My Motorbike Experiment: A Year of Hitching Across Indonesia

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Earlier this year, my blog “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels” became viral around the world, against my will. Fresh from a series of heartbreaks, I sarcastically typed away, ranting on my laptop one boring day at our beach hostel.

Unknowingly, I published it on my personal blog. I was surprised by how many men and women could relate to it. I got thousands of messages from people who were in one way or another inspired by it, and some who hated it. Anything brutally honest, uncensored and raw will naturally upset some people, I realised in the end.

But there’s one comment that echoed in my head for months to come:

“I agree with you on everything, but never needing anyone is just sad somehow. I hope someday you will.”

When I was 16, I moved halfway around the world to the UK for college. It was a big change from my sheltered life growing up in the suburbs of Manila. I burnt my arms from ironing and cooking, I accidentally turned my clothes pink after washing them, I got confused riding public transportation and my hair even fell out because of stress. 

Since then, I’ve had no choice but to be independent in all aspects of my life.

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“Willy”, my trusted companion of 11 years

After my internship, I was relieved to come back to Manila. I drove everywhere as soon as I got my license and was pretty good at it too. I took the role of designated driver after parties and enjoyed out of town trips with my family. I treated each car I drove with tender lovin’ care. My father taught me to bring them to the casa every 10,000 kilometers for maintenance to avoid unnecessary costs and engine failure or tirik - which was my worst nightmare! I also made sure that I gassed up only with premium fuel like Shell V-Power Nitro+ for a smoother drive. My beloved car “Willy”, an Echo and “Suzy” a Vitara whom I depended on both had to be sold when I made the life changing decision to move to Indonesia, after falling in love with the country during previous visits.

Exploring Indonesia

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Where I feel most at home

In Indo, the main mode of transportation is by motorcycle. I looove just hopping on the back of it and driving aimlessly around the islands with fellow travelers and ending up in places I wouldn’t have discovered myself. I realized that back home, I’ve always had my way. I’ve always had my own car and most of the time, I ended up going to the same boring places. Do you ever feel that way too?

But I had a new life in this amazing country of 18,307 islands and so many interesting people I could meet on the road too. Who cares if I don’t know how to ride a motorbike?! I was gonna explore this country no matter what. So I hitched with locals and travelers all around Indonesia for one year.

This was my motorbike experiment.

It became my meditation. Unlike being in a car, all your senses are heightened. There is no roof over your head so you feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face. You hear all the different sounds on the road even with a helmet on. You smell (and yes, sometimes taste) all the different things that you drive past. 

You feel the wind in your hair and through your fingers, if you’re brave enough to let go.

You’re straddling the backseat of someone else’s moped with the lucky driver in between your legs. Two human beings in such close proximity to each other. That doesn’t usually happen under normal circumstances. When the road goes uphill, you have no choice but to hold on to the scruffy surfer that’s taking you for a ride, unless you wanna risk falling over. You instantly form some sort of a bond sharing that adrenaline-inducing ride.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t fully in control of my journey. I needed these strangers to keep me alive.

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Driving through dangerous terrain and all the way to the top of limestone cliffs for views like these


One night in Bali, Lois and I were trying to hail Bluebird taxis after a day of misadventures. She had lost both her contact lenses from surfing Impossibles at Bingin so her vision was really blurry. I had to make a mental note to make sure she wasn’t going to get side swept on the dark road we were walking on. It was rush hour and no cab wanted to stop for us.
Suddenly, a warm voice across the road spoke to me in Indonesian “Mau kemana?” (“Where are you going?”) Pissed that some stranger might be trying to hit on us, I yelled “I don’t speak that language!@#$!” as I tried to cross the road completely forgetting that I was leading a blind person.

The headlights of a car driving past shone some light on his face. There he was, chillin’ on his motorbike at Nirmala Supermarket along Jalan Uluwatu Street. A 6-foot-1 Brazilian surfer who stared me down and said “So what language do you speak?” with a grin on his face. I froze for a second and tried to make my brain work so that I could say something. He laughed and insisted that he drive us home to save us the cab fare.

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Surf check: Greenbowl, one of Bali’s less surfed spots on the east side of the island
In the next two months, "The Brazilian" showed me some of Bali’s less traveled places that I would’ve never discovered myself. In Bali, your preferred mode of transport can spell the difference of either spending INR 400,000 ($40) per day on a car rental or as little as IND 30,000 ($3) on a scooter.

The Nusas

I’ve heard a lot about Couchsurfing but I’ve always been too chicken to sleep at strangers’ homes. I realised though that you could still participate by joining groups of travelers who want to explore various places. I met up with a French gentleman who was organizing a trip to Nusa Lembongan (and turned out to be an Armani Exchange model, no biggie). I decided to join the group the next day, who wouldn’t?!

He picked me up from my Seminyak hotel early one morning and remembered to bring an extra helmet, for me of course. We braved the rush hour traffic along Jalan Ngurah Rai all the way to Sanur where we took a Scoot fastboat away from the maddening crowds of Bali and into the more serene Nusa groups of islands, Lembongan, Cenginan and Penida. We arrived a day before Kuningan, a Balinese festival that marks the end of the New Year holiday. As soon as we dumped our backpacks at our guesthouse, we went on exploring the island on foot and watched a golden sunset fade into the night with Bintangs on hand.

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​Stumbling upon a little piece of heaven called The Blue Lagoon in Nusa Ceningan

In the morning, the group shared the cost of renting two scooters and spent the next few days getting pleasantly lost around the Nusas. It was such a sight to see the streets and temples decorated with handmade ornaments. Every Balinese man, woman and child were dressed up in their traditional clothing, breezing past us with their precious offerings of yellow rice and special home cooked dishes. There were gatherings of hundreds of locals in different villages sitting for hours in a deep meditative state. It was quite fascinating to watch them in such a peaceful trance.

On the northern part of the island, the cutest monkeys played within the thick mangroves. We passed through quiet local villages and made it to Dream Beach, a white sand spectacle with quite the powerful backwash along the shore. It was too dangerous to swim so the boys caught up on their siesta while some of us rolled around in the sand doing yoga until the entire sky became a blush of pinks and purples. That night, we picked the most expensive restaurant, The Beach Club out of hunger but were rewarded with such delicious presentations of sate ayam, mi goreng and the most tender mahi-mahi that melted in my mouth with the perfect burst of spicy sambal and veggies.

On our last day, we woke up early to explore the other island, Nusa Ceningan. The only way to get there fast is to drive on a very narrow suspension bridge from Nusa Lembongan. Only one scooter can pass at a time so you have to be patient. The island has so many panoramic views on every turn and you just have to stop and marvel at the view and breathe it all in.

Life as a local

As I stayed on longer, I reached The Gilis, a party island just a short boat ride away from Bali. Motored vehicles are prohibited here to preserve whatever peace and quiet is left. I also endured the long journey with some Australian Ashtangis to to the easternmost island of Indonesia, Sumatra. Famous for The Mentawais, Tanjung Setia and Krui, this is where serious surfers get their stoke. I also flew to Sumbawa, just a short flight away from Bali, a beautiful island in its own right. One trip I would definitely recommend is a boat expedition from Lombok to Flores, a huge island full of marine biodiversity, lush forests and waterfalls.

Every day is totally different than the last. And no matter how tiring, that’s exactly how I wanted it. 

Everyday had a different horizon, a different beach or a different sunset.

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Stopping over to hike up Gili Laba during the 5 day boat tour from Lombok all the way to Flores

Looking back, not only did I find so many beautiful places I would never have imagined existed. I’ve bonded with so many awesome people from all walks of life who come from different countries all because I needed a ride. I could probably curse in more than 10 languages!

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I’ve been able to explore some islands just riding on the back of mopeds, scooters and motorbikes. I’ve proven that it doesn’t cost much to go on life changing adventures. I’ve realized that there are still so many kind souls who will help strangers and never ask for anything in return. I learned that those who have nothing to give, give more anyway. And lastly, I learned that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing the company of people. There are those who will go with you no matter how far. 

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It was a priceless experience and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

A year later, I can now pass as a local! I’m ten shades darker and speak Bahasa Indonesia. Baguuuuus! New people I meet are always stunned when I tell them I’ve made it this long without learning how to drive on my own. Things are starting to fall into place for me in my new island home.

However, I’ve gotten into two accidents riding with drunk friends. I’ve decided it’s time to learn instead of letting all these mishaps heighten my fear. Whenever I feel scared, I’d try to relax and take a deep breath. Oh, and I’d think of all the little bracelet vendors in our town who start driving when they’re 7. They’re my inspiration!

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​​​​​Beach day with the girls

Chasing sunsets with strangers,
Sole Sister Adi

P. S. Wear a helmet :)

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​​​​My bestfriend Tierza who’s the bravest girl I know

Special thanks to my gorgeous bestfriend, Tierza who patiently taught me how to ride her scooter and who’s been with me through countless amazing journeys around Indonesia. I hope someday I’ll have the chance to teach you how to drive a car. Looking forward to more crazy adventures with you around the world! x

Adi escaped from the corporate world so her life now happily revolves around yoga and travel. She lives a simple, eco-friendly lifestyle and inspires those around her to do the same. She shares her AntiGravity and yoga practice everywhere she goes and dreams of building rustic Secret Spot hostels in beautiful tropical destinations. She will spend the rest of the year living amongst the locals in Siargao before she sets off for another Southeast Asian adventure with Sole Sister Stephanie. Follow Adi's adventures on Love the Search.

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4 sole trails

  1. UGH so much envy! Thank you Adi, I love hearing/reading your life stories :)

  2. Thanks Pia! Whenever you're ready to f*it just let me know!!! Hope that wasn't our last adventure! hahah

  3. Wow, this is so cool! I always imagined it would be fun to ride free on the back of a motorcycle, hair blowing in the wind, sun down on your face and laugh it off when you're caught in a rainstorm. So happy to hear about your adventures and that you're also sharing the realistic aspects of potential concerns with it too =)

  4. Thanks so much for readin Glamourous Traveller! Looking forward to reading one of your own motorcycle adventures in the future too!


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