It wasn’t until I physically arrived in Bali that I realized my plan to use a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation was a bad idea. Somehow, despite plenty of data showing it’s actual size, I held this idea in my mind that Bali – and Ubud in particular – was quite small. Perhaps it was my subconscious way of making my trip seem less big so as not to overwhelm me and make me change my mind. Either way, I took one look at the congested streets and careless drivers (they don’t look at all before driving into traffic!) in Bali and decided that riding a bicycle was not for me.
Almost a year later I have come full circle. During a recent trip to the Gilis, where motorbikes are not allowed, I rediscovered the idea and practice of bicycling, and by the end of the weekend I was hooked. As soon as I returned to Ubud I procured myself a month-long bicycle rental and was off on an adventure that same day.
The first thing I noticed when i began bicycling in Ubud is that there is a lot I still haven’t seen. That’s because when I am on my motorbike, I am always going “somewhere.” I go to the Delta or Bintang for groceries, I go to the Library for language lessons, I go to this or that cafe/bar to meet friends or have dinner. But I never simply drive around to see what is out there.
On my bicycle, however, I am a completely different person. I am infinitely curious and willing to travel down the smallest road, just to see where it goes. I look up a steep hill and think, “let’s see what’s up there!” I am an adventurer, and each ride is like an exploration into new lands.
The other day I pedaled down a small road that led me through sprawling rice paddies. I wound through the vibrant green fields until I ended up back in the thicket of a village. Shortly thereafter the road terminated abruptly in a dead end consisting of a small barn, a muddy path and a confused old woman. The only way to get out was to turn around or trudge through the muddy path that led to a main road 200 meters away. I tried to explain to the rather puzzled old woman that the reason I was trudging through the mud was because I was lost. However, despite speaking to her in Indonesian, her blank stare indicated that my message had not gotten through.
That wasn’t the first dead end I have encountered thus far. There have been many, and I am certain there will be more. After all, not every road leads somewhere. Or, it leads somewhere but that destination is not something that is meant to be seen through. It’s like an invisible STOP sign telling us to please cease the direction we are going, reevaluate and try something else.
Then there was the boy who ran out into the street right in front of my bike without ever looking. He literally darted out of his compound without turning his head even 2 centimeters to see if there might be a car, a person or, in my case a bicycle! He darted at me from the left, so I swerved to the right to get out of his way, but he continued his blind pursuit in the direction I was trying to turn away. He seemed to pay no mind to the fact that he was in the middle of the road practically with his eyes closed. I only had so far to go before I toppled into the waterway on the side of the road, so the walls closed in on me quickly. Finally when I clipped him in the arm with the handlebars he realized what was happening and swerved out of my way. He never did acknowledge me, and I wondered how I could be the one who was flustered even though he was the one who was hit.
I have also encountered foes. Like the policeman who tried to pull me over or the dog that chased me down the street (this is becoming a pattern!). It is to be expected, being in uncharted territory, that I will hit snags and bumps (literally and figuratively!) along the way. There will be uphills, downhills, twists and turns, and many dead ends. I will also get lost and many times become despaired. But that’s part of the journey. It’s like we all have a clear starting point, but the path is fuzzy and the end is almost always invisible until we arrive there. And I guess that’s a good thing, because in keeping the focus off the end, we are free to enjoy the process of getting there.
first publish in Ubud Community Mag, printed edition 2011