Monday, December 19, 2016

Traffic, Bali-style

This post makes unapologetic use of bullet points. If this somehow offends you, stop reading now.

I've hinted before at the madness that is traffic in Bali, and I think it's finally time to give it the attention it deserves. All of this blather will be interspersed with some scooter photos, because scooters, and also because you vampires will only click if you get some sort of visual stimulus in return. And of course I mean that in the nicest possible way. Also, I'm saving my favorite scooter photo for another post.

So pimp

The first few minutes after leaving DPS (Denpasar airport) count as the second-scariest experience I've ever had in a car.

The first was a, shall we say, memorable pass made by a friend of mine on a two-lane highway outside Susanville, CA on our way back from a snowboarding trip; so memorable, in fact, that it literally scared the backseat passenger from the left side of the car to the right side of the car, as if that would have somehow saved him from grievous bodily harm had we collided with the oncoming traffic.

But I digress.

Driving Miss Ruby

However, to digress again...

Before I run you through the first few minutes of this portentous car ride, I'd like to provide some context in the form of my own lifetime driving experiences. I've:

  • been a licensed driver for 20 years
  • driven in about a dozen countries, LHD and RHD
  • driven something around a third of a million miles (>500000km)
  • been involved in one accident (while stationary at a red light)
  • piloted a car in excess of 190mph (>305kmh)
  • had many passenger and driver laps on the Nürburgring
  • done track days in spectacular sports cars, driven open-wheel race cars, and raced go-karts
  • gotten one well-deserved speeding ticket
  • never had any other moving violations of any sort
  • been hit twice by cars while cycling
  • observed thousands of hours of insane driver behavior from close quarters while cycling
  • learned to be hyper-aware
  • become fascinated by the subtleties of traffic, especially as an American, where the car is king

I think my point in presenting this laundry list is to demonstrate that:
  • I've seen a lot, like, A LOT a lot
  • I'm exceptionally safe behind the wheel
  • I know the difference between being safe and being timid
  • I'm qualified to spend an entire blog post yammering about traffic in Bali

In other words, I'm above average, just like 98% of drivers believe they are...LOL. In any case, hopefully you'll be able to view what I'm about to share through the same lens through which I see it.

OK, so in the first few minutes after leaving the Denpasar airport, the friendly driver of our hired SUV:
  • not once wholly occupies a lane, except in brief moments transitioning from straddling one lane to straddling another
  • dives into countless closing gaps in traffic
  • goes to great lengths to avoid applying the brakes
  • displays a specific disregard for stoplights and posted signage
  • uses his horn every few seconds

Further, I witness the following array of (mind-bendingly uninjured) road users:
  • kamikaze SUVs
  • evil evil taxis
  • decrepit and polluting rustbucket cars
  • mosquito-like scooters, many carrying entire families and/or ludicrous amounts of unwieldy goods
  • pedestrians walking with and against traffic
  • food vendors pushing their carts
  • cyclists riding the wrong way
  • stray dogs
  • chickens
  • and, to demonstrate density, in any slice of an N-lane stretch of road,  roughly N+2 cars -and-  roughly 2N scooters. For realz.

It's mayhem. Sheer, unequivocal mayhem. Our driver single-handedly shatters every conception I've ever had of what it means to be a responsible road user, and all in the space of less than 10 minutes. And not only do I witness no deaths or dismemberments in the remaining 20 minutes it takes to get to the villa, but I see a decrepit infrastructure elegantly accommodate about four times as many road users (and a staggeringly more diverse collection of road users, at that) than any road I've ever seen in the first world.

In short, it just works. I apologize for not having photos of all these things, but I spent that ride clutching the door handle so tightly that it got a restraining order against me.

Paddy almost stuffs it

Over the remaining week and a half of our stay in assorted parts of Bali, I'll witness variation upon variation of that same terrifying first ride. But throughout it all, no still-steaming accidents, no body bags, no shattered glass or piles of car parts, no blood-stained pavement, no tow trucks, no junkyards of smashed and stripped cars, no roadside stands selling scavenged scooters, no amputee beggars, nothing. But after witnessing hundreds if not thousands of too-close calls, my pattern-recognition circuits start to realize that it can't just be coincidence that everyone lives. There has to be a reason.

What I come to realize is that all of the behavior I witness is merely the consequence of a different philosophy regarding the operation of motor vehicles. Sure, different first world countries all do things a little bit differently, and I'll take a German driver over a Californian driver any day of the week, but in general, the Western first world views driving as a regimented set of cause/effect pairs. Each vehicle is a particle whose position, velocity, and interaction with all other particles can be determined through the application of predictable driver inputs influenced by a legally-ordained set of rules and regulations, and this choreographed performance is played out upon an intricately-engineered canvas of infrastructure.

However, in Bali, we're going to take away the intricately-engineered canvas of infrastructure, and while I'm sure the rules and regulations might actually exist, enforcing them would be more elusive than a teenager's ability to unhook a bra with one hand, so let's just say that we're taking them away, too. What we're left with, then, is this collection of particles, and by removing all semblance of order by which they might govern their motion, we'd expect them to haphazardly clatter into each other like marbles in a clothes dryer, but somehow they don't. Why not?



While driving in the first world is all about rules and demonstrating rights of way, here, it's about maintaining flow. Each driver/rider/pedestrian/stray dog/chicken/food vendor constantly makes micro-adjustments to his or her trajectory and velocity, all aimed at giving others the opportunity to help maintain that flow. Forcing someone to stop at an intersection to exert one's right of way would cause a two-hour traffic jam, so instead, they breathe the throttle to let that person join. Horns are monosyllabic communication, perhaps demonstrating that what's said isn't important, but rather, how it's interpreted. Ignoring painted lines simply removes the chance of getting into trouble for defending territory that's not yours, not to mention turning an arbitrary measure of "6 lanes" into something far more functional like "big enough for everyone who needs it." There's nary a hint of righteousness, nor malice, towards other users, as this would certainly disrupt the all-important flow.

They are one consciousness, all entering and exiting the flow at different points, but all maintaining it, and with minimum effort. Namaste, bitches.

If anything, it makes me more confident that I'm less likely to lose my life in traffic in Bali than I am somewhere "safe" like Reno.

An interesting thing about it is that I've not really been able to apply much of this lesson to driving anywhere else, as it'd result in instant death. It is all about flow, after all, and it requires full buy-in and trust from all users. If you want a great read on getting buy-in from all users, revel in the awesomeness of when Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right, OVERNIGHT, in 1967, and no one died. Sorry for using Wikipedia as a source, but whatever.

Proud whip

Certainly, one could extrapolate these tales of traffic to the non-Western-first-world way of life in general, but I think we're nearing the end of the time we've got today. Maybe re-read the line about the horns; I'm starting to feel lucky that that sprouted from my keyboard.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Blue Lagoon and Hamburger Rock

That's "hamburger rock," not "Hamburger Rock." It's not a place, you see, it's just the volcanic muck that used to be liquid and is now a solid version of Satan's Meringue, and hamburger is what it'll turn your flesh into if you slip up.

Hamburger rock

As we settle into the daily routine on Nusa Lembongan, we find ourselves leisurely wandering, via scooter, to any and everything of interest on the island. It's worth noting that we go for runs in the morning, but it's beastly hot and humid by the time the sun rises, so sightsee-by-running is not really a viable option for day missions. It's a great weight loss technique when you can come back from a 6am run lighter by 10 pounds of least I think that's a good technique [passes out].

Ultra blue

Anyhow, one of the nearby attractions is the Blue Lagoon, site of a 13m (+/- tide) cliff jump and restaurant/club/purveyor of liquid courage, all of which was unfortunately decommissioned sometime in the not-so-recent past. Decommissioning the cliff jump also saw them remove any way to get out of the water, thus suitably discouraging people who view "closed" signs merely as suggestions. Not to say I'm one of those people, of course.

I guess this means you're closed

So close

Acting like she's not scared shitless

As we walk around the creepy remains of what used to be a hopping tourist spot, we notice that the lava is stained blood red every few meters; all it takes is a simple slip of a foot to bring one crashing, ass over teakettle, down upon Satan's Meringue, thus turning the whole area into a veritable DNA collection depot. I can only imagine the carnage they dealt with on a daily basis when the bar was operational...

Of course, hamburger rock isn't unique to Blue Lagoon; it's available most places where the see hasn't beat the land into smooth submission. However, the stuff at Blue Lagoon is noticeably more gruesome than anywhere else we find. In other places, it's totally tourist-friendly.


I see you

At least there's less blood. And it does make for pretty beautiful reflection pools, anyway.

Calm and choppy

More to come soon from the infinite backlog. Looking forward to cracking this nut of Bali posts and then getting into much much more!


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Escape to Lembongan

Again from the infinite backlog...

The madness and mayhem associated with The Hustle in Seminyak finally boileth over, and it's time for us to escape to some quieter shores. We've poked around and discovered a nearby and tiny island, Nusa Lembongan, that might be a little more our flavor.

Man, I was super tan

We climb into a totally safe boat that will shuttle us across to Lembongan, only half an hour or so away. Upon making landfall, we get a glimpse of the village of Lembongan itself, and it's about a thousand times less insane than Seminyak. The resort at which we've booked has a "shuttle service," which translates loosely to "sliding around in the bed of a truck with broken suspension," but beggars shall not be choosers and we have no idea where we're going, anyway.

Boat mode

Moreso on this island, but pretty much everywhere we will go in Bali, roads are not marked, quality of road surface is not indicative of the importance of the road, and while some roads go everywhere, other roads go nowhere. We make mental notes of the numbers and relative placements of the smoldering plastic fires we pass in case we need to find our way back down. #halfkidding

Always work to be done

Upon reaching Poh Manis, our accommodation, all stress of the previous stretch of days melts away. It's absolutely lovely, and it's cheap as chips (I want to recall it being something like $25/night). I'm nearly back to eating regularly, too, and their food is quite good.

Poh Manis dining area

Our little bungalow

Mosquito nets ain't just for show

Of course, the resort offers free wi-fi, which is simply a box that must be ticked to attract the interest of young travelers. However, it's not much more than a ticked box, as "free wi-fi" usually means that one can see the tangled and chewed wires running from the router up a rickety pole to some sort of obsolete directional antenna. This results in giving up on making precious instabook updates in the interest of preserving sanity; the internet simply isn't fun at 14.4kbps.

View down to Nusa Ceningan

In case of an emergency, pathway lighting will guide you

While we wouldn't have dreamed of riding a scooter in Seminyak, fearing instant catastrophe, here we're totally keen to splash out the $7/day for one. It's a much safer environment in which to figure things out, and much like a teenager brandishing a newly-minted driver's license, the scooter represents Freedom.

Dutch neighbor in morning light

We've got a few days to hang out here and enjoy all that the little island has to offer, and we're beyond relieved to have escaped The Hustle and to have found our groove. More Lembongan to come!


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ubud Bike Tour

The other thing about the child holding the balloon is that his focus inevitably wavers and the balloon slips out of his grasp. But enough about that.

We've signed up to do this eco bike tour around Ubud, which hilariously starts with a two-hour ride on the bus built mostly from NOx fumes and partially held together with bits of steel, rubber, and Fear. I'm rather keen for some exercise, but what I don't yet know is that this is the bike tour for lazy people, wherein they drive you to the top and you coast down.

We start with breakfast (well, everyone else eats and I watch) overlooking Mt. Batur and its namesake lake. From there, we hop on our trusty steeds, take approximately three pedal strokes, and pretty much don't have to touch the pedals again for the rest of the trip.

Murphy, radiant, and with coffee

One of our first stops on the tour is a Kopi Luwak plantation, which, if you're not familiar, is the particular variety of coffee where the beans are roasted after being shat out by a furry little beast. To be more specific, the Asian palm civet eats the coffee berries and passes the beans, which are then collected, (cleaned,) and roasted. It's also known as the world's most expensive coffee, and has a raft of hairy eyeballs cast its way by virtue of animal abuse allegations and all other manner of pitfalls that come along with a supply/demand ratio firmly in a farmer's favor.

Roasting away

Aforementioned palm civet

So anyhow we drink the coffee, and it doesn't taste like poo, which is awesome. It also doesn't taste any better than other great coffee, so I'll have a really hard time paying 10x for a cup of it.


We continue on, taking random stops at rice paddies and whatnot, and eventually, someone notices the massive spiderwebs (and spiders) strung comprehensively between power lines, trees, and pretty much anything else in the air worth attaching to. Our guide stops and eagerly disappears halfway up a tree to collect a smallish example of these gargantuan wood spiders, which he then expects us to play with.

Conor is brave, but not enough to leave his shirtsleeve open

Does not care

After we've all booked appointments with our therapists to shake off the shock of this close arachnid encounter (and after our guide replaces it in the tree from which he fetched it), we coast downhill for another while and make a visit to a traditional Balinese family compound.


Right after this, she spat, and convincingly

This is quite cool, as they're super deliberate about how the space within the compound is laid out, with highlights like ensuring there's room for all the generations of the family and orienting their temple such that it's pointed towards the highest point on the island. This is also a place where The Hustle has been turned off, so it feels like a calm sanctuary amongst the rest of the mayhem.

Scrubbed regularly, I'm sure

Well hello there

We conclude our home visit by wandering around and meeting all the various barnyard animals, then hop on our gravity-enabled cycle-machines once more.

I see you

Leftover propaganda

I suppose it's time to explain the liquor bottles. It's not booze, it's a gas station. An overwhelming preponderance of vehicle traffic is scooter, and scooters have tiny gas tanks. As such, full-blown gas stations would kinda be overkill, would further burden already-scarce land, and would actually impact traffic patterns as people sought them out. So instead, you're never more than a hundred meters away from a roadside stand with a bunch of gas-filled liquor bottles. In less than two minutes and for about a dollar, you're back underway, and the proprietors always have a grimy filter-rag, too.

All the necessities

Up the guts of a banyan tree

After a final snack stop underneath an enormous banyan tree, we coast the rest of the way down the hill and return to the tour's home base in Ubud. The rest of the crew eats a hearty lunch, and I sip, with great hesitance, on a Coke (remember our fable about the kid with the balloon?), and then all we have to endure is another 2-hour trip on the Tetanus and Carcinogen Express back to Seminyak, where we'll be thrust right back into The Hustle.

Livin' the dream.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ubud Wandering

Hi! I'm the guy who writes less and less frequently. Something about being busy bla bla bla excuses.


As we begin to branch out from Seminyak, one of the recommended spots to go do stuff is Ubud. There are bike tours and yoga retreats and mountains 'n stuff, all of which sound lovely, but it's just a spine-wrecking and nausea-inducing two-hour bus ride away through shattered roads, choking traffic, and dense clouds of plastic smoke. Put me in, coach!


We make a stop at the terraced rice paddies of Tegalalang, which are cool, but the Hustle is alive and well here, too. Wanna walk up to that next level? Perhaps you'd consider a donation? Oh, that's all? Got any more? Dude.

The famous terraces

Life groweth

Next stop is Ubud itself, where we've got this eco bike tour thing booked the next day, which deserves its own post. The right thing to do is probably to spend a couple nights in Ubud, thus sparing ourselves the soul-swallowing bus ride back to Seminyak where we're still resident (and then back and forth again the next day...), but we're not yet this smart.

Anyhow, our mission today in Ubud is to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest, which is cool, but the Hustle is alive and well here, too, except this time it's the monkeys.

God forbid you wear a hat or glasses or carry any visible food, because if you do, a shrieking monkey will stalk you, climb on you, steal your shit, and then go hold it hostage for a piece of fruit. Our mate Ruby even acquires a for-realz monkey bite and gets to buy a few rabies shots. Lucky girl.


Mission accomplished

At the end of the day and after a couple of really nice meals/snacks, we return to Seminyak to practice our Hustle Avoidance Skills for a couple more days, but we have located a driver who's down with the whole photo stop thing, so that's sweet.

Rural scene

Soggy feet

Unfortunately, most of my memories of this day are tainted by the spectre of clenching my exhaust valve like a toddler holding a helium balloon (see aforementioned note about GI problems, and in case the simile doesn't compute for you, the answer is "with singular and consuming focus"), but I'm a trooper, and promise to only complain about it to anonymous strangers on the internet instead of my travel companions.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Uluwatu and Wedding

Well, it now appears that I write blog posts once a quarter, so perhaps this is a good indication of what my day job workload has been like.

Anyhow, continuing on with photos from our trip to Bali, I have noted that the purpose of our trip was a wedding for Ethel's BFF from Ireland, who now lives in Perth. Bali is a cheap, nearby, and boozy holiday for the Aussies, but it's a lot further from nearly anywhere but Western Australia.

The wedding party is staying well afield from Seminyak and in the greater Uluwatu area. They've rented a pretty epic villa, which most definitely wasn't built with drug money, and it provides a welcome respite from the madness of Seminyak. Unfortunately, it takes an hourlong taxi ride on utterly decrepit roads to get there, so the trek there is an adventure in and of itself.

Wedding night moon

This villa overlooks the Indian Ocean, and the views are correspondingly amazing. No wedding photos to share as they had that department covered.

The next day affords us the opportunity to explore a little bit more around Uluwatu and its cliffs and temples.

Missteps punished here

Temple carvings

One of many examples of Hanuman

Wedding hangovers subsiding, we then return to the villa for a markedly less formal party, a refreshing break from the pomp and circumstance of the day prior.

Horrible villa

The afterparty quickly devolves into all sorts of shenanigans, a direct consequence of putting a bunch of vacationing Irish and Aussies in close proximity to a supply of alcohol.

Coming through

On the catwalk

Good lift from the footy team

After this party, the wedding-related festivities have come to a close, so we're free to move about the country for the duration of our stay. We've got a few more days of being based in Seminyak and its Hustle, but we're ready to go explore and see what there is to see!


Past Detritus