Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Moped Madness

Blog Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 09.69 S 115 01.18 E
Current Location: Gelam - SW Borneo, Indonesia
Current Location: 2 52.21 S 110 09.08 E
Next Destination: Working our way towards Singapore

Ever since we've arrived, I have been fascinated with the
Indonesian's flexible use of a standard moped or scooter. First
of all there are literally thousand of them, buzzing around like
flies on $%#@. Standard road rules don't seem to apply. Our huge
tour busses, complete with Police escorts, have been passed by
faster scooters and we've almost run the occasional slacker off
the side of the road when they didn't get out of the way. And
just because they only have one seat, that doesn't prevent the
typical Indonesian husband from carrying his entire family on
one bike. We have often seen large families of four or five
people on one scooter; the husband is the only one wearing a
helmet of course! Most scooters carry multiple riders, and most
women ride side saddle.

The commercial use of a moped is incredible; I didn't realize
the things that can be carried on this two-wheel mode of
transportation. I have seen an entire bakery, and vegetable
stand built right onto the back. When we stop in remote places
and get our jerry cans filled with diesel, they usually end up
carrying three cans and two people on each scooter. In Kupang I
had to look twice as someone passed carrying no fewer than 50
live chickens, hung upside down on poles, spread lengthwise
across the seat. Can you imagine the poor chickens on the end?
Hanging upside down as a bus or bemo passes within inches going
the other way! I guess the chopping block is the easy was out.
While we were in Bali John swears he saw a huge marlin carried
the same way with the bill sticking into opposing traffic.

But I never had a real understanding of the true madness until I
spent a couple of hours walking around the busy city of Kuta in
the early morning rush hour. There are no rules. Ok maybe one
simple one; if you actually look where you are going, someone
might notice and make you responsible for the accident that is
bound to happen. I also think the horn plays a very important
part of the intricate dance between cars and scooter; something
like "I honked and let you know I was here, so it's your fault
if you get hit because you knew I was there." I'd need a little
more time to figure that one out but based on the amount of
noise bouncing back and forth, it sure sounds like it's a matter
of life and death.

As opposed to most countries were the pedestrian has the right
of way, all bets are off here. Many times I would cross a street
at a stop sign only to have a scooter almost run over my toes,
as they pretended not to see me. I don't know, maybe all
scooters are missing brakes that allow them to stop completely.
One-way streets are only for cars, as I found out crossing a one
way tourist street and almost getting creamed by some old fart
on a scooter who swore at me (at least it sounded like it) as
the locals laughed. Sidewalks are also optional places for a
scooter; if something happens to be impeding your normal
progress down the actual street a nice toot and anyone actually
using the sideWALK for walking is obliged to dive out of your
way.. Bloody foot traffic.

The big city is the first place I actually got to observe the
interaction of a scooter with a traffic light. It is as if
someone placed a cut of fresh meat right on top of the stop
line, with all the scooters rushing forward to get closer to the
scent. Sometimes they get so excited they flood into the
opposing traffic and sidewalks. It gets so busy you lose sight
of the cars at the light.

In Indonesia they drive on the left (i.e. wrong) side of the
road, but that doesn't seem to prevent scooters from using
whatever multi-national driving rule might suit them. Say for
instance that you are approaching a stop sign or traffic light
and you are going to be turning right into the crossing street.
Why come to a complete stop, necessitating a foot to be put on
the dirty ground, when you can cut onto the adjacent sidewalk or
the right most side of opposing traffic until such time when you
feel it is safe to cross onto the correct side. "Safe", in this
case, is not defined as empty. Because remember, if you don't
look at the huge truck which is in the lane you are attempting
to enter, it's not actually there. Safe only means that you
don't get hit crossing the lane of traffic you are not supposed
to be in the first place.

Time after time we were amazed by the "don't look no problem",
philosophy of car/scooter interaction. We screamed as our driver
slammed on the brakes to avoid a "merging" scooter. Our driver
just looked at us and laughed, shrugging his shoulders. The
lonely scooter rider seemed to be a little more cautious than
the one carrying his entire family. It was as if there was some
invisible force field protecting each person and the more people
you carried the safer you were.

When Warren and I drove a scooter I was amazed at how many
people or things backed out and pulled in front of us. We had a
horse drawn cart back right out in front of us as we almost
drove off the road to avoid it, and he was looking straight at
us when he did it. It was almost as if we needed a sign or
signal that said, Hey we are tourists and we don't understand
all the rules.

If you are ever planning going to Bali, don't rent a car and
drive yourself. The drivers are cheap, act as good tour guides,
know all the good stops, and certainly understand all the hidden
rules. Oh, and don't EVER even think of hiring a scooter. Your
insurance company and you mother will thank you!!

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