The following is a story that I submitted for the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship competition.
I buckled my helmet and traced the thin outline on my leggings where I had stashed several hundred rupiah. We had agreed to navigate this new culture as authentically as possible, and a moped seemed the most practical way of doing so.
With a rumble, the ignition started. I grasped tightly to the seat, placing one foot on the footrest while balancing precariously on the other.
“Are you ready?” my friend asked. “We’ll start on the little back roads. Remember, when people put their trust in me, it does wonders!”
“I’m as ready as I’m going to be,” I replied with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
We rolled slowly onto the dusty roads behind our homestay, her confidence growing as the locals looked on. She is half Filipina, easily mistaken for being Indonesian. I am fair-skinned, and I compensate for sunshine by wearing more sun-protective clothing than most people will own in a lifetime. What a spectacle we must have been.
At last we were on the main stretch. A welcome breeze rushed past as I took it all in. The narrow streets were lined by small markets and warungs, each one adding color and depth to the cultural richness of the landscape. Mopeds, some carrying entire families, threaded through the streets, appearing and disappearing by way of smaller roads invisible to the inattentive eye.
There were no stoplights here, only unspoken rules governing the chaotic parade of vehicles. Though we were learning quickly, weaving into the Balinese traffic had not been seamless. While I was growing anxious, my friend was becoming increasingly fueled by adrenaline.
“Which way?” she asked at the next turn in the road.
“Let’s go right,” I answered, feigning bravery. We did not know where it would lead, but that was all part of the adventure.
We took a fear-inducing tight right turn, and gradually, unexpectedly, the scene began to change until our moped was the only thing winding along the narrow road. Rice patties replaced buildings, stretching out in endless lines of deep green. Balinese men with sun-weathered skin worked under their round woven hats. Wild dogs played and roamed aimlessly along the horizon.
I took a deep breath as we made our way through the foreign terrain, creating a single trail of motion in an otherwise still world. The air whipped through my clothes, and the scene played before me like a silent movie reel while my fear finally gave way to relief. Joy, even.
Perhaps a little trust does do wonders.
Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.