When heading to a new destination, whether for vacation, work or relocating, transportation is a big factor. How are you going to get around? Do you need to rent a car? Do you have a trusted cab driver? On Ambergris Caye, Belize, golf carts are the popular mode of transportation. In Nicaragua, private cars or caponeras (tuk-tuks). Amsterdam is home to more bikes than cars. And in Thailand? Motorbikes.
It was July 2014, and I was on Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand for a diving R&R getaway with my sister. The Ko reminded me quite a bit of Roatan. Tropical, hilly and the hot spots were spread throughout the island. Cabs were quite expensive, but we knew in order to really explore, we needed to get out of our hotel. There were dozens of scooter rental places in town, and I saw hundreds of tourists and families scooting around. “I can ride a bike”, I thought to myself, so we’ll just rent a scooter. My sister detests any sort of driving, unless it is a bicycle, so I volunteered to take the wheel and have her ride co-pilot behind me.
I made a reservation with the hotel concierge for a full-day rental to go beach hopping. Twenty minutes later, a petite man who spoke no English arrived with the scooter. He handed me the keys, I handed him the US $8 rental fee, and he jetted off without an explanation of how to turn on the darn thing.
Note: I have never driven a scooter or motorbike before. But everyone was doing it, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard…
Helmet was on… Kickstand was up… Scooter was revving… I was ready to go for a practice round. My sister was on the side of the dirt boulevard cheering me on.
With a squeeze of excitement, I pulled back on the clutch a bit too forcefully and propelled forward at what felt like 60 mph. You know when you accidentally ski down the black diamond instead of the green? Or when you public speak to a large audience for the first time? It becomes a bit of a blur. And that is preciselywhat the next few seconds were.
I couldn’t tell you what happened. But I somehow located the brake, jamming it too hard and ultimately flying over the handle bars straight into the bamboo farm lining the dirt boulevard. By the time I realized what happened, I was lying on the ground with people circling me asking if I was okay.
My immediate reaction?? %*!@, what happened to the bike? I had limited cash, no ATM around, and credit cards were nothing more than a worthless piece of plastic on the island. All I could think was that I was going to be pumping gas in the back of some janky rental store to pay for these damages.
Wasting no time, the concierge called the little man back to the hotel (only after leaving 5 minutes earlier) to do a damage assessment on the bike. My sister helped me up, covered in dirt and blood, to confront the little man. There were minor cracks in the shell of the scooter, and the side mirror was shot. For the circumstance, the damage was minimal, both on the scooter and me. He kept the $8 rental fee to fix the mirror, gave me some reprimanding in Thai, and we called it even.
Needless to say, this put a damper on our day of discovery. As a result, we lounged by the beach ordering copious amounts of Chang, and ultimately walking everywhere.
The big takeaway? Always wear a helmet when riding a motorbike, and have a Plan B because things won’t always go as planned. In order to survive abroad, flexibility and durability are key.
I hope your journeys go a bit smoother. And if anyone has any tips regarding how to properly ride a scooter, I am all ears! Thailand round 2 is coming up in a few weeks, and I plan to give the scooters another go…