A SCOOTER STORY FROM NUSA PENIDA, INDONESIA
I’m lying down on my left side, staring up at the glaring lights. The curtains are a parakeet green, reminiscent of the palm trees we passed minutes earlier. The tiles are sparkling white, a backdrop for the sterilised stainless steel tools. I’ve never liked hospitals. But in this moment, I’m extremely grateful for their existence and for the people who operate them on a daily basis.
“How much?” I had asked.
“75,000 rupiah a day” he replied.
AUS $7.50 a day! After spending 1 million rupiah (approx AUD $100) for a driver in Bali for 13 hours, this is a bargain. Momentarily, I’ve forgotten all the warnings I’ve read from blog posts and websites about riding a scooter on the Indonesian islands. They advise travellers to pay heed to the horrible condition of the roads but praise the flexibility and low cost of the two-wheeled transportation. I learned to ride a bicycle wearing no helmet next to tram tracks and cars in Amsterdam – how difficult could it be to ride a scooter on this tiny island paradise?
We’ve come to Nusa Penida for the first time. Inspired by the island’s cyan blues and juniper greens which flood our Instagram feed, we’re eager to follow in the footsteps of fellow adventurers.
“Are you sure you don’t want a scooter each?” Wayan asks me reproachfully. A shadow of doubt flickers across his face. For the last ten minutes, he’s watched us rev the engine up to 10km/hr on the gravel lot outside our bungalow. Perhaps he’s re-considering his offer to rent the scooter to us. We may have looked like the ideal customers when he whisked us away from the harbour front, however, my Dutch bicycle skills don’t seem to have translated to the motorised two-wheeled version. For a brief second, I wonder if this scooter thing is a good idea. It seemed easier when I was a passenger only an hour ago.
“Jasmine, I must tell you.” Wayan’s voice is as serious as his face. “When you rent the scooter from me, there is no insurance. And if you make any damage, if you crash scooter into tree – you must give me money”.
“Sure, sure,” I casually reply. “We’ll be fine. We won’t crash into any trees.”
I’m going to drive first. My boyfriend hops on behind me. We trundle up to the main road and check both ways. Clear. I edge onto the tarmac road, focusing on keeping the scooter steady and my nerves as tough as steel. Fellow riders zoom past us, as we chug along at a snail’s pace. We reach the main street and I gently squeeze the brakes. Vans and scooters are parked haphazardly along the sidewalk. Rubbish is strewn across the street like a mismatched mosaic. My eyes dart nervously from side to side keeping an eye out for any stray animals that may wander in front of the wheel.
Our destination is Penida Espresso, a hip cafe located in the north of the island. We drive past the gate that leads to the harbour. My boyfriend gives me a reassuring pat on my waist. Soon, we pass the cafe on our right. I indicate to pull over on the left and my boyfriend hops off.
“I’ll turn the scooter around to park it!” I shout. I see a gap in the traffic and I accelerate. But I overshoot the mark and lose control. Next thing, I’ve hit the ground. Hard.
My boyfriend runs over to lug the scooter off the ground as I pick myself up. Has this really happened? We’ve only been on the darn thing for ten minutes! I force myself to look down to identify the pain source. My right knee has a large gash and blood has started trickling down my leg. My right elbow has also taken a hit.
I manage to hobble over to Penida Espresso and lower myself into a rickety chair. As I struggle to retain composure, a smoothie bowl is placed in front of me. I can barely appreciate its beauty as thoughts of infection and disease run rampant in my mind. Fortunately, the staff helpfully point out a medical centre around the corner.
When we enter the crumbling building, a slender woman appears from a side room. I show her my injuries before she ushers me into another room. There is one lamp and a small fan in the corner. As I perch on the bed, I can’t help but notice the cracks in the skirting boards. I spot smudges on the bed and a film of dust covering the floor. I’m hoping that my scepticism of the centre’s hygiene isn’t reflecting on my face. I’m reassured as the lady pulls on latex gloves and wipes Betadine ointment with fresh cotton wool to remove the dirt and blood. Minutes later, I’m thanking her profusely and she waves us off with a warning to be careful.
I’m feeling rattled. My body and my confidence are wounded. My boyfriend will take the driver’s seat now. Our new destination is Crystal Bay beach on the west side of the island. As we cruise around a left bend, I glance up to see spiky palm fronds waving to me. The warmth of the sun gently caresses my forearms and I glimpse coconut husks piled unceremoniously outside shop fronts. We’ve been driving for about ten minutes and it feels like we’ve found our groove. What happened next felt like a scene from a Matrix movie.
The white van hurtled towards us. I felt the scooter swerve and our bodies jerk to the right. And then we were falling. For a nanosecond, we seemed to fall in slow-motion like Neo performing his superhuman backbend to dodge the Agent’s bullets. Except neither of us were Neo. And neither of us have superhuman powers.
Bang! We slam into the ground. The next thing I remember is standing by the road miraculously still clutching my mobile phone. My boyfriend’s knee and palms are bleeding. I’m dazed. We’ve crashed. Again. Am I living a nightmare? This is the type of story that happens to other travellers, not to us. I look down at my right leg. The patch on my right knee has busted open. Blood streams down my leg, mixed with dirt and gravel. Yes, it’s really happening to us.
“Are you okay? Are you alright? What happened?” The wave of questions from concerned locals come as hard and fast as a tsunami.
“Wayan, are you close by? We need help.”
My fingers are trembling as I tap out a call for help. I don’t know who else to ask. We don’t know anyone on the island. I didn’t even save the bungalow’s phone number in my phone!
“I am at home,” Wayan responds. “Where are you?”
The following twenty minutes move at high-speed. I recall Wayan removing my helmet and carting us back to his house on the back of his scooter. I have a recollection of examining the grazes on my right arm as Wayan shouts down his phone. And I distinctly remember the wave of gratitude washing over me as we zoomed through the hospital gates.
A petite woman assesses our condition with a glance and immediately instructs us to lie on the black cushioned stretcher beds. Latex gloves are snapped on hands and sterile swabs begin sweeping off dirt and blood. As I gaze up into the neon lights, the doctor tells me that the hospital will issue a receipt for the cost of treatment which I can use for insurance purposes back home, if need be. I wheeze a “thank you” through gritted teeth as I try to ignore the pain. I’m laughing in my head, knowing that I cannot claim the cost of this treatment on travel insurance. The nurse dabs antibacterial ointment on my grazes and applies layers of gauze before wrapping my affected limbs in bandages. I sit up on the stretcher bed and exchange mournful glances with my boyfriend.
Moments later, we’re waved over to the reception desk where we receive our prescription medication. A receipt is placed in front of me. I see all the zeros on the square piece of paper and quickly do the math in my head.
900,000 rupiah. The cost of our treatment has come to just under $100 AUD. I count out the 100,000 rupiah notes and ruefully hand over the cash. Our entire cash withdrawal from this morning has been unwittingly spent in the space of two hours. And we didn’t even make it to a beach.
Two mornings later, we’re in the backseat of a Toyota Landcruiser, en route to the harbour to catch the fast boat back to Bali. We cruise past the bend where the road claimed our skin and dented our pride. I spy a couple on a scooter as they overtake our car. Blonde and sunkissed, they navigate the road with enviable ease. I imagine they’ve been visiting the island’s nerve-wrangling cliff sides, strolling along pristine sands and swimming in the azure waters.
The scooter disappears over the hill and I glance skywards. The palm trees are waving to me. Perhaps they’re saying “better luck next time!” or bidding me a simple “goodbye!”. Engulfed in my pain and self-pity, I can’t be certain. The only thing I can be sure of is that next time, I’m sticking to a bicycle.
Have you ridden a scooter in Indonesia or elsewhere in South East Asia? Tell us about your experience!