Nobody comes to Bali to die. Most return home having had fun. But not those who end up in the morgue.
The other week, stopped at red light at the Sanur McDonald’s intersection, I saw a kid coming from the other way, just flooring his scooter, trying to beat that time gap between his red and when our side started moving. He was coming from way back at full throttle, and most of us saw him and stopped on our green while the corner policeman blew his whistle with vigor. But another guy coming up sedately from behind me didn’t see the red-light runner and cruised out to the intersection…and his death. I saw it all in slices of slow-motion…the kid hitting the back of the other guy’s scooter at 60 kilometers per hour at least, sending the guy whirling off his motorbike in a 360-degree spread-eagled spin. His helmet went flying with the torque. He bounced when he hit the asphalt and then did not move. The kid went down for the count, too.
According to recent statistics, traffic fatalities are the third leading cause of death in Bali, and most of them are motorbike accidents. According to the traffic police, 287 people died in traffic accidents in the first half of 2011, excluding victims who died later in the hospital (and I’ve seen some gruesome scenes at the Sanglah emergency room—like an orderly pumping a pair of hand-bellows into the mouth of an unconscious traffic accident victim, the hand bellows being the emergency room’s artificial respiration system as the mechanical version was broken). Most of these were motorbike accidents, and most of the victims were between 16 and 30 years old.
That’s the age group of many visiting surfers, too. And traffic accidents don’t differentiate between who’s a local and who is not, as was sadly demonstrated by the death this past week of a international school student. If anything, riding a scooter is much more dangerous for foreigners who don’t understand how traffic works here—which is basically every driver for him or herself. I see surfers on scooters on the bypass all the time, wobbling around, clearly not used to the clutchless throttle & acceleration not to mention the traffic. I don’t know why a visitor who’s had little experience riding a motorbike would figure Bali is a good place to learn. Might as well pick up Russian roulette as a hobby. Beg, borrow or steal enough money to hire a car, preferably with a driver.
While I’m at it, latest statistics also say that Bali has the 2nd highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country. Dancing at the local House of the Rising Sun in your new blue jeans is another popular activity of young visiting surfers, who often go to or depart the premises on scooters after imbibing a few. It’s like doubling the up the bullets in the revolver’s cylinder. In fact, the surfing bit is probably the safest activity of a young surfer’s holiday here.
Surfers have been renting motorbikes since they were first coming to Bali, and dying in accidents, too. One of the constant grim task of consular officials and agents here in Bali is handling these deaths. Scooters were relatively late to the motorbike scene—for a long time they were clutch-gear motorbikes, Honda 90s and trail bikes for the most part, without the racks. You drove to the surf with your board slung over your shoulder—local shops sold cheap board socks made out of flour sacks. I remember one guy, the wind blew out the nose of his surfboard slung around his neck, a truck coming other way caught the nose of the board, and twisted that guy’s head right off his neck.
With that gruesome note: rent a car!
(Or, if you must rent a scooter, have medevac insurance, wear a GOOD helmet and keep your senses–and yr sixth sense too–on high alert at all times, because no matter how safe YOU are driving, the other guy is most likely not.)