We rent a motorbike when we are in Bali – the ubiquitous 110cc Honda automatics cost about $3/day. We really couldn’t do without it. Renting a bike is the first thing we do after we get our hotel room in Legian, and it’s the last thing we return when we come back down from Ubud before we leave. It’s such a relief not to have to walk blocks and blocks of sweltering streets to get anything, or endure the price-gouging of those inter-town tin cans, the bemos, who stand stuck in traffic most of the time anyway. Riding a bike here is not without its downsides: often I’m stuck behind the diesel exhaust of an ancient delivery truck, or one of the hand-me-down tour buses which gets shipped over here from Korea, no longer good enough for the rising aspirations of that country. Then there is the rain. There are no showers, there are only downpours. A ritual happens whenever the first drops start falling: all the bikes pull over to the nearest tree or awning, and open up the seat and pull the poncho out from the little “trunk” underneath. But then visibility dissolves, and it is impossible to know what is a puddle and what is a spine-jarring pothole. Then as quickly as it has come the rain has passed, and you are in a plastic sauna-suit, unsure whether the clouds still have more to dump out on you.
It may look like traffic in Bali is a chaotic free-for-all and it is true that the freedom to do what it takes to get where you need is taken advantage of, whether that means going the wrong way down a street, or up on the sidewalk if there is no other way to get around an obstacle, or loading up a bike to absurd proportions with flats of eggs to deliver, or with all five (helmet-less) family members. But there are rules, and there are chartreuse-vested constabulary with their black-peaked hats on their (relatively) big white Suzukis to enforce them: the Polisi. Over the years, we’ve learned enough not to draw the attention of the Polisi-man stationed on nearly every major intersection: wear a helmet with the strap done up; don’t put the front wheel an inch over the white stop line on the pavement. Tourists on bikes in Bali are a notoriously easy extortion cow to milk, and we have been lucky. Up to this year.
Our first morning riding up the by-pass road around Denpassar we ran into a road block. There was no way the cordon of officers across the road could be avoided and no way they were letting us pass. Registration? Yes, it’s in here… Drivers License? Um, my other bag in the hotel? It used to be a 50,000 rupiah ($5) on-the-spot “fine” and I had the blue note ready when we were led to a desk in the shade where an urbane cop presented very good English and a ticket book. The infringement, it was clearly stated, was worth 250,000. We bantered for a while until it was agreed that for 100,000 ($10) the kind officer would “help” us sort it out. That was, it turned out, not to be the end of our road block problems. Coming back down to Denpassar a week later to get our Thai visas, I spotted the cordon of chartreuse vests and white bikes, and even though we were going quite fast I managed to turn into the compound of a stone carver on the opposite side of the road. Too late, Katheryn came back to say there was a footpath we could escape on to another road: the black leather boots of the Polisi were already crunching up the drive. Another 100,000. Then, five minutes later, just outside Sanur, another road block! We pulled the bike up on the sidewalk, and on the broken pavement drove back to the last street. A taxi driver alerted us to the Polisi on the corner, but we were almost there, and we took off towards the beach. Still, there was no getting away, and he pulled us over with his big white bike. This time he wanted to add “running” onto the offenses but we kept smiling (while swearing inwardly) and forked over another 100,000. Now , it’s easy to rationalize anything, and for those who might say “just get an International Drivers License” I might reply,”we’re still $30 ahead and had more fun”.
While we weren’t making contributions to the Bali Policemen’s Ball, we were renewing our connections with our merchants in Ubud, and making new ones. Our first stop, as always, is Wayan, who makes our umbul-umbul, (Bali banners) and umbrellas. Every year we buy more banners, and every year we sell out, so anyone interested in pre-ordering, please go to our web site, click “products”, and email us what colours and quantities you want (in particularly the rainbows of which we have limited amounts). Wayan has also come up with a new umbrella design this year, which we love. It’s the 2M (huge!) diameter waterproof canvas like we had before but instead of a curving lip it’s edge is flat, like a parasol.
We also returned to the workshop of Gus who does our cement sculpture casting. It is, admittedly, a bit of a pain carrying stone around to our shops, but it was so successful last year we have more, (and bigger!) pieces this year. Please be aware that shipping the sculptures would be extremely expensive, so if you pre-order it would be best to either arrange to pick it up, or wait until we come to your community and deliver it.
This year we are trying out two new products, on a relatively small scale. One it the “mosquito net” bed canopy made with a cotton/poly mix, suspended from a 80 cm bamboo ring. They will fit around a queen sized mattress, but would also provide a beautiful ( and mossie-free) sanctuary outside on a deck or as a temporary picnic gazebo. The other new product is one we have enjoyed at our place for many years but have never brought in for sale: folding teak patio chairs. They are bulky (we will only be bringing 4 to each sale) so, as with the sculptures, it would be better to arrange pick up/delivery with us rather than ship them.
Apologies for the lateness of this blog: we lost the internet connection when we were posting it a few weeks ago, and haven’t had one since. The good news is the Sulawesi blog will be arriving shortly.
Selamat Tinggal ,
Your Foreign Devil Correspondents