Planet Hiker
2008-11-07 The Dance, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Having a motorbike for an arsenal completely changes the “tour-ism” aspect of traveling. There is no longer a need to be checking with the tour agencies about their schedules, comparing prices, or bargaining for the “special price” – the discount given to anybody for showing up. More over, visiting an ancient temple or something apparently historically important, is no longer a lame check-off point on the to do list. It’s no longer a pampered bus ride to and from point A, devoid of uncertainty, sterilized and “wheelchair accessible”. “Visiting” turns into “Discovering” by the virtue of never knowing how to actually get there. At best, there is knowledge of general direction. Pulling over and asking for directions, i.e. stating the name of the place as if it’s a question – “Borobudur? Borobudur?” – typically results in a long speech of which I only comprehend the pointing and the nodding without any specifics about the distance.

Without speaking the language, at most I may be able to decipher the sequence of turns – “Right, then left, then right again, I think” – but when to actually take the turns becomes a matter of chance. “Zen Navigation” as some people call it. The added bonus is that you get to see a lot of the countryside (there is your travels off the beaten path), not to mention the glorious ride itself – the air rushing through your face, especially if the helmet is a size too big, the feeling of being in charge of your own destiny (not accounting for the risk of a head-on collision with a bus), and all of this is spiked by the adrenalin rush from weaving in between large vehicles with smoky diesel engines.

The weaving, by the way, is just to be on the safe side. Really, the car/bus/truck drivers expect you to keep up with the school of other motorcyclists who pass through like sand in an hourglass. And if you don’t comply with the protocol, then they start pulling risky moves of weaving around you. Just like in a formal dance, such as Salsa or Tango, in traffic “the man” has to lead. Over passing a 20 ton truck is like executing a “cross body lead” with a really fat woman. You better not give any false signals and keep it predictable. Otherwise, she begins to call the shots and before you know it, she steps on your feet, throws you across the dance floor and rams into the pretty girl, who's phone number you were really close to getting (“WERE close” is the key phrase at this point, as that will no longer happen, ever).

Thus, the consequences are serious, but so far, the luck has been on my side – I am still alive and I have been stopped by the police only once (did I mention that I don’t have a license to operate a motorbike?). I keep reminding myself, however, not to get overconfident. There is a whole list of friend’s names that scrolls in front of my eyes every time I hear an ambulance siren, who have either chronic back pain, or neck pain or pretty much every-other-body-part-connected-to-the-spinal-chord pain due to a motorcycle accident. Besides the whole hospitalization and broken bones for life thing, I wouldn’t even have any dignity left of calling it a “motorcycle accident”, given that I am riding a moped… Seriously, mentioning a “moped accident” to a girl is like saying “I am rated PG 13, so be gentle with me”.

OK, OK, I am keeping it clean and in control – there are still quite a few historically important sites left to discover.