Thursday, May 27

Two and a half months in Indonesia: Traffic

I am not sure whether the traffic is worse in Bali or Kenya. To be sure, drivers in both nations proceed with an identical reckless abandon for their safety and those of others. Riding someone's bumper to get a headstart when trying to pass them and the two trucks ahead of them in a single go is common on these opposite ends of the Indian Ocean. It's even more exciting in Bali where the dominance of motorbikes mean one will pass a truck even though a motorbike is coming in because they can both safely fit in a single lane at the same time. Accidents were regular. I saw trucks on their sides on the roundabouts at least every two weeks, and in my one month in Bali, I've already seen one motorbike bite it on a turn and another graze a fellow rider.

So, to determine the relative safety of the roads in Bali and Kenya, one must look beyond the personalities of drivers to the roads themselves and their environs.

Road quality. Though all roads with the exception of the highway running from Nakuru to Nairobi are marked with potholes and rough enough that driving on the shoulder is a more comfortable alternative to the asphalt, I have to prefer those of Kenya to Bali. First, I am fairly certain there are single lanes on the American freeway wider than the two-lane road circling Bali. They like it narrow, and there is no shoulder, just a ditch. On the other side of the ditch the trees and homes and businesses are already pressing in. A free cow could be thrashing through the forest, and you would have no idea until hooves touched asphalt ten meters ahead of you because you couldn't see it through the flora a few seconds earlier. That may explain why the drivers are so fond of leaning on their horns and letting anyone know that they are coming through. The only times I remember it being clear on one side of the road are on the mountain switchbacks which just produce a whole other set of problems.

Safety equipment. It's generally ignored in both nations. I would estimate that somewhere around half of all motorbike riders and their passengers in Bali wear helmets, and the only times I remember people in matatus snapping shut their seatbelts were when we slowed at a police checkpoint. Indonesia does take this category, though, by virtue of its public transportation not forcing me into calming breath patterns. Any trip where the bottom of the matatu didn't fall out beneath my feet, a bare rod didn't tear my shirt or an overheated engine didn't melt my shoes was a good trip in Kenya.

So, in the absence of real research into the statistics of road fatalities and insurance claims, I claim it a tie. Actually, I think I'll give Kenya the slightest advantage. They don't have a roving motorbike gang who spray painted the anarchy symbol in pastel blues and purples on their white T-shirts and thus inspire other drivers to aim for them.

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