September 23, 2010

Local Transport

First rule: when in Indonesia, let the Indonesians drive you.  

We drove ourselves around Ghana a lot of the time, but even there we let Duke do the tricky parts.

Indonesia is an entirely different matter.  Plenty of expats drive themselves here, and a small number of them are actually able to do it well, but it's just not worth the frustration and risk.  

Four things complicate the driving experience here- right hand drive (left side of the road), massive, and I mean massive, traffic loads (including using the stripes as guidelines rather than lanes), the language barrier, and thousands of random, suicidal motorcyclists.

We have driven on the left (when we lived in Australia), we have driven in demolition derby traffic (when we lived in Africa), but we cannot speak enough Bahasa yet to read all the signs or talk our way out of an altercation, and the motorcycles... well, think of a video driving game where you not only have to drive like a stunt man, you have to avoid random motorcyclists who weave through traffic like crazed mosquitoes.   

Ted and I accepted the company provided car and driver with thanks, and now sit placidly in the back seat reading or having a conversation while Ivan expertly navigates us to our requested destination.  We are independent, but not stupid.  

Now, on workdays our driver has an eleven hour day (not including his personal commute) just ferrying Ted around, but we like to go out to dinner on Friday, and there's the rub.  

Our solution last Friday was to get a ride to dinner and then release our driver and take a taxi home.  It was a good plan and made our driver visibly happy so all was well.

We had a really nice dinner, and relaxed at an upstairs window table watching the world go by for a couple of hours, then found ourselves in the parking lot, on our own, in a hot humid country with no sidewalks and narrow streets, in the dark.  

We did not see any taxis around and as Ted checked his phone for the taxi number I spotted a long line of bajaj-mobiles. This picture is of a nice new shiny bajaj- at least compared to most, but you get the idea...

We were only about 1.5 miles from home and we quickly decided it was time to start living Indonesian.

The bajaj rank was on the street just outside the parking lot, and we walked up to the first one in line. Its driver hopped up to speak with us and we agreed on a price of 20,000 rupiah (about $2.25).  That's more than twice what a local would pay, and just a dollar or so less than a real taxi with doors and AC would cost, but he was there, he was willing, and we were fueled with beer courage.  

We climbed in, being careful not to make the tears in the plastic upholstery worse, and our driver slammed the little half door and jumped into his seat over the single front wheel.  He has a handle bar instead of a steering wheel, and as we waited breathlessly for our ride to begin he leaned down, grabbed the same kind of pull cord you see on outboard motors and gave it a yank.  Vrooooom!  Gentleman, start your engine.  

As we headed home, making go cart noises and belching blue smoke, we found it hard to believe we had just voluntarily climbed into this tiny spewing multi-passenger lawnmower.  We were out in traffic with all the cars and motorcycles,  imitating a rolling speed bump as we lurched down the left side of our neighborhood streets... 

There is a fairly good hill between our house and the restaurant, and I wasn't sure we were going to make it all the way up as we lost speed and the engine slowed, but, surprise!, our bajaj had a lower gear and we crested the hill with putt to spare.  

The street our house is on is very narrow and hard to point out, so we had him let us off at the corner and we walked the half block to our house with our butts still vibrating and stupid grins on our faces.  


Kris said...

If they drive like that when they are going straight forward, run for cover when they are backing up!

Barbara said...

Beer courage? LOL... I'd have needed a lot more than *a* beer.

How ever did you two fit into that little go cart? I'm picturing Rock Hudson getting into that tiny car (Rolls Royce?) in the movie Pillow Talk.

Still better than a tro tro, I bet. :)