I have now had several occasions to ride on the back of a motorbike. I must admit that my first voyage was somewhat nerve racking. For one I’m not too sure what the etiquette is when it comes to holding on for dear life to the driver. Looking around, none of the other women on the backs of bikes were really paying attention to the man in front, let alone holding on. Some balanced babies on their laps, others talked on phones, the general mood was that of relaxed passenger as if they were being chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce. That clearly was not going to work for me so I grabbed some fabric at either side of my drivers jacket, ready to lock in a death grip at the moment of ejection. Another mild concern was the helmet that kept sliding back off my head. This was only a mild concern because due to the likely sequence of events immediately following me falling off the back of a motorbike — army of bikes behind us flattening me to the asphalt, massive road burn resulting from the fact that I’m wearing only a thin dress, general whole body trauma — head protection would likely only slow my inevitable death. I decided I must not fall off the bike.
As we sped down the little laneway from our office I was excited. As we turned onto a busier street I became a bit more apprehensive, although I must say my driver was very good. He braked gradually and performed a minimum of needless weaves in and out of traffic. He even avoided some nasty pot holes. It was at the main road that I became truly nervous. Motorcycles squeeze through astonishingly small gaps in traffic, quickly. This of course is their great advantage, negotiating gridlock traffic with swift ease. When we finally arrived at the bank, our destination, I was grateful to be alive.
On our return voyage we approached a wall of stopped cars and simply popped up onto the sidewalk. Later a section of road was closed for construction, once safely past the working crews we tucked onto the empty side and zipped past traffic. Parking is another wonderful task on a scooter. They are so small you can put them aside almost anywhere. Stopping to buy mangoes from a roadside vendor was as simple as pulling over in front of the stall. I must admit that by the end of the journey I was sold on scooters. My only qualm is that I don’t enjoy being the passenger. I want the rush of driving one myself, although I’m not too sure that I am bold enough to take on this traffic.
Since that maiden voyage I have become a relaxed passenger. Indeed to enjoy the weekend festivities with my new friends I had no choice but to tag along on the back of a motorbike. In Jambi, the typical Friday night ritual is not too different from the Canadian beer with friends at a crowded but relaxed hang out. Although in Jambi beer is not on the menu. Sometime around dark we all hopped on scooters and dirt bikes, two by two, and sped off to a nearby restaurant. Along with the standard “nasi goreng” – fried rice, this restaurant seemed to specialize in soup. There were chicken, fish and beef soups all served with rice, as well as some more unusual soup options: lung, cow hoof skin, and cow tail. I’m told they are delicious. Although since it is only my first week in Indonesia I stuck with “sop ayam,” chicken soup. I also ordered mango juice, which is served thick, frothy and cold.
From the restaurant we remounted the bikes and sped into the heart of town. As the roads got wider and more crowded I watched the city lights whiz past in a beautiful blur. Our destination was the local cheap hang out: patio chairs lined up below some billboards along the side of a main road. Creating a buffer between the rows of seats and the road was a line of small food carts serving a variety of fried snacks and drinks. We all ordered a hot ginger drink. It was thick and creamy and must have been made with milk. It was a light brown colour and tasted of sweet ginger, simply delicious. The six of us sat and sipped our drinks while talking about life, travel, school and all sorts of random things. It was lovely to get to know some people here. Their friendship has been invaluable thus far in negotiating this foreign land and language.
Saturday night in Jambi was much the same. This time the venue was the local mall, obviously the hot spot for young people based on the number of bikes in the multi-story parking garage. Inside was rather modern, there were even some western fast food chains, namely KFC and A&W. We ate at a lovely restaurant overhanging the Hari River which flows through town. As the sun set we watched the town on the opposite bank light up and long slender river boats speed back and forth. Beyond the towns the landscape was a dense blanket of tropical forest. This time I opted for the staple “nasi goreng” with veggies, and a tall frothy glass of sour sop juice, both were delightful.
After eating we wandered around and ran some errands. I picked up a sim card for my phone (no it does not work yet, I didn’t unlock my phone properly, I’m working on it) and the girls bought a gift for a coworker who just had his first child, a baby boy. The crowd at the mall was mostly young and well dressed. The styles were diverse, some girls wearing modest clothing and head scarves, while others wore short skirts and tank tops. Men seemed to opt for jeans and t-shirts. When we decided to call it a night we hopped back on our bikes and headed for the exit.
This is where we encountered a problem. Ahmed and I were at the back of the pack and at the gate to exit we were stopped. There was much excited back and forth between Ahmed and the woman guarding the exit, until finally we reversed and Ahmed took out his cell phone to call the others. “We have problem” he said as he smiled at me. As we waited for the others to return for us, Ahmed explained that we did not have a ticket, we were not given one when we entered and we should have been. For this reason we were not allowed to exit. Ayu and Tere returned and Ahmed disappeared to the entrance gate to obtain a ticket. Ayu shrugged and said “this is Indonesia.” We chatted while waiting for Ahmed to return, which he did some ten minutes later, ticket in hand. We approached the same exit gate and handed our new ticket to the same lady who smiled as she let us out.
I savored the cold breeze on the ride home. It was another humid tropical evening while standing still, but on the back of a bike the air was crisp and refreshing. As we tore through the streets, now becoming progressively smaller and darker I felt happy and relaxed. I think that it is safe to say I have been converted to the motorcycle tribe, they truly are an awesome way to get around.