Driving in Bali

Driving in Bali

Years ago I used to drive myself around in rental cars in Bali.  You need to note that the traffic was not nearly as bad as it is now so I wasn’t insane or madly adventurous.  Most of my driving was in the countryside, although I have driven through Kuta on occasion.  It used to be far easier than it is now.  Most of the major roads through Kuta, Legian, etc were two way streets, so getting lost was nearly impossible.  There was not as much car traffic either – mostly motorbikes.

I was never game enough to get my motorbike licence although it was a cheap form of transport. I was told that all that was required was riding around couple of figure 8’s but I reckon I could easily have buggered that up as I have no clue how to ride a motorbike and would have been disinherited by my mother had I taken it up. There was the added risk of me being a laughing stock in front of the licensing officials to give me pause. Thus it never happened.  

The range of rental cars was not very extensive – Suzuki Jimmys were popular as were a few other gutless jeep-like cars.  Automatic transmissions were as rare as hen’s teeth.  I considered myself lucky if I had working brakes and a seat belt. I hit the jackpot if the car also had A/C and a cassette deck. I used to bring a tape head cleaner from home after many tapes got munched by dirty ravenous rental car cassette players. 

Music cassette tapes were big sellers back then, much as DVDs are today.  In fact imagine all the current DVD shops were music shops and you have a clearer picture.  Also remember that CDs and DVDs were not invented and VHS was new technology (I am beginning to feel ancient) so a destroyed cassette could easily be replaced for a dollar or two.  I still have most of my Bali cassettes.  They often came with bonus lyrics.  Cudo’s for some industrious Balinese who thought that’s what the words were.  Remember we are talking pre computers so the information we have so readily today was not available then (Yes, I am a dinosaur, but I am at least a computer literate one!). More often than not the words bore no relation to the song and much merriment could be had reading them because they either changed the context of the song or didn’t make sense.  We used to sing the Balinese interpretation of popular songs at home (in lieu of karaoke – also not yet invented *sigh* – pass me my zimmer frame).  Sony Walkman’s were hot ticket items.  There were no Mp3 players, CD Players, gaming consoles or mobile phones back then either. Most hotels only had a TV at reception if they had one at all. You young’uns may wonder what on earth we did with our time!  

I would base myself in Ubud and drive off for the day with little but a fold-up map of Bali, high hopes and a couple of Hail Mary’s.  It didn’t matter if my car had no guts – the only time I got to drive faster than 40kmh was on the Bypass near Sanur down to Kuta.  

The secret to driving in Bali, aside from being alert for suicidal chickens and sunbaking dogs on the road, is to give way to everything. The rule of thumb is that the bigger you are the more right of way you have, unless you are a tourist in which case you have no rights – ergo, you give way to everything. See? Easy! You must also turn your hazard lights on when you intend to drive straight through a crossroad.  And you must use your horn as a method of communication rather than a two fingered salute. Toot toot, I am about to overtake you. See? Very polite. Toot, toot, you need to move over a bit please. Toot, toot, I have to move over so please let me in. Toot, toot, no don’t pull out in front of me without warning. Toot, toot, I am about to wipe off a family of six on the motorbike beside me if you don’t move over. Toot, toot, there is a truck coming in the opposite direction. Toot, toot, I know I am on your side of the road Mr Truckdriver. Toot, toot, I am trying to move over if you could swerve a little too please? Toot, toot, I am now minus a side view mirror. Toot, toot, yes I do realise I have stopped in the middle of the road. Toot, toot, do you know CPR? Know where the nearest toilet is? See? Piece of cake!  BTW, I did not lose a mirror – poetic license.  I will admit to some near soiling after some close shaves.

One year I drove from Ubud to Lovina via the mountains. Yes you may well ask if I was out in the sun too long or perhaps had a death wish.  I had made the trip once a couple of years before, but had a driver who took us.  This time I had the company of a girlfriend who was a Bali virgin. She was chief navigator. Well, at least that was the plan. She was actually more chief shrieker and panic merchant as it turned out. 

Travelling through the mountains was very hairy. The road was only wide enough for a car and a half, so going around bends involved alot of tooting the horn to warn on-coming traffic that we were there. We were also dependent on on-coming traffic reciprocating, which often wasn’t the case. Hence the shrieks, fingernail marks in the dashboard and the addition of grey hairs to my lustrous locks. For me, it was a memorable white-knuckled drive. At the end of it, I had to be surgically removed from the vehicle because I had been locked into the one position for hours. That could be a slight exaggeration. I don’t remember much about the scenery on the way. I’m sure it was beautiful. I can only remember relief that I was on the inside lane on the trip up and stark terror at the thought of the trip back on the outer lane, with sheer drops into the jungle, hungry to swallow us up forever if we were foolish enough to come off the road. Actually I have absolutely no recollection of the return trip.

During the middle years, I either hired a driver or took organized tours.

In 2014 I stayed in Nyuh Kuning, behind the monkey forest in Ubud. It was a little out of the way, so I decided to hire a car for a week to get me into Ubud, to go touring or down to Kuta if I felt like it.  After a little research, I decided on a local company with reasonable insurance rates so my holiday wouldn’t be ruined if I had a mishap. It really pays to spend a few minutes reading the terms and conditions on car rental websites – some charge up to $1000USD in excess. The company I chose charges $50USD.  My guardian angel was looking after me that day…shame the same couldn’t be said about a few nights later!  My rental car was a Xenia, only 6 months old.

I decided to hire a GPS for the week because many of my navigational landmarks had gone or changed.  The only problem was that I am in Ubud, the GPS is in Sanur. So I have to drive down to Sanur blind, so to speak. OK. I can do that.  If you are a regular driver to Bali, you will notice that there aren’t that many street signs or road signs.  So I mainly followed the most traffic.  I did make one boo-boo at the Sukawati market – not my fault by the way.  Who changes the direction of a major road without warning? All of a sudden the two way street I was driving up became one way, and not the way I was going!  A frantically gesticulating traffic cop got my attention, where the barrel with a Do Not Enter sign painted on it had failed.  I was able to turn into a parallel parking space and reverse out back the way I came.  I saw some traffic turning down a side street, so I followed, sending a prayer to the Goddess of travel/roads/directions that I was on the right track and my prayer was answered. Fortuitously. 

I managed to find the Bypass but turned prematurely at a road I thought took me to Sanur.  Fortunately I was able to ask a parking ticket dispenser man where the Bali Beach Hotel was and he gave me directions.  Not correct ones, but close. The next time I turned off the Bypass, another parking ticket dispenser man was able to give me correct directions, so I was soon travelling down the main street of Sanur looking for the shop I needed.  I finally found it near the Sanur Beach Hotel and was lucky to find a parking space.  The Xenia (or my warrior princess, I had affectionately named her) is somewhat bigger than my car at home.  So I sort of gently bumped the first motorbike in a row of motorbikes parked at a right angle to the street.  I was lucky my manoeuvres were observed by the owner of the motorcycle who was able to leap to his motorcycle’s defence before the whole row fell like domino’s.  I got out to inspect the damage, of which there was none to either (phew) and apologised to the poor man, who let me off with a smile and a shake of his head (you know the one, ladies. ‘Women!’)

This reminds me of another reversing incident I had in Ubud.  Monkey Forest Rd was a two way street all the way along then.  I pulled in to the semicircular drive of the Ubud Inn so I could go back in the direction I came and reversed into their sign in the middle.  I didn’t quite knock it over, but I did knock half a dozen bricks out so the shingle was hanging at a curious angle.  Mortified (again) I offered to pay for the damage I had caused, but they wouldn’t let me.  Again, that smile and shake of the head.

I digress.  The GPS was collected and I punched in Discovery Shopping Mall in Kuta and off I went.  A lady told me where to turn, so I found my way into the underground car park without incident.  After shopping, I tried to find a tailor that had been recommended in Seminyak down a side street, with no luck.  I drove for some distance before I could find a big enough area to turn around and reset the GPS for Ubud.  Turn left into Jalan Legian, it said.  OK.  Not the way I am familiar with.  Maybe it will direct me down Sunset Rd.  No.  Continue straight for x kms, it said. Looking at the GPS, all I could see was a single vertical line through the middle for the next 20 minutes. Helpful! I kept driving forever and skirted the edge of Denpasar before I was finally directed to turn right.  I couldn’t turn around to go back the way I came because every time I stopped, I was swarmed by motorbikes, effectively imprisoned.  It was also close to peak hour too.  Closer to Ubud I was caught in a traffic jam that lasted 20 minutes.  A bus couldn’t fit through two cars parked either side of the road.  My trip back to Ubud took an hour longer than the trip down.  It was dark by the time I got to my hotel.

Reversing incidents come in threes, didn’t you know?  One evening there were two other cars in the carpark, putting paid to my usual habit of a three point turn to drive out onto the road. From the road, the driveway angles to the left, dividing into two driveways.  The hotel’s driveway leads through an archway into the hotel carpark.  The other driveway is a good six inches lower at its shallowest, veering to the right as it descends, leading to the property next door. After clearing the archway, I was concentrating on not driving over the edge of next driveway and reversed into a tree on the side of the road. The bang brought out the hotel staff from reception so I had many witnesses to my mortification (joy).  My torch revealed a big dint near the left rear wheel arch and a few scrapes beneath.  Bugger!  Where was my guardian angel, I ask? I emailed the car rental company and they were great.  No worries, just pay the $50USD when they come to pick up the car.  I know no one will believe me now when I say I am a good driver, and a rating one at home.  I am. Honest!

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