I keep saying that I haven’t really seen or done much during my two months in Bali (sightseeing-wise). But if I am honest, a lot of stuff went wrong in Bali and those stories might be cautionary tales for you or just make you chuckle. Either way, here they are in their fully glory and uncensored embarrassingness. Because of course disaster follows me even to paradise and Bali safety gets easily jeopardised when I’m around.
The Volcano Situation
My Bali plans were put on ice as soon as I heard about the volcano. I feared for my safety in Bali. I can get easily scared and even if an eruption wasn’t predicted to be all that disastrous for further away parts from the island, I didn’t want to risk it. After all, airports and ports were closed for weeks with limited ways to get off the island if you needed to catch a flight, do a visa run or just were sick of the entire situation.
It comes from a very privileged place to even think like this. Many locals didn’t have the opportunity to seek shelter at the other end of the island, let alone leave their make shift tents. But being safe and sound at the other end of the world, this seemed too much to bother with and so I postponed my travel plans, skipping this “inconvenience”. By the time I touched down on Bali, the volcano still hadn’t erupted but had gone quiet again.
Learning to Use a Scooter and Hitting a Wall – Literally
If you didn’t know, I’m a scaredycow. I am afraid of plenty of reasonable and silly things alike. This includes motorised vehicles. I don’t even drive a car even though I have a licence. So on Bali, I realised I had to use a scooter to get around.
Walking isn’t so much a safe or sane thing to do. Sidewalks or even ditches near rods aren’t really a thing and all the fumes and trash you will oftentimes have to walk through aren’t very pleasant. Even driving a car is a pain; you will get stuck most times while everyone on a scooter just zigzags through the gaps or races past the stalls on cracked concrete in front of shops. I felt my Bali safety was getting dramatically lower by the second.
So I caved and I got scooter lessons and eventually my own scooter. Turns out, I was a natural and ready to scoot on my own after four lessons. The first thing I did after being cleared was to drive into a wall. All good. Nothing and nobody got hurt. Except perhaps my friend’s laughing muscles after the initial shock. Then a little later, I met up with another friend for dancing classes in town and full of adrenaline I ended up in a ditch.
Getting into Scooter Accidents
I’m still not exactly sure what happened. Between cars cutting me off and passersby deciding to walk into my path, I must have accelerated even though my brakes were held tight. Within a second, I hit another wall that sent my scooter flying right into a water trench and me standing above it. True Spider-Man skills! To be fair, it was parked perfectly. Just not in the right spot. The locals were at my side in split seconds and had lifted out my ride before I could shake off the initial shock.
Next in line of scooter accidents that thwarted my Bali safety was my experience of cruising down the main shopping road, when suddenly out of the blue a local woman cut in from the opposite lane and changed her mind right within the middle of the road. I braked hard immediately but still crashed into the side of her bike. We were both in shock but she was caught like a deer in headlines, simply staring at me. No word was uttered by her while I tried to inquire about any damage or hurt body parts.
She was still blocking the road and a local had to cross the street to give her the picked up bags she refused to take from me. Eventually, she drove off silently while staring at me (not very safe either). My entire legs were bruised and my front wheel was flat. But otherwise I – yet again – was miraculously fine.
Sadly enough, scooter accidents are common on Bali. And it’s mostly reckless tourists that decide to be cocky and self-righteous, speeding and cutting lanes. You have to watch out for those in particular! Just because there are no speed or road signs most of the time and your speed indicator isn’t working doesn’t mean you can forego traffic rules. Plenty of people seem to take that as a free pass.
Getting My Credit Card Skimmed
I was stranded on Bali with my flight to Tokyo having been cancelled due to a plane malfunction. Maybe that was a lucky thing because the thing day I realised my credit card was no longer working. Naturally, I investigated and realised that around 1000 € went missing. I had fallen victim to one of the many credit card scams in Bali! ATMs across the islands are targeted ferociously, so you really need to be extra careful where and when you take out money.
Always take out money at camera monitored ATMS, such as in hotels, to be on the safe side. I did and still it happened. So I had to prove I wasn’t just trying to trick my bank. Each bank handles such claims differently and luckily with German banks it is their responsibility to prove you are lying. In any case, I filed a report with the Bali police. That turned out to be quite the nerve wrecking odyssey.
Getting Lost in Traffic
After I had handed back my scooter and got grounded on Bali due to a cancelled flight, I found myself in Kuta. This is a major first base for many a foreign traveller seeking parties on Bali and those new to the island. It’s not the prettiest spot, full of bike smog and streets lined with shops. This isn’t the classic Bali you see on Instagram. And Bali safety isn’t much better even though the infrastructure seems to be. Still, I was resolved on saving my last coins and walk all the way. After all, I finally had proper pavements to walk on now!
All I wanted was to cross a main street to visit McDonalds cause I was feeling extra that day. Traffic lights and official crossings were hundreds of metres away and I’m not exactly known for my patience. I was nearly hit a couple of times. While cars and scooters are aware of jaywalkers, they won’t slow down regardless. So it’s a race and you have to act fast. I made it.
However, when I tried to cross for the shopping mall across the street, I gave in. It seemed too daunting. I hadn’t yet observed the locals’ ritual of braving the traffic by holding up your hand as if parting the waves and staring down the oncoming vehicle stampede. I gave in and ordered a Go-Jek.
Bali Tip: Go-Jek is the main means of ordering food, getting cheap transport and more – all thanks to the green jacketed scooter drivers.
The drive took five minutes as we had to scoot to the next u turn, which was quite a bit away and then scoot all the way back. All that for a presumably short street crossing. (And no, they didn’t trick me. It really was the fastest way to get there on wheels.)
Getting Abandoned in the Middle of Nowhere
If you don’t have your own scooter and decide to call Go-Jek, an Uber or Grab car, you might not get very far though. Most villages on Bali hate them with a passion as they take away from their local taxi businesses. As a result, taxi mafias have formed, posting giant signs at the entrances and main crossings of the villages to warn off any intruders and tell the tourists to not even bother.
The problem, however, is that you can’t seem to find a taxi stand when you need it. So you would rather use one of your apps with your cheap sim card and see if someone takes mercy on you and needs the money to take the risk.
I got abandoned quite a bit when I needed it most, such as for a ride to the airport. Since time was running short and picking up time can take up to thirty minutes, I nearly missed my plane (twice). Also, I should have gotten a bike Go-Jek rather than a car when it came to getting somewhere fast. Cars get stuck in traffic 100% of the time. Always opt for the bike if you can. Silly me.
On top of that and on many occasions, drivers would pick up but then not move an inch. You can see it in the app and open the chat but mostly, they just want you to move away to an area where they can pick you up safely. So a battle of who cancels first ensues (nobody wants to pay the cancellation fee.) Other times, someone picks up and makes you the great offer of cancelling and then driving you for double the rate. Let me be real, the entire ride ordering is utterly frustrating most times. Keep your cool!
Getting Seriously Sunburnt and Caught in Surfing Accidents
Once the sun is out in Bali, it really is out and shines relentlessly. This should entail a generous helping of sunscreen but it can only do so much if you spend hours in the ocean. I had signed up for surfing lessons with my friend Milou from Explorista even though I was – yet again – totally scared.
My first attempt at surfing had been all the way back at Byron Bay in Australia and I got nearly caught in riptides and hit my head with the board multiple times. I ended up as the laughing stock in the subsequent photo show of the surfing lesson. I looked like a caricature.
But if I was to make a fool of myself it was in good company and with one teacher between us, there was more potential for actually getting it right. And it turned out, I was quite a natural. I stood up six times during the first 2-3 hours on my beginner’s board. During the second try I reached a proud number of ten and then, when I switched to a real board, I levelled at 5. I was pretty darn proud of myself!
Of course, this didn’t go off in a hitch either. The breaking waves washed away the straps of my top and it took me a while to realise I was flashing a bunch of people while smiling and waving that I was ok. Next, I got my foot badly hurt on the corals and then burnt my skin to a tomato shade from the bum downward, sporting the colours of Poland thanks to my bikini. Even two months after this happened, you can still see the (now somewhat tan) aftermath. It hurt to just have skin for an entire week. (I did put on 50+ sunscreen before though!) I can thwart my Bali safety both on land and water. I guess that is an achievement in itself?
Continuing the Travel Chaos Trail Down Under
I could go on and on about all the things that have been going wrong in my travels, such as me being robbed and ending up in court in Bulgaria. Or that time I nearly drowned while being photographed next to a giant fish above the Great Barrier Reef. But that would require book length. Good thing that I actually wrote an entire book about it (and a second one – which is of yet untranslated and in German).
If you want to hear the real deal about travel and how you can maintain an optimistic attitude no matter what cancelled flight, near death experience or oyster picking experience is thrown your way, this is your book. Plus, I’m not some obscure author hiding behind a pretty binder photo (wait, where’s MY binder?!). You can say hello, tell me how you liked the book and ask follow up questions.
How cool is that? So check it out on Amazon.
Tell me: What has been YOUR most disastrous travel experience so far?
Bali Day of Silence – What you Need to Know about Nyepi
Where to Find the Best Canggu Restaurants
More Real Life Horror Stories from My Time in the Australian Outback
When Travels Go Wrong – Major Freak Out
Chased by dogs down mountains in Chiang Mai
My Nomadic Life in Southeast Asia – My Travel Year in Retrospect 1/2018