A week ago I found myself upside down in a ditch full of wet cement in Canggu, Bali.
In that moment, only one thought crossed my mind: why me? Why is it always me?
A veritable magnet for disasters, especially while traveling, for some unknown reason misadventure and misfortune often follow me on my travels and remains a constant presence in my life, like a problem zit or an annoying cousin.
Sigh, where do I even begin?
I know, watch this video below. Like right now. Let’s start there.
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Being based in Australia (them) and New Zealand (me), Bali is a fabulous and super affordable place for us to meet and work; I constantly am asking myself what the hell am I doing living in Wanaka paying $5 for avocados when I could be living on the beach in Bali for a quarter of the price drinking 20 cent coconuts.
But I digress.
We stayed in a rather ridiculous fancy villa in Canggu (aka the town that Instagram built) which was not much more than rice paddies next to a surf beach on my last visit to Bali. Now it’s a thriving hub of millennial cafes, trendy co-working spaces, and lots and lots of people on scooters.
I didn’t want to like it but I loved it.
It’s like Canggu grew into a place for people like me, a hub for solo digital nomads looking for a place with a cool vibe to just hang out, work, create and relax.
The first day I woke up and walked 15 minutes to town to a cafe for brekkie and a coffee, and by the time I arrived, I was pouring with sweat and so uncomfortable. Since it’s the monsoon season now, the humidity is less than ideal.
And it seemed to me like I was the only one walking, in my mind EVERYONE in Canggu was on a scooter or motorbike. Heaps of blond young backpackers, locals, even entire families were piled on this scooters whizzing around town. Even the dogs ride on the motorbikes.
Fuck walking and fuck this heat, I was gonna get a scooter. If they all could do it, so could I. How hard could it be?
Famous. Last. Words.
In an absolutely incredibly fit of irony, I had also just renewed my annual travel insurance policy with Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) here in New Zealand, and I was about to embark on a project sharing my work with them online and social media, mostly about traveling safely as a solo female traveler.
Being a magnet for destruction ever since my camel days in Jordan, for me it’s not a question of if but when next something will go wrong, and I learned early on in my travel career that travel insurance is worth it, even when I was broke. Also now that I do more adventurous trips to places like Kyrgyzstan or Antarctica, it’s often mandatory, so for the past few years I just buy annual insurance policies that cover me around the world.
AND YOU SHALL SEE WHY SHORTLY.
After sweatily walking my way back to the villa on a massive caffeine high and convinced that I was going to be the most amazing scooter driver in Canggu, I immediately perused heaps of travel blogs and guides for advice on scooter hires in Bali, and Georgia organized one for us asap.
You’re looking to pay between $2-$4 per day for a scooter hire in Bali, unless you’re completely swindled like we were and you’ll pay over $5 per day (still a total bargain). It was definitely recommended in all the blogs I read to wear long pants, closed-toed shoes and to get some practice, have an international driver’s license and insurance. And of course wear a helmet. Easy.
We got this. We are strong independent women with heaps of travel experience in places like Bali and very confident in our abilities to succeed at anything we put our minds to, i.e. not walking anywhere in Canggu.
But here is where I make the same travel mistake I find myself repeating again and again throughout my life. I read, prepare and acknowledge what I need to do. And then I do the complete opposite.
Why, Liz, WHY?! You should know better by now! Also, Liz, you do not have a good track record about not falling off of things, like bikes, horses and camels. You are not going to be naturally good at riding a scooter in a land of chaotic driving. But do I listen to that voice in the back of my head? Nope.
As Georgia and I announced that we were off picking up our scooters, Lauren, being the ever responsible one of our trio, looked at us, said something to the effect of we are total idiots and stayed in the villa. Her loss!
As I walked to pick up our scooters in cool confidence, wearing sandals and my short onesie (I’m sorry but it’s too hot to wear pants in Bali), I think the only thing I did right was have insurance, license and wear a helmet.
All my plans of getting a lesson in a parking lot went out the window when were faced with a very casual “here you go, take it or leave it” attitude at the literal back alley scooter rental place. It wasn’t even a shop, it was a guy with a sign and a few scooters in an alley. Oh well, it’s Bali, just go with it!
Liz, don’t! Use your brain! You are 30! You know better than this.
Georgia and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, popped on our helmets and hopped on our new rides. Very slowly (with everyone watching and commenting) we slowly made the short journey back to our villa, where I only almost crashed once making a right turn – they drive on the left in Bali.
Well, it’s suggested to drive on the left. The reality (from my experience) is you do whatever the fuck you want.
Driving in Bali is different. It’s organized chaos.
Everyone drives batshit crazy and it sort of all works, until it doesn’t work. For for someone who confuses the gas with the brakes with alarming regularity, I really should have had a lesson before entering the Hunger Games: SE Asia Edition.
You beep the horn all the time to let people know you’re there; you beep when you’re passing and when you’re pulling out onto a main road. And you especially beep when you’re heckling Lauren Bath for refusing to ride on the scooters with us as we speed past her on the way home. Beep. Beep. Beeeeep.
I would describe the obstacles as something out of Mario Kart. The roads go where they want, often with scary ditches next to them (I now have a completely rational terror of ditches, having ended up in one), deep rice paddies that can easily consume a scooter (and regularly do – just Google the Canggu Shortcut), chickens, three-legged dogs, humans, monkey gangs, other scooters, other dumb tourists on scooters, trucks, rubbish, you name it, it’s everywhere.
Pay attention, beep beep!
Phew we made it home in one piece! A few hours later we headed out again, and this time is where I totally screwed it up.
Even though I talked myself through the whole process again, I managed to make the classic tourist mistake of trying to brake and accidentally yanking the gas and then slamming on the brakes, catapulting myself over the handlebars headfirst into a ditch. At least I assume that’s what happened. Luckily there were no witnesses, and I can’t really remember – yikes!
My thoughts after the initial “why me” and “am I dead?” were OMFG I’m in an open sewer. I’m in poop! I crashed into poop! WHY ME GOD WHY ME?! WHAT DID I EVER DO TO DESERVE THIS?
A quick sniff confirmed that it was not in fact in open sewer, rather it was thick mud-like cement. I tried to move, and couldn’t. OMG I’m paralyzed. Oh wait, I’m just quite literally stuck in the cement.
“Georgia, help!!!!” I hollered, wiggling trying to lift my cement-laden helmet head, before I just started to laugh. I was completely glued to the cement.
Hearing my giggles, I hear Georgia calling to me as she walked back to my empty scooter. Where is Liz?
All of a sudden I see her peering over the side of the ditch looking at me and videoing the whole thing on her phone laughing hysterically! With my legs in the air, my undies on full display and my head stuck in cement, I can only just imagine what a sight I was to behold.
Screaming at her that this video will never see the light of day, I start yelling for Lauren, who eventually comes out with a towel and they manage to drag me out, lovingly I might add.
I knew I would never, ever live this down.
Faced with the inevitable shame that there was no way this incident was going to stay secret, I chose to embrace my misfortune and share it with the world.
Eventually I came to my senses, and while the video does not demonstrate any of my grace and courage (which I know I have deep down) I couldn’t help but share it. Once I got over the shock of it all, it’s actually really hilarious. I can’t stop watching it, it makes me laugh so much.
And yes I know, I know how lucky I am. You don’t have to tell me twice. I’ve heard enough scooter horror stories and seen enough tourists with leg bandages in SE Asia to know I was a complete idiot and it could have been so much worse. I was really lucky to escape with just a few scrapes, bruises, and one ruined top.
In the words of Georgia, I’ve never been more “on brand,” LOL.
However, once I showered and changed, I got back on the scooter and practiced until I was a lot better. Not sure what that says about me, but I knew if I didn’t try again straight away, I’d never go near a scooter again, and let me tell you, driving scooters is super fun! I wonder how hard I hit my head? Nevermind.
Make of this story what you will , and let my video be a warning to you. Scooter driving is fun but dangerous. Don’t be like me and think you can just teach yourself. Always wear a helmet, and for god’s sake buy travel insurance that covers things like scooters.
What about you? Have you driven a scooter in SE Asia? Would you? Any stories to share?
And one more time for good measure:
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Images by Lauren Bath, videos by Georgia Rickard