My first full day in Bali was spent in the company of my sarong, kindle and ipod, posted up on the immaculately maintained stretch of golden sand beach reserved for the guests of the Sanur Bali Hyatt. My first full night was spent in complete agony, thanks to the horrific sunburn that I had managed to acquire throughout a day regrettably sans SPF. I hardly ever burn, and was not prepared nor accustomed to dealing with the unfortunate condition of my delicate, lobster red skin. I ended up canceling the plans that I had made with a group from the hostel for a night out in Kuta, deeming that it would be a near impossibility to maintain any level of attractiveness were I to combine alcohol and crowds with my already uncomfortably heightened level of body temperature. Instead, I ate some cold tempeh from a 24 jam (hour) shop close to the Big Pineapple, drank a large Bintang, took a cold shower that seemed to pierce my skin with dagger-like pressure, and crawled into bed, painfully aware of the straps of my pajama top resting tortuously on my shoulders.
The next morning I awoke, eyes slightly swollen and body tender, and stepped outside into brilliant sunlight. I knew I had to get away from the sun and the beach, escape to somewhere darker, cooler for a few days in order to recover, and I had to do it fast. I went downstairs to the reception area table with my laptop to consider my options, and overheard an American girl, skyping with a friend, mention that she was planning on driving to Ubud that afternoon. I didn’t have any set plans for my time in Bali; I prefer traveling and living with as high a degree of spontaneity as possible. I knew Ubud was further inland and a friend of mine had recently been there and had given some great tips and suggestions for the area, so I decided to ask the girl if I could join her. Another American guy-a Californian-had just showed up and with a “hey, why not” shrug of his shoulders, decided to join the small group. We rented our mopeds directly from the Big Pineapple for $6 a day, paying for the first day and squaring away the rest whenever we decided to come back. We were in the process of re-packing and strapping our reduced belongings to our assigned bikes, when two guys on motorcycles pulled up, apparently part of the group as well. Europeans. Of course they were. For all of the fantastic aspects associated with being raised in America, there are some key elements of life in which we are severely lacking in comparison to our European counterparts. The first of which is our deficiency of, and resulting discomfort with, public transportation. Except in a few major cities (NYC, D.C., San Francisco), we don’t have it, and we don’t know how to use it. This unfamiliarity always seems to make traveling that much more of an adventure for Americans. The second is that the vast majority of us drive cars-automatic at that. This puts us at a huge disadvantage in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Asia, where the primary source of transportation is the motorbike. Most of our European friends, however, either drove a moped before a car, or have their motorcycle license. The third, and most problematic (in my opinion), is that we simply don’t travel like the rest of the world, especially the Europeans. During my five months on the road, I have met only a handful of Americans. People always assume that I’m Canadian and seem genuinely surprised when I tell them that I’m American, stating that we just simply don’t travel that often. Out of curiosity, I always ask the local restaurant and hostel owners where most of their guests come from, and they always tell me Germany, France, England, Denmark…but never America.
Anyways, here we were, the five of us. The three Americans, nervously preparing ourselves for the moped ride: A troubled young girl from Miami with a flair for the dramatic, an easy going, easy to like guy from California with a wonderful, infectious laugh, and myself. Then there were the Europeans, confidently mounted on their motorcycles: A well-traveled Norwegian with an omnipresent look of adventure in his eyes, and a spitfire German with an exceptionally and charmingly dismal outlook on every situation. The Bangin’ Bali Bike Crew, as we quickly dubbed ourselves, began our way up north through the winding roads that led us past the small towns, roadside stands, and rice paddies of Bali. The wind provided refreshing relief from the humidity as it blew in our faces, the openness of the road called; each of us left with our own interpretation…and we rode, falling into a single-file, unstoppable line of earnest explorers, limitless in our newfound freedom.