Last year when I volunteered with CCS in Thailand, I had to sign a contract agreeing – right there next to not bringing strange men, drugs, or alcohol into the volunteer house – that I would not take motorbike taxis during my time as a volunteer. Pimsuda and Jack explained that while motorbike taxis were “regulated,” cheap, and everywhere, they were not safe, and I should avoid them at all costs. This seemed like a no-brainer and I was able to avoid motorbikes during my whole last Asian adventure.
Well, friends, I have a confession to make: I have spent A LOT of time on the back of a motorbike this summer. Hear me out on this one; though some of these reasons might sound weak, I feel justified and remarkably safe.
In DaLat, Vietnam, there is a lot to see, and the easiest, fastest way to see it is by motorbike. As I’ve described in a previous blog, this was my first motorbike “hire,” and it turned out just fine. My driver’s little bike could barely haul us both up the hills, much less go fast enough to get us in much trouble. It was a good day and a good first experience on the back of a bike.
My first time on the back of a motorbike in Indonesia was arguably probably not necessary: it was a luxury, paid for by a dear principal who wanted to “treat” me to a ride that would spare me walking up a big hill with a load of junk in my hands at the end of a hot, long day of teacher training. I appreciated Genia’s generosity and gladly accepted the short ride.
Next, principal Dina took me on the ride of my life to get me to a turtle release on time. She was a safe – but fast – driver, and we made it in time to see those little guys walk into the sea.
In Makassar and Tana Toraja I did not use motorbikes for any reason. No need – Merda was my driver or had a driver for us the whole time, which was indispensable. Driving in that area is no small feat, either; I appreciated how much time, care, and effort she put into my safe transport. Merda herself will not ride on the back of a motorbike; her father forbade this for her at a early age, and she has respected his wishes, knowing that motorbikes are definitely NOT the safest mode of transport out there.
Then I got to Bali – Kuta, specifically – where if you could see how the streets are impossibly narrow and full of traffic of all kinds, and you could experience this traffic on foot, by taxi, and on motorbike, you would understand why the motorbike – or motor-taxi – is the vehicle of choice.
Oh, and lest we forget – I started this part of the trip with a sprained ankle. Walking through the busted-up, skinny streets, the song, “you need transport?!?” ringing in my ears as I limped along pathetically, begged the answer, “why, yes. I obviously do!”
Now, don’t go jumping to the conclusion that I have eagerly jumped on the back of every motorbike that was offered to me; I definitely have been thoughtful about this choice. But honestly, when offered free rides for short distances, or even when paying for rides for longer distances, I have gladly been the safe passenger on more than one occasion.
Nina took us on an amazing ride around the islands of Nusa Lembongan. Had we not done that, we would not have seen much of the area.
And when we returned to Kuta, there were a number of quick sunset trips that we wanted to make during rush hour – when a taxi would not only have been expensive, it just would not have gotten us there in time (more about one of these trips in another blog):
As a solo traveler in Jogjakarta, the least expensive way for me to see the great temples here is by hired motorbike/ guide which I will take tomorrow to Borobudur, and later in the week to Prambanan. This is an alternative offered by every local tour company and, I think, a good plan for me.
I have not attempted to drive a motorbike yet, but, sorry again, that is the inevitable next step, especially if I find a third site for teacher training in Bali for next summer.
In Indonesia, the motorbike is as necessary as the car is to us Americans. If every moto on these roads were a car, this country would be one giant, hopelessly polluted traffic jam. While care needed to be exercised, and the risks and rewards carefully weighed, prohibiting myself from riding on a motorbike this summer would have closed many doors to me. And that option was just not an acceptable one.