Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Driving in Bali

The best advice we received before coming to Bali was from our former neighbors from Holland; that is, rent a car and drive it yourself (thanks, Loes and Pierre). Sounded simple enough, but little did we know we’d be one of very few sets of travelers doing just that. Much like in India, few Westerners drive themselves. Thankfully, with my year in India I’ve become an expert rider in developing world Asian traffic and finally found a place to put those months and months of watching to use. Bali traffic more closely resembles India than any other place I’ve been. There’s not quite the diversity of implements on the road, but still a great number of slow moving scooters, slower moving trucks, and stray dogs to avoid while swerving in an out of oncoming traffic on roads that are typically a lane and a half wide. In hindsight, it’s probably easy to understand why people don’t drive the island, but I must admit I felt a certain amount of pride when asked where our driver was by cheerfully responding that I had my own car.

That car was a late model Daihatsu Feroza, a two-door mini-SUV type contraption. I had forgotten that Daihatsu was even a company much less think I’d ever have the pleasure of getting behind the wheel of one of their fine vehicles. While exceedingly basic, it got the job done. And at $25 a day with insurance included, it seemed a small price to pay for complete freedom of movement. It included a guy that met us at the airport upon arrival and agreed to pick up the vehicle at the boat landing in Sanur where we caught our fast boat over to Nusa Lembongan.
Yep, I'm that excited to get behind the wheel of the Feroza
Perhaps what scares many visitors to Bali from driving are the various warnings one can come across while researching the topic prior to traveling. Based on Lonely Planet and other online research I performed, it convinced me into getting an international driver’s license for fear of getting pulled over at any intersection by a Balinese cop looking for a handout from an unsuspecting foreigner. As it turns out, the rental car place could have cared less if I had that license and I was pulled over a grand total of zero times. I was only told I didn’t know what I was doing one time when I started down a one way in Ubud in the wrong direction. I learned then that the concept of “one way” only applies to vehicles with four wheels as any number of motorcycles and scooters seemed exempt from the restriction.

Having come from India, it doesn’t phase me to see entire families on a motorcycle. If it’s the most cost effective way to transport one’s family, who am I to argue? What seemed odd to me in Bali wasn’t the number of people on scooters and motorcycles, it was the age of the children driving them alone. Maybe I’m getting old and teenagers look younger than they used to; or maybe kids wearing school uniforms are simply allowed to drive themselves around.

While most of what we saw could probably be done by taking day trips while staying at one of the more traditional tourist centers of Bali (Kuta, Seminyak, or Jimbaran in the south or Ubud a little further to the north, home of the “Eat, Pray, Lover’s” – more on them in a later post), driving it ourselves helped us get away from the tourists and enjoy the island at our own pace. If you ever make it here; heed this simple advice: get a car and a map, bring some patience, don’t be afraid to ask directions, and you’ll have an unbelievable experience.


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  2. wonderful to hear it all went so well....a thousand years..1972..we had been driving in Europe for well over a year already and yet, to see Rome, we smartly rented a Vespa, which even back then was a thrilling challenge since there was no place park..we too felt smugly clever since we simply rode up to every sight in Rome and locked onto any nearby lamppost..thanks to then popular Michelin guide for the suggestion and my travelling companion's over a year experience practice! Kudos!! Great it went so well!