Yikes

Only once before had I ever used a scooter. That was on an idyllic island in southern Croatia, surrounded by hills and vineyards and the Adriatic, and with hardly any other vehicles to contend with. Piece of cake. Note to self: Ubud is not Vis! Helmets: check. Turn signals work: check. Horn: check. Main break on the left, hard break on the right: got it. And off we go, suddenly a part of the transport blood steam. Sink or swim.

Jennifer gets to enjoy the ride and look on. I’m both thrilled and petrified simultaneously. For starters, you drive on the left side of the road -something I’d never done on purpose. This is disconcerting, especially at intersections. As mentioned previously, there are no stop signs and no traffic lights anywhere, just one big continuous flow of traffic, like a network of intersecting ant trails. I stay to the left side as much as possible, and get passed by most everyone else, which is just fine with me.

That white line down the middle of the road is a loose reminder about 2 way traffic. Motorbikes and cars veer way over that line constantly to go around slow drivers or parked cars or turning vehicles. Periodically, a car or van needs to back into a space, which can take a while and create a long back up. The large ants wait patiently, while the smaller ants go around however possible. It takes me many hours of scootering to start to understand that despite the frenetic pace of the road, there’s a lot of give and take and cooperation among the drivers. Yes, you do actually jump in NOW as traffic is passing by; they will accommodate -within reason- and so will you.

Still, it takes all of my concentration to drive our scooter. Its fun as all get-out, but my knuckles are white. In many stretches, especially on the main East-West road, the motorbikes speed past and around the stuck cars, through narrow channels that are barely wide enough for my handlebars -or at least that’s how it looks. Bombs away!

And then there are the dogs of Ubud. Among the saddest, hottest, droopiest looking canines I’ve ever seen. And they have a low, prolonged, gruffy woo-woo-woo-woo. They often remind us of John Lee Hooker. Most seem to know the game, but they can still meander into the street at any time, so you must look out for them TOO. Sheesh.

We mostly want to see the surrounding open areas north of Ubud. Within 3 minutes past that East-West road, things get easier and comfortable. The roads rise gently, as villages spring up between wider stretches of nature, each displays it’s specific art-form: rattan, glassware, bead work, wood carvings. Without much traffic, I’m able to look around enough to capture some stunning vistas of Southeast Asia. Winding narrow roads quickly open up into vast flat regions of banana trees and palm leaves and rice fields, then suddenly plunge down into a shaded, lush river gorge before coming back up into new villages and acres of rice fields. Groupings of 200 ducks frolic together amid the muddy rows of harvested rice stumps. The fields reflect the big blue sky, with dramatic clouds bleached pure white, that turn pink toward dusk.

At some point we stop to look at a map and get our bearings, then watch as dozens of trucks and motorbikes pass by. Something’s going on. Families of 5 ride casually clustered onto a single motorbike, all dressed in white or their festival best. Drivers and passengers wearing colorful, ceremonial silk, their trucks carrying many similarly-dressed people in back, each holding varied parts of large, dismantled ceremonial structures to be pieced back together at their temple or palace, where an annual celebration of April’s full moon will soon begin and will go on for the next 11 nights. We follow them back towards Ubud, and for a minute or 2, feel included in the motorcade.

My legs are sunburned. We have scootered far and wide for hours, in town and out, covering many, many kilometers. Yet when we refill the tank with petrol, the cost came to about 40 cents, because the government subsidizes the gasoline.

-matt

matts iphone 4-26-13 052

5-12-13 m camera, g gado 056

jens's iphone 5-10=13 001

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