Approached by taxi drivers dozens of times each day, I caved in and took my first taxi the other afternoon. A rather lengthy ride, about 35 minutes, I took a taxi from Ubud in the south-central part of the island down to Sanur, a coastal village in the southeast.
I’d been walking around Ubud for a few hours. It was very hot, the streets quite dirty, and the traffic insane. The idea of taking a bemo – the local public transport – seemed a bit much.
Halo, transport? he asked.
Berapa? I responded, How much?
Seratus lima puluh, he responded, 150,000 rupiah. I must confess this seemed a lower quote than I was expecting (about $15), but it’s Bali, so I had to barter.
Ini sedikit mahal, pak. A little expensive, don’t you think?
Berapa? He responded
Saya kira, mungkin seratus. I think maybe 100,000.
Saya tidak bisa. Seratus tiga puluh. I can’t. 130,000
Saya tidak bisa, and I began to walk away.
He followed me and asked again. Seratus dua puluh lima? 125,000. He pleaded with me, actually. He said he hadn’t had a fare all day, and yet still had to pay for the use of the taxi, and he had two kids at home.
I thought at the time, maybe a questionable sob story, but I agreed. Not a steep price, and he would save me some real headache. And besides, I know unemployment is rampant in Bali, so there might be truth to his claims.
He proved to be a wonderful guy (and at this point, my best language tutor is a gregarious and articulate taxi driver). I believed what he said, about his financial difficulties. He explained several of the problems people like himself are experiencing. It’s hard for bemo drivers to earn a living, because so many locals own their own transport now, and the tourists either rent a motorbike, or hire taxis. And as a result, there is a glutton of taxi drivers (thus my experience in Ubud).
My driver, Gusti Nyoman, was probably in his early thirties (I didn’t ask), married and with two kids. He had the equivalent of a high school education. His wife didn’t work (Ibu pertama, I said, A mother first – Gusti found this very funny), so he was the sole provider. He lived close to an hour outside Ubud, and came in everyday to try and earn for his family. He had to pay a fee to the owner of the taxi everyday, regardless of whether or not he got any passengers.
When we arrived in Sanur, I gave him a little more than our agreed price. I believed his hardships, and all said and done, it was still a small price. And besides, it was a fantastic, 35 minute tutorial in Bahasa Indonesia. He was tremendously grateful.
Walking the streets and beaches of Bali, it’s easy to be annoyed by the obsessive salesmen, taxi drivers, and hawkers, but probably important to remember that their persistence is often born from need.