When any two visitors to Bali reminisce, traffic in Bali would be an almost certain topic in the conversation. Despite having travelled in motor vehicles in Brazil, and lived to tell the tale, and having heard friends' experiences in Europe, Africa and in other parts of Asia, I am still, daily, often unprepared for driving here.
The first, obvious, question, that I asked myself is, "Are there actually road rules?" and, "If so, are they documented anywhere?" I have found no-one who can enlighten me. I must admit, I haven't stopped in at a police station and inquired. Next time I am stopped at the usual Sunday roadblock in Jl. Danau Tempe, Sanur, I will remember to ask the policemen who regularly check my paperwork. However, I need to brush up on my Indonesian vocabulary beforehand - I don't want any misunderstanding with them, which might compromise our developing friendship.
Regardless of the existence, or otherwise, of rules, the usual practices on Bali roads indicate that a) Fortune favours the brave, b) The larger the object in a collision, the greater the degree of fault, and, over riding all other considerations c) It is always the foreigner's fault (and this includes non-Balinese Indonesians).
The second question is "Why do so many men in Bali seem intent on killing not only themselves, but their wives and small children?" I have developed a theory about the phenomenon of sepeda motors loaded with Bapak (Father), Ibu (Mother) and two under-three's appearing, from no-where, in front my vehicle. Careful observation has showed that, occasionally, some motorbike riders actually look before they pull out. It seems to me that this is connected with the Balinese belief in karma. As I understand it, living a good life increases a person's karma, and the gods will be more likely to look after them. Therefore, when I see a motorbike rider look both ways before venturing into the traffic, I wonder what bad things they might have done recently.
Lastly, there is a wet-season practice which, to me, illustrates a major difference between the ways Oriental and Occidental people think. When it is raining, an Indonesian will ride on the back of a motorbike with his/her head stuck up the back of the rider's poncho. I cannot understand how it would be psychologically possible for any citizen of the Western World to do this. It is carrying blind faith way beyond the realms of acceptability for those of us brought up to believe that we have some sort of control over our destinies.
Still, once one accepts the fact that becoming stressed about driving practices in Bali is pointless, it can become an enjoyable game, not unlike fairground dodg'em cars. (although there are usually consequences for making contact with another vehicle). And, to put being on the roads in Bali in perspective, I am told that no driving experience compares with sitting in the front seat of a Denpasar-Gilimanuk bus. Pass.