I feel safer driving here than I do in Warsaw. Or elsewhere in the western world, for that matter. Even on a two-lane road, densely filled with speeding cars, and motorcycles zooming by left and right. I know I can count on others to adjust to my maneuvers, as long as I execute them clearly and decisively. It’s when I hesitate that others get confused.
The rules are few, but that’s what makes it so safe: everybody on the road is focused, courteous and cooperative. Those joining from a side street will casually cut into traffic. At intersections, streams of motorcycles turning opposite directions, will mix and cut through each other. It all works out well. We leave each other space, account for others’ movements, give way and never ever hold a grudge. Honks are used primarily as warning signals—watch out! I’m overtaking!—rarely to vent anger.
Granted, I’d be dead scared driving a car here, I imagine. With all the motorcycles squeezing mere centimeters away from the bodies of the cars, I’d be too afraid of hitting someone passing through my blind spot. But the drivers of these cars seem to be well aware of their power, and the responsibility that follows. They’re very careful and happily share the road, usually leaving space for motorcycles to advance. No easy feat, since most cars driven here are of the bigger breed—jeeps, minivans, wagons, buses.
Cars are the minority, though, and scooters are what keeps this island moving. Perhaps the whole country. There are some five million people living on this tiny scrap of land and I’m guessing just as many scooters roaming its roads. And they’re being used in thousands of creative ways. A whole family—mama, papa and two kids—can ride a single scooter. Attach a pair of u-shaped rods to one side and you have a surfboard carrier. Or mount a complete cupboard on the far end of the seat and you have yourself a rolling kitchen, serving fresh, delicious pancakes with a savory filling of egg and green beans.
The only thing that keeps us baffled is: how in Zeus’ name do the Balinese manage not to melt off their motorcycles driving fully dressed?! Trousers, blouses, jackets, gloves! Like winter’s just around the corner! When driving in this weather for us feels like sitting in a burning stove, these people don’t seem to even break a sweat. Remarkable. Even if the rationale is probably prosaic: avoiding sunburns, and I know from a credible source that people of even the darkest skin complexions are not immune to those. We—white buns—make sure we apply a good layer of sunscreen and dress lightly to stay ventilated.