I’m a fairly adventuresome person, but I don’t have that thrill gene—you know, the one that makes you want to sky dive and bungee jump and have sex in public places. But I’m also a woman in my forties, which makes me, if not more staid, at least more experienced with having done, well, a LOT. So while I might visit someplace new (and since I’m in the travel business, I do so regularly) my activities are usually ones I have experienced before, just in other spaces in the world.
So it was with great excitement that, on my tenth trip to Bali, I finally rented a motor scooter and joined the hordes who travel around the small Indonesian island by weaving in and out of traffic and zooming past the stacked up cars patiently waiting their turn. We lead tours here, so when I want to go somewhere, I usually have a car and driver assigned to me. On our first tour, we met a wonderful taxi driver—like almost everyone in Bali, Made (Mah-day) is an artist, a woodcarver from generations of woodcarvers. So Made takes us anywhere else we might need to go, for almost no money. Scooters weren’t even a consideration.
But this trip, they called to me. Wouldn’t it be lovely, the scooters said, to tool around exactly as you please, stopping on a whim and feeling entirely independent? We even come with helmets, and everyone uses us, so we are perfectly safe! This was sounding better and better. Did we mention that you can rent us for just US$5 a day? Okay, that settled it. My Bali spiritual tour would include a scooter, at least this once. I rented one from a humble shack behind our hotel, on a semi-quiet stretch of road where I could practice starting and stopping. The nice Balinese lady, undaunted by my naiveté and possible lack of balance, showed me how to turn the engine on and off and suggested I buy petrol on the main road. Immediately.
I donned the sky blue helmet, grinning as I strapped it on, feeling its hard, round reassuring weight, like a little planet protecting my head. Mmm… safe. I began to feel brave, to relax a little. Getting up on the scooter increased my comfort level further. After all, I rode a bike as a child. I recalled that a date gave me a ride on the back of his motorcycle in college once. Yes, this would be like when I went for a ski lesson and discovered I had already mastered the bunny slopes because I knew how to ice skate and the movements were the same. I was fierce and brave for doing something new, even though it was secretly so easy.
I sped off down the little winding street, slowing and braking with my left hand to test my speed before taking off again by turning my right hand to give the scooter more gas. At the bottom of the road, I waited to turn onto the main street. And waited. And waited, as a thousand cars and scooters sped by, all driving on the far side of the road, meaning I had to cross traffic. Finally, spotting my break, I gave my little engine some gas and zoomed across without killing myself. This was the life!! Under my own power, crossing the main Ubud road, which I know for a fact is dangerous even for cars (probably all those tourist scooters) and I DID IT!
A minute later, a man stopped in the middle of the road, directly in front of me, waving his hand for me to stop, which I did. Then he motioned to a woman on the sidewalk a few feet away to cross in front of me, a misguided choice at best. With just five minutes of street time to my credit, I was in no mood to be patient and concerned I might run right over him. “Hey, I’m new at this!” I shouted. “Get out of the road!” Luckily he did.
I stopped at the market, and a sweet Balinese attendant helped me to park, which cost me 15¢, plus the $2 I tipped him for also showing me how to start and stop the engine again. An hour later, bag of souvenirs stored safely between my feet, I took off again.
Being exposed to the road like this, nothing between the skin of my calves and the road except air and the grace of God, was scary. The worst part was having to slow down for traffic, when my foot had to be placed on the tarmac so the scooter didn’t tip over and (because everyone was going so slowly) make sure I didn’t speed up into the back of the car in front of me once it started to move again.
We take so much for granted. The road, the cars, the scooters, the motorcycles, the experience of the people driving all of them. We think we are safe, cocooned in our own little world like my head in the hard round helmet. We think it will always be like this. Doing something new showed me another side of things, a more dangerous place where someone else might be new at something, and not very good, where an accident might happen if I’m not vigilant. I’m not going to over-think this or start to worry. I’m just going to remember to be more mindful, more respectful and aware of my surroundings. Not to take anything for granted. That’s what the exhilarating, terrifying experience of doing something new has taught me.