The Cook’s Motorbike

I traveled on the island of Bali, Indonesia in 1994. At that time, the coast line between Denpassar and (if I remember correctly) Dawan was almost entirely undeveloped, save a bumpy dirt road, some small villages and a few guest houses. It was a challenge getting there, which my travel companion and I were happy to embrace: out of the way places had a special attraction to us.

We found a taxi driver who was willing to drive us so far out of the regular tourist tracks, if we paid him double…. since he would supposedly have to drive back empty. We hackled a bit over the rate, as much as you can hackle when no one understands the other’s language.

After a bumpy trip of some hours out on the dirt roads, we arrived at a small hotel/guest house. It was a nice bamboo construction, right at the beach, with pretty coral in the bay to snorkel around and enjoy, and also some exotic bugs to “enjoy” in the rooms.

We loved the remoteness of the place and the company of a small community of travelers who—like us—had made it that far. But after a week or so, I needed to call my parents in Switzerland who had health issues. This turned out to be a major problem, something we hadn’t thought of: there was no phone line and at that time, cell phones didn’t abound and none of the people present had one.

How would I get to a telephone?
We couldn’t even call a taxi. Taxis were either pre-arranged by the travelers, or one could try to take advantage of a car that brought people to the guest house but had no fare for the way back. None of these solutions applied to us.

After discussing things with the hotel manager, it turned out that the cook was willing to lend us his motorbike for the day, for just a couple of dollars and a full tank of gas.
The next morning, we embarked on the journey.

The dirt road was bumpy and—hugging the coast line—went up and down steep inclines. We traveled through very small villages with barely more than five or six houses. We waved at the kids and tried not to hit the dogs. We enjoyed the views and the overpowering exotic smells on the breeze. It was a nice drive, until….

Until we heard the hissing noise of a flat tire!

We were between two villages, halfway up a steep hill, stopped among banana plants and other tropical vegetation. What should we do? During the hour and a half of our drive we hadn’t crossed more than one car and a couple of motorbikes. We tried to figure out how far back the last village was, or how near a next village might be.

Then, we heard an engine noise approaching. Yeay! Help was coming. At least we hoped.
And we were right: two young men drove up on their motorbike and stopped. Their English was limited to about ten words. We didn’t talk their language. But somehow we managed to make a deal with them. One of them would stay with us with their bike. He was to serve as “insurance” while the other one would drive the cook’s bike to a repair place he knew not too far away.

We waited. Soon we started worrying if we did right in entrusting the bike to a guy we didn’t know and couldn’t understand.

While we were sitting there, a group of small children came by. It looked like they were walking from one village to the next. Curious, they checked us out and asked their compatriot who waited with us some questions. He probably explained the situation and … all the children settled down around us.

They were very quiet children. They secretly stared at us from downcast eyes and made comments, or maybe jokes, that spurred soft laughter. I saw them rolling their eyes and making little plugging motions on their arms. Indeed, they don’t have much body hair, and God knows what kind of jokes they made about us.
We didn’t know if they stayed with us because they were curious, or because it was the thing to do: keeping company to some stranded travelers.

After about two hours, we heard an engine noise and, true to his word, the young man drove up with our repaired bike. We paid for the repair and gave him a little extra for his trouble. He seemed happy with us and with his day.

Then, we straddled the bike, waved good-by and were on our way. I looked over my shoulder and saw the small group of children standing, and waving, and probably already thinking of the good story about hairy and helpless strangers they would tell at home.

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