching jerkily to a halt to avoid smashing into the vehicle ahead, causing us to slam on the brakes and pray that whatever was behind was alert enough to follow suit.
As they spoke and texted on their mobile phones, riders swayed across lanes and abruptly wrenched their bikes perilously close to us to avoid ditches and hazardously abandoned vehicles that must have broken down. Not so, The Playmate assured. Those cars had been precariously “parked” by mindless morons without an iota of thought for the safety and convenience of others.
Riders on bikes bearing helmet-less children zigzagged from one side of the Bypass to the other, across two lanes of traffic that had turned into four, sometimes stopping horizontally across the road to fit between the rear of one car and the front of another.
Then, with phones still plastered to their ears, they twisted their bikes into the general direction of forward and screamed into impossibly small spaces that were being diminished by car A on the left and car B on the right, both honing in on mid-point C ahead.
They’re going to get squashed, I gasped. “Silly unprintables!” shouted the normally mild-mannered Playmate, whose vocabulary has sunk to lows that reverse-match the highs to which driving in Bali pushes his blood pressure.
Into the combat zone loomed massive and under-subscribed tourist buses, plying the power of their bulk like military tanks, forcing aside the general troops and further hindering any prospect of orderly advance. Out of the blue and without a glimpse in any direction from their drivers, bikes, trucks and taxis shot into the melee from hidden side streets, adding to the heart-stopping hiatus.
“You unprintable unprintables!” shouted The Playmate. “Do you want to die, you pack of useless unprintables?” He caused the slow throbbing vein in my temple to pound about like a maddened Bali bike rider trying to get home for the weekend.
At the airport turn-off, police stood by as riders and drivers screeched diagonally across the intersection after the lights had turned red and before they’d turned green. It was the same at the Roundabout of Recklessness at Simpang Siur, where no one in control (or not) of a vehicle had the faintest idea of what that nice, newly marked area for bikes at the lights was for.
Here, last week, the police had again stood by as a rider who had missed her turn-off to Sanur jerked wildly to a halt across our front, as we were taking the Sunset Road exit, causing The Playmate to hit the brakes and utter a previously unheard unprintable as my head hit the window.
She, who had obviously woken up late and with a start, proceeded to walk her bike backwards into the traffic until she was sufficiently close to the turn-off she’d missed to swing her machine around in front of another car, causing it to brake and swerve as she returned to her dreams and sailed off towards Sanur.
There is little adherence on Bali to the requirement to wear a bike helmet, or turn on your lights. There is deliberate ignorance of the sign-posted rule that trucks and motorbikes should keep left and there’s no apparent effort to enforce it. Compliance with this rule would be a great start to better traffic flows and improved road safety. There are enough police at major junctions to start educating the wayward, and it would give them something better to do than waiting around for a green-looking bule (foreigner) to hit for some cash.
And how about all those kids, some only 10 or 12 years old, careering about bare-headed on motorbikes? That’s illegal, and it’s treacherous for them and others on the roads.
Back at the hospital, delayed by the journey and staff insistence on hanging onto The Playmate until his blood pressure subsided, we decided we were too far behind schedule to wait for the prescription to be filled. Instead, I went out for the medication the next morning, Sunday, when traffic was far less dense but just as daunting.
On Jl Raya Uluwatu, a woman wheeling a motorbike plunged without warning across fast flowing traffic, causing another episode of slam-on-the-brakes-or-hit-the-idiot. On Jl Kampus Unud, an approaching car decided without indicating to turn across the front of me.
Driving in Bali is like Groundhog Day. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, the same thing happens. Wake up, drivers and riders. Learn the rules. Acquire some patience. Use some common sense. Stay alive.
Perhaps our police could help the cause?