I’ve gone quad-biking in Bali and in Cape Town, with two completely different experiences to look back on!
The one in CT (Dec 2010) was fabulous! The quad-bikes were shiny and well maintained, the trail was beautiful and our guide was an interesting old gentleman, who was spending his retirement exploring the national park on his dirt bike and taking groups of tourists like us on some of the more tamer (for him) trails.
There were points in the trails with long stretches of road ahead and behind me before a turn, and I was quite alone at some of these stretches. Though I was part of the group, it sometimes felt like I was on my own out there, surrounded sometimes by trees so tall and all-encompassing that it I felt a bit lost and almost scared. Everything that was beautiful would suddenly take on a cold, forbidding note. But of course, I was following a trail and our guide was excellent. He’d come back sometimes to check if I was ok, to make sure no one got lost in the wilderness.
We stopped midway for coffee and South African grain-filled biscuits (which were more like biscotti really, and deelicious with black coffee!) and chatted about the different trails and the supposed sighting of a mountain-lion that everyone swore they saw! :P The air was clean and crisp and the sun warm on our faces.
It was not very easy as we had to pass through small pools of water and different kinds of terrains, and maneuvering through it all was no mean task, my shoulders were tired and aching by the end of it all. But it was fun, though it was all very well controlled and we were not in any danger at any point.
The one in Bali though, was my first time quad-biking on a dirt track (Dec 2008). We unfortunately went to a place that wasn’t managed very well. The equipment was old, the helmets yucky and in hindsight, the terrain quite wild and more dangerous. The trail ran round a mountain with a bamboo plantations (or was it sugarcane? oh… never mind!) to our left, and a drop down to the bottom through a rough thicket of trees and rocks to our right. (So my game plan was to never turn right! ;P )
There were 12 of us, and 6 bikes in all. It’s funny how these things turn out, cos I was supposed to buddy up with Sharath (he would drive) and Anu was to go with someone else. At the last minute, Anu asked if I would switch with her. I agreed as that vehicle was not a stick shift, so I could drive it easily(which meant I could drive! Yay!).
We started out and Sharath and Anu were just ahead of us, when about 15 mins into the ride, we had our first incident. I saw it happening in front of me, as if in slow-motion.
They lost control of the quad and crashed into the plantation. Anu fell back from the impact and was thrown out of the bike while Sharath fell with it. Sharath got badly bruised and was bleeding, though the wounds were not deep; while Anu, though fine, was in shock and would not stop crying! That’s when I learned another thing about my vehicle… the hand-brakes didn’t work (and we were at an incline)! So I had to stay put with my feet firmly on the brakes while they helped Anu up and sat her beside me. She continued crying while we looked at each other helplessly, not sure what to do. The guides finally came round with another vehicle, Nitin (Anu’s hubby who was in another quad) came to pacify her (she only cried louder at the sight of him though!) and they got us different quads for the remainder of our journey.
This time round, I sat with Sharath. And again, 5 mins into the ride, this quad too had a problem with the brakes, and the next thing I knew, we were stuck at an angle, three wheels holding on to uneven ground while the fourth dangled in mid-air over the edge! I didn’t quite realize the gravity (pun unintended) of the situation and was jokingly complaining about his driving skills until I heard the urgency in Sharath’s voice asking me to get out quickly. We climbed out of the vehicle and when I realized what a precarious position the bike was in, I quickly tried to get my camera out to take pictures (what?! I’m a journalist at heart!) while the men pushed the quad back on to the trail.
We got back without further incident, but it was quite a harrowing experience, one that none of us would forget anytime soon!
I still wonder sometimes how it would have been if Anu hadn’t asked to switch bikes with me. What if I was the one thrown off the quad? How would I have reacted?
You can never tell unless you’re actually in that situation I suppose. And thankfully, I never had to find out cos ever since, we did more research before we undertook such activities. I’m clumsy enough as it is without having to ride off cliffs on faulty quad bikes!