The Bali Kiss

We were approaching the end of our first full week in Bali, and spirits were high. From the moment we landed on the Island of the Gods, it felt like home. The jetlag was wearing off, the sun was high in the sky, and the wind was blowing our hair back as we were just starting to get into the groove of our motorbike (which is no small feat when it comes to the Balinese’ fast and loose attitude towards traffic “laws”). By “we,” we mean Lauren, who was channelling her best Ghost Rider while Rachel was navigating with Google Maps from behind. In two months, we never saw a single speed limit sign (not that speed limits really crossed our minds because we were never going fast enough for it to matter), or really any traffic signs for that matter. That’s not to say that there aren’t understood “rules” of the road, and the roads themselves are for the most part very well maintained in the main tourist areas, aside from the four foot trenches on either side of the road (and sometimes they’re on fire! Yes fire!). The other big hazards are pups wandering freely at all hours, causing particular stress during our nighttime drives because they tend to blend in with the shadows. We kept joking that with every new road obstacle, we felt as though were “leveling up,” in our very own Balinese version of Mario Kart. Sometimes, the road obstacles were so ridiculous we half expected to see the monkeys morph into Donkey Kong and start throwing banana peels on the road.

The Canadian tuxedo, Bali style

On this particular day, we decided to be daring. Our usual “bike outfits,” consisted of long pants and jackets in the blazing Bali sun, and after a few days of maintaining a cool 10mph and anticipating death around every corner, we started to believe that the worst was behind us. We (somehow) decided that if we were going to get into an accident it was going to be within the first seven days of using the bike. Having graduated past day seven, we thought we were in the clear. In a moment of madness, we traded our very fashionable pants/jacket combo for a more adventurous romper look, which we would later come to regret.

It was a brisk morning as we made the forty minute drive to the Tegallalang rice terraces, the farthest we had ever taken the motorbike, and we were gleaming with pride over our self sufficiency. We made our way through steep mountain roads through the jungle as we drove to our next destination, a spa where a Balinese flower bath was waiting for us. We found ourselves driving down a narrow road through a typical village. We turned the corner and out of nowhere an enormous monitor lizard appeared directly in our path. Taken by surprise by a real life dinosaur and not really having much time to react, Lauren swerved the motorbike in an effort to avoid crashing into the lizard creature. The motorbike lost stability and sent us into a pile of gravel alongside the road, causing the wheel to skid out from underneath us, crashing the bike on the pavement and us along with it.

The world moved in slow motion, and with adrenaline pumping, we picked ourselves up, immediately making sure the other was ok and all limbs were accounted for. Before we had a chance to assess the damage to ourselves or the bike, the local villagers started running out to the street to help. They ushered us to a nearby driveway by which time somebody else appeared with first aid supplies. We were both shaking and in shock, not fully able to process hustle and bustle around us, and it seemed like every time we looked up more villagers had arrived to investigate the commotion.

One of the initial challenges we ran into was actually accounting for all of our injuries. Between attempting to understand our Balinese rescuers and trying to register where all the blood was coming from, we were in a mental cloud of adrenaline and confusion. The shock from the accident hadn’t worn off, so we weren’t fully perceiving all of our pain and we were both too concerned with the state of the other to pay attention to ourselves. That is, we didn’t feel the pain until some mystery antiseptic sludge was applied to our very fresh wounds, which awakened our nerves like a catapult.

Without going into the gory details too much, the inventory of damages was as follows:

  • Rachel: road rash covering the upper right thigh, right forearm, right palm, and three left finger pads; gash in right knee (which ended up requiring stitches)
  • Lauren: road rash on right hip, right forearm, and right foot
  • Motorbike: broken mirror, scraped up right side, plastic frame cracked (in the spirit of full disclosure, the repair costs for the motorbike came to $60 USD, which plainly, is unfathomable)
  • Rachel’s phone: screen shattered

We didn’t really know exactly where we were, or what our next move would be, but we soon realized that Rachel’s knee was going to need more than mystery sludge and a bandaid. We tried to communicate with the Balinese villagers asking about a taxi or a hospital, but the language barrier made this difficult. They told us to wait, as one lady called a number on her cell phone. While we were waiting, Rachel was comforted by an angelic elderly Balinese woman who didn’t say a single word, but soothingly rubbed Rachel’s back and offered an empathetic gaze. She was the Balinese grandmother we didn’t know we needed.

Not long after the phone call, a clean, white SUV slowly drove down the street and a well dressed man came out and started to speak with us in English. He offered to drive us to the nearby hospital, and not in a position to turn down such generosity, we hopped (or hobbled) into his car. About five minutes later, we arrived at the hospital, and while Rachel was ushered to a bed immediately, Lauren started to fill out the hospital paperwork, called our insurance company, and called our moms.

We weren’t sure how to gauge our expectations for an Indonesian hospital, but again, we didn’t exactly have many (or any) choices. The emergency department was essentially a big room with large curtains serving as dividers. There were no linens on the beds, but the green pleather upholstery was clean (like something you’d find in your elementary school nurse’s office). But most importantly, everything was sterile from start to finish, which we’ve decided is the only part that mattered. The doctor spoke English and the nurses got to work cleaning our wounds, which again, trying to spare the gory details, was intensely painful. The medical staff was pretty nonchalant towards our accident, apparently only “westerners,” as the doctor called us, get in motorbike accidents, and we got off easy compared to other cases she had seen. They anesthetized Rachel’s knee gash and stitched it up. They gave us some antibiotics and Tylenol and sent us on our merry way. We were in and out of the emergency room in a matter of 30 minutes, which for any of its faults, the Balinese Hospital has cracked the code that American Emergency rooms cannot. 

We were motioned towards the reception desk to settle our medical bills and we were a little nervous having no standard by which to measure how much an emergency room visit in Indonesia should cost. The clerk handed us a receipt that came to around $40 USD (you read that right) for the both of us, which didn’t seem like enough to cover the cost of the prescriptions, let alone an emergency room visit for two people. The only catch was, the hospital did not accept credit cards. We had about $480,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $35 USD), but didn’t have enough to fully cover the bill. We don’t normally take our debit cards with us when we go out for the day in case our wallets get stolen, so we were unsure how to proceed. We said that we could come back with more money that same day, but the nuances of the conversation were lost in translation. After the conversation went around in a few circles, the man that had driven us to the hospital told us not to worry and that everything was figured out. We later found out that he had spotted us the cash in addition to driving us to and from the hospital, which is emblematic of the standard brand of unbelievable and innate generosity of the Balinese people.

He dropped us back off in the village, where our new friends had kindly stored our motorbike and helmets. We showed off Rachel’s stitches and our cleanly dressed wounds to the villagers and shared some laughs. We thanked them a million times over as they saw us off on our motorbike, and we will forever be indebted to these sweet, sweet people.

It took a long time for our wounds to heal (Rachel’s knee still gives her some grief sometimes), but it forced us to slow down to a more relaxed pace of exploration. We found ourselves attending meditation classes, and we could fully immerse ourselves in the small joys of the hustle and bustle of downtown Ubud. Upon talking to other expats, motorbike accidents are a sort of rite of passage for Westerners in Bali. So much so, they gave it a name: the Bali Kiss (which makes it sound much more poetic and romantic than the reality of a gnarly road burn). If we could offer one piece of advice, it would be to never get too confident on the bike, and to cover up (ok that’s two pieces, but who’s counting). We were not the first, nor will we be the last, but we have the scars to tell the tale.