The Ride Of My Life

Jakarta Traffic

Living in Asia means getting a chance to do many things that would ordinarily not have even crossed my mind as options. One such activity is riding an “ojek” here in Jakarta.  Motorbikes make up 60% of all vehicles on the highly congested streets of Jakarta. They swerve through the traffic like maggots from dead meat, except many of these bikes are moving quite fast and bob and weave like no maggot can. Even if I were to ask the best writers in the world to explain the bike phenomenon of Jakarta they could not evoke the idea of what it’s really like. Before moving here I had the idea that I would learn to ride a motorbike and hop around the city with my locks in the wind and my leather backback on my bag. Yeah right!!!! As my grandmother would say, “get that folly idea out of your head.”

On to the story of my near death experience. On this particular morning I was late and our driver was en route from dropping one of the kids so hubby and I decided to walk out of our ‘lane’ and grab cabs. At the top of our ‘lane’ there are always ojeks and we sometimes feel bad that we never hire them. We are always those expats who walk by and wait on our cabs even if the wait is 20 -30 minutes. We sometimes feel guilty as we sense the eyes of the ojek drivers piercing into our backs while they wonder why the bule never use their service (a bule is the local term for foreigners. Not sure if by definition I am a bule since the term was coined for Caucasians). Between being late and feeling guilty I decided to hire an ojek (keep in mind that hubby was also egging me on while he stepped into a cab, which by the way was initially mine but the driver spoke no english and had no clue where I was going while hubby’s destination was close by and well known).

I have been on campaign trails in Jamaica where our motorcades have been fired on, where our vehicles have been pelted but absolutely nothing, when I say nothing I mean nothing, compares to the level of fear I felt for the 45 minutes I spent on that motorbike. Let me just say that I have never really liked motorbikes and always had a bit of fear for them but this ride would have been scary for anyone except an Indonesian. The bike was being driven at top speed along streets with potholes – I was terrified and quite convinced that I would never live to see my kids graduate college or my husband with a full head of grey hair. To make matters worse the ojek driver did not speak a word of English so I simple had to be quiet and grab his waste even tighter. I could feel the poor man trying to wiggle from my grip but to no avail: I wrapped my arms around his waist and clasped them in front like my life depended on it (actually my life did depend on it). For a split second when we slowed at traffic lights or when he could not ease the bike in between the really small spaces between vehicles with 4 wheels (aka cars) I glanced over at other bikers and noticed 2 things:

  1. The riders were all staring at me gripping this man’s stomach even when the bike was stationary.
  2. No one was hanging on to the drivers of the bikes the way I was. In actuality many were on their cellphones, reading books or just relaxing as though they were riding in cars all securely tucked between sheets of steel and metal. Not to mention the devout Muslim women who riding side straddled. God, Allah, Buddha and Haile Selassie be with them.

At different points I felt as though we were inflight as we flew over the sleeping policemen in the streets. Who knew there were so many in Jakarta? Why didn’t he slow down over them? Why didn’t he recognize that every time he propelled over one my body lifted from the seat and I was then forced to grip him harder?  If you think that is bad let me tell you how much worse it was when he missed a turn and ended up on a one way street facing all 4 lanes of oncoming traffic. Did he slow down at this point? No, he continued speeding while bobbing in and out of oncoming cars that were not slowing down but were rather annoyed at us.

The fact that I am writing this blog tells you that I survived and that I am well but that was 45 minutes of sheer hell. It’s a good thing I have low blood pressure as I am sure I would otherwise have had a heart attack. It is never a good feeling when you think that if you move either of your elbows you are literally touching cars while you straddle a motorbike flying at top speed. I made it and I am happy but I’m not sure how to ask the Supreme Being to allow me to break my promise of not eating rum and raisin ice cream for the next 6 months (I made this promise to him while begging for my life through prayer).

Will I hire an ojek ever again? Maybe yes: after several drinks and zero other options. Am I sorry I did it? No, because I can now cross the need to ride on the “back of a speeding motorbike flowing through heavy traffic” off my Bucket List.

Until next time…..One Love!!!!!

5 thoughts on “The Ride Of My Life

  1. I shouldn’t be laughing, but you ARE alive so I don’t feel so guilty. This exact thing would have happened to me. I can visualize myself desperately wanting to get off and walk to wherever I needed to go but I would probably stay on paralyzed with fear.

    Well, great adventure that you lived to tell! 🙂

  2. I’m sure it’s the same feeling visitors have when they ride in a robot taxi back home.. I know it was a harrowing experience, but funny none the same. Glad you’re ok.

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