‘Those lucky drivers, getting to have your hands on them!’
That was what my beau said when I told him I was frequently taking ojeks (motorbike taxis) to get around my new neighbourhood in Bekasi, Indonesia.
I was appalled.
‘Hell no, I’m not touching them! I hold on to the back!’ These days I don’t even do that, because after three weeks I’m now confident enough to merely place my hands on my legs like the locals, sometimes even texting and sending photos to my darling of me in the helmet and mouth mask. I was bored of sticking out like a sore thumb as I held on, people keen to stare as my hands locked onto the edge of the seat, and so I was determined to crack the code of not being terrified of falling off.
I wasn’t always so comfortable though, and last year, when I spent two months travelling through Thailand, Cambodia and Bali for two months, I definitely wasn’t comfortable.
I was one of the few travellers who didn’t even want to try and learn how to ride a scooter, despite how useful they are in this region. I can’t drive, I’d ridden a bicycle only a handful of times eight years ago, and my sense of perception is so off that when I was in control of a golf buggy aged 18 for my job, I crashed the damn thing straight into a wall and damaged it, when all I needed to do was go straight, straight and straight, not right, right, omg-stop-going-right! Surprisingly, they didn’t sack me, but I guessed it was because the Sultan of Oman had enough money for it not to matter.
Instead I relied on others who were lovely enough to drive whilst I made the back of the scooter heavier. I found that guys were generally keen to show off, going way too fast because they were sadistic enough to like my screaming. One in particular, my ‘holiday boyfriend’ as it were, especially enjoyed it as my hands gripped his waist tightly and as I switched between screeching and giggling. On those rides, I always stepped off the scooter feeling happy, free and exhilarated.
But one night we were stupid. Ridiculously so. After spending the evening at a Thai restaurant in Koh Lanta which also served the best parathas I’d had outside of India, we headed to a reggae themed night at a local bar. There we shared a few drinks, met a few people, and smoked a few joints. They were weak as shit, and because of it I encouraged him to take more inhales, even though he held up his hands and said, ‘but I’m driving us home, I’m driving us home!’ Yet home was only a five minute drive maximum, and Thailand at this time seemed all about indulgence, especially when the sky was alight with stars and everything was so beautiful in the light rain.
He crashed the scooter on the hill leading up to our villa.
Luckily it was incredibly minor and both of us, as well as the bike, emerged unscathed, minus a cut on his ankle or finger, but damn, that was a warning. We sobered up pretty quickly and I felt bad as he continuously apologised, telling him that he shouldn’t. We were both idiots, minds fuzzy and dull from the alcohol and weed, the terrain not its strongest from the damp mud. We rode back without any further incidents, soon laughing at our risk as we sat down and stroked the resident kittens for a while with a cup of tea, thankful that it wasn’t anything serious.
I wouldn’t recommend doing something like that. We were blessed to get off without any injury but I’ve seen some horrendous damage done to people because they fell off a bike from doing something foolish. Sometimes I think back to those images when I’m on an ojek, and although I can laugh at it now when my sober housemate drives quickly enough for me to squeal, I won’t be encouraging myself or anyone else to be drinking or dabbling in something strong and then hopping on a scooter. After all, we’ve all got lives we’d like to live.