We waited outside of our bungalow. Our drivers pulled up fifteen minutes late. The van – formerly white but now the colour of a frozen cheesecake – was loud and leaking a curious brown fluid everywhere. The van carried a wonderfully blended smell of a gas station and burnt toast. The exhaust pipe was choking out ink-black fumes.
Isn’t the story already writing itself for you? Something bad is about to happen, right?
The driver stayed in his seat while his compatriot jumped out to greet us. His English was the best I had heard from a Balinese person since I landed on the island. He had a bright smile. I liked that he was going to be our guide for the day.
But I couldn’t stop looking at the driver. The ash from his cigarette was longer than the actual cigarette. The smoke rising from it danced into his bloodshot eyes. He had an Iron Maiden shirt on, which one could presume he wore to the bar the night before. His bed-head hair might have been evidence that he was the reason why they were late to pick us up.
Like Tom Cruise about to jump into a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, he coolly slid sunglasses over his sleepless eyes. Go time, we must have both thought at the exact same time. Danger Zone was playing in my mind.
We took our seats and I reached for my seat belt, except (of course) there wasn’t one.
Perfect, I thought. We were about to drive up the side of Mount Doom on an island which has little in terms of road rules. We would be attempting this task in a death-trap built in the 1980’s, driven by the Balinese version of Otto from The Simpsons. No seat belts. One might assume this is how it would all end for me.
The kicker? We still had to stop and pick up eight more people. To, you know, make sure death bus was full so we could all burn together.
Fast forward; miraculously, we had all survived.
But now I was mountain biking down the side of the volcano. I was doing this on roads without dividing lines, and without enough space for more than one car. I was accompanied by a group of inexperienced cyclists that were a far greater threat to my health than the speeding scooters or farm trucks I was attempting to share the road with. In the villages rabid dogs barked as I passed by, and the streets were even more congested than in the countryside.
Fast forward a second time; we made it. Sure, I had a couple bruises and cuts from some of the girls slamming their bikes into my leg. And yeah, it was hot enough to cook an egg on my bike helmet (I wondered how my driver – the hungover Balinese Maverick – was feeling in this heat). But all of us were just fine.
The thing is, we were always going to be okay. We didn’t put ourselves at some great risk that day. It’s only the stories we hear in our own society that make us feel fear in new experiences.
We see an old van and our consumerist conditioning tells us it’s not safe because it isn’t new and sparkling. We see the Balinese Iceman in his heavy medal t-shirt and remember what we’ve been told about a man who looks and dresses like that. That he is somehow more reckless and dangerous than a man in a suit. In reality it was probably his van, and his eyes were bloodshot because he probably stayed up late making sure it was running well for our trip. Maybe not.
The point is, the stories we tell ourselves will often be the only difference between a truly enjoyable and memorable experience in Bali, or being terrified the entire time and never getting to enjoy it. The entire experience that day, from the van ride to the bike down the side of the mountain, was one of my favourite Bali experiences.
But I certainly could have ruined it by telling myself fearful stories about not being safe.
Be good to each other,