Engines revved on either side of me and I tightened my grip on the back of the motorcycle. I glanced at the motorcycle next to me; Ariel was white-knuckling it as well. The light started flashing and the traffic roared to life, inching further into the intersection.
My breath caught in my throat as Irwan kicked his bike into gear leaving all other traffic in the dust.
Other than booking a guest house for our first two nights, Ariel and I hadn’t made any concrete plans for our Balinese adventure. We ditched our bags in the grungy room after strategically hiding money throughout our luggage pockets and set out in search of the beach.
The cobblestone streets blew my mind. Tiny sidewalks lined the edges and housed stalls selling stereotypical tourist merchandise. T-shirts, sunglasses, hats: we could have been back in Cambodia if not for the unfamiliar language and “Bali” scrawled across everything. Through the numerous surf shops, we finally spotted the ocean in the distance and any residual stress from our journey melted away.
We waded into the water and let the waves lap at our ankles. Small groups of locals and tourists dotted the sand, all watching the sun sink lower into the sea.
“Do you want a surf lesson tomorrow?” Irwan asked, interrupting our sunset-selfies.
Ariel and I looked at each other and shrugged, “Why not?” We arranged to meet Irwan in the same spot the next morning.
Bright and early we zigzagged through Kuta’s narrow streets back towards the beach where Irwan was waiting, surfboards in hand.
“Let me give this to you now,” I said, rummaging through my bikini top where I had hidden our money.
He laughed, “Lucky money!” and showed us where we could leave the rest of our things.
“Just breathe and relax,” Irwan instructed watching the horizon for incoming waves.
Bobbing with the swell I waited for his call to start paddling. Peering over my shoulder I wondered if I’d ever be able to spot a “good” wave on my own.
I dug in with my arms, feeling the wave rush closer behind me.
Taking a deep breath I pushed myself up just like we practiced on the beach, swinging one leg forward than the other. I straightened up, weight on my back leg, and watched the shore grow nearer. Too soon the water shallowed and I was forced to jump in. Awkwardly I picked up the board and raced back, ready for another go.
“What are your plans for this afternoon?” Irwan asked us as we walked back up the beach after our two-hours were up.
We had no idea.
“Go by a travel agent and ask what they would charge to give you a tour of the area,” he instructed. “Meet me back here at 2 p.m. and my friend and I will take you around on our motorcycles for a cheaper price.”
He had us at “motorcycle”.
The speed limit seemed to be, “drive as fast as you can”. My hair whipped in the wind as we sped around corners and up and over hills, weaving around slow moving buses.
Over the next several hours Irwan and his friend Ewan jetted us around Kuta and the surrounding cities, taking us to lesser known beaches and monkey-filled temples. Each new vista took my breath away and made me realize how much more of the world I have left to see.
I’d never felt more alive, racing from sight to sight; clinging to a driver I’d known for less than 24 hours.
The engine whined as we crested a hill and my stomach dropped as if I were on a rollercoaster. The road wound down before us, getting lost in thick greenery that stretched onward until it met the bright, blue sea. I couldn’t stop smiling.
“Welcome to the jungle!” Irwan shouted over the roar of the wind.