Driving in Bali

Do you know how Google Maps works? It is absolutely brilliant, but I have absolutely no idea how it operates! I imagine that there is GPS positioning that somehow tells my phone where I am, which also  somehow knows when I tell my phone where I am and somehow when I tell it to go to the airport, that I should follow Jl. Raya Canggu then get onto Sunset Road, go left here and right here, don’t go under the underpass and do get off the roundabout on the third exit. Wow! 

There is also a charming voice that tells me to ‘head South East”, which really does not help me at all since my mental compass is fatally flawed, but most of the time she is right… except that in Bali there are some ‘black spots’ where coverage stops and panic sets in, because that is always in areas where you need the most help. The rural, out of the way places where every road looks the same and there are neither street signs nor any logical way of figuring out which of the tiny identical roads you should follow. 

And here is the first point in my mind: why are there areas where there is massive development, villas, shops and houses, built on what appears to be every available piece of land without any real infrastructure, zoning, planning or consideration for the environment. 

Take the Bukit (upper Jimbaran and Uluwatu) for instance. When I first came to Bali there were only a few very poor farms there. It was considered dry (literally no water) and uninhabitable. Now it is filled to the edges with properties until the clifftops where the expensive luxury hotels and villas are located with amazing views. But so much of the development is not beautiful and is certainly not supported by good infrastructure: water, waste, sewers, or as I discovered, satellite connections! I was amazed and disappointed at the extent of the development done without seeming to reference the master plan. 

The same most certainly applies to the Canggu/Berawa area where so many foreigners find their way to, many of them developing their cool, new shops and cafes despite the complete lack of road infrastructure which now traps the unwary visitor to a series of very nasty traffic jams, except if you are on a motorbike, and everyone in Canggu is!

And here is point two: they can’t drive. I mean, it’s quite dangerous on those foreigner-filled streets! The spandex and bra clad ladies haven’t go a clue what to do on their scoopy and the macho bearded work-out boys on their big bikes act out their video game personas on their bikes, reviving, pushing, cutting and sliding their way to their urgent appointments with the waves or their barber. They are usually helmetless with noise-cancelling headphones clamped on their ears, so they can’t hear the swearing and cursing from the normal drivers who are cut off, blocked, or terrorised by the bully boys on bikes. 

Did I say ‘the delights of driving in Bali! Apologies that was 25 years ago. Now it’s ‘the dangers”. Please take my advice and take a taxi or grab and sit in the back with your eyes closed – ignorance is the ultimate bliss!

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G Speirs, OBE, is the Publisher of NOW! Magazines. He has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for the last 25 years. He started both NOW! Bali and NOW! Jakarta as each region's preferred community magazine.