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Life gave you lemons? How a motorbike trip in Indonesia became lemonade

solo traveler woman having a break from Bali sightseeing on a motorcycle
Rice fields in Bali, Indonesia, and the freedom to pursue adventure.
(lechatnoir/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It was what you might call a career setback. I disagreed with how customers and employees were treated, so I quit my job. What did I do next? Got on a plane to Indonesia, flew for 23 hours, had a quick meal in Bali and rented a motorbike.

Within minutes I was cascading into jam-packed roundabouts and learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. The central principle of Indonesian traffic, I soon learned, is to use every inch of asphalt. If cars and motorbikes are all traveling in one direction, everybody uses the oncoming lane as well. If traffic is really bad, lanes expand onto the sidewalks.

By my second day I had become one with island traffic. I zoomed ahead of the pack of commuters when the lights turned green. I leaned into turns as though they were nothing. Between towns I gassed up at the mom-and-pop stands that sell liters of petrol in repurposed glass bottles.

Indonesia’s islands hang off the equator like shirts on a clothesline, so the weather is ideal for riding. Cutting through the air kept me cool under that hot sun. And a motorbike gave me autonomy. I stopped to climb down steep cliffside stairs to a rocky beach. Stopped for roadside gado-gado, a hardboiled egg/potato/veggie concoction made from scratch starting with ground chile peppers.

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One day as I was joyriding among Bali’s central mountain towns, my mind numb to the gorgeous scenery, I began stewing about the job I had left. I was stewing as I cruised past green marshes and rice fields, through towns and their black stone temples. Oh, what it would be like, I thought to myself, to be Mark Zuckerberg, to have his money and the freedom it would buy.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that even with millions or billions in the bank, his countryside motorbike trip would be no different from what I was experiencing at that moment: the open road, the blue sky, my bike carrying me to the next town.

So much of the best in life — laughing with friends, playing with my niece, watching my team win — is the same no matter who you are or what you have. I also realized that Zuckerberg couldn’t take a meandering trip like this. His daily obligations, for good or ill, surely never end. I doubt his board would let him risk skidding off the road somewhere in Sumatra.

I, on the other hand, had a freedom that an extremely wealthy person does not. I could disappear, and I made the most of it.

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I was particularly proud of one ride near Yogyakarta on the island of Java, where cultures layer atop one another. In less than two hours I rode 35 miles through rush hour from Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that rivals Mexico’s Teotihuacan, to Prambanan, a cluster of stout Hindu temple skyscrapers built about the same time.

On ferry rides between islands, I jumped on roof decks to catch the sea mist and the views. One evening at a small restaurant on the island of Lombok east of Bali, I eavesdropped on young European travelers congratulating themselves for not being on Bali. That day I’d hiked up Lombok’s Mt. Rinjani as far as I could and still returned by nightfall.

My ferry left early the next morning. I awakened at 4:45 a.m. After a quick, cold shower I hit the road in the pitch black with only my motorbike headlight to guide me. The going was easy — empty streets, riding downhill from the mountain. The black sky became deep dark blue. Towns shook off their sleep.

Calls to prayer echoed around me. Delivery trucks rumbled past farmers herding brown cows. When I hit the coast, the sun was back, and it was time for the next island.

Yeah, one job didn’t work out, but I’d get a better one. I was on the move. I was living.


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