Exploring Bali with the Chevrolet Trax

Making Trax In Paradise

“Keep an eye on those motorcycles, Vince.”

That’s what I kept muttering to myself all throughout my day behind the wheel of this Chevrolet Trax. It sounds easy to just focus on the drive and avoid grazing, clipping, or even hitting any one of the 6 million motorcycles sold in Indonesia, but in Bali, it’s easier said than done.

But why Bali?

Yes, this island is a tropical paradise, but it’s so much more than that.There’s a real chill vibe around the island, with foreigners just walking and shopping around. There are great beaches for everyone, whether you’re into sunning, swimming, or surfing. There’s the amazing cuisine that’s really a melting pot of all kinds of Asian flavors, thought you may want to request that they tone down the chili if you’re not a fan, otherwise you’ll need one. Or two.

Perhaps it’s because of that Nasi Goreng (with an extra serving of Sriracha) I had for breakfast that I have personally (and unilaterally) set the climate control on the Trax to max. The humidity outside isn’t helping either because, of all days to be out driving on a tropical island, we lucked out on the one day the heavens chose to throw down bucketloads.

The Trax, strictly speaking, isn’t what we consider to be an all-new or new generation vehicle; technically, this is a facelift of a model that made its debut about four years ago. But like the wonders that modern cosmetic surgery can achieve, so too are the wonders that a new design direction can bring about.

Chevrolet didn’t just massage the look, they altered it almost completely. The designers performed a rather incredible nip and tuck to align the Trax with the brand’s new styling paradigm, hence the completely reshaped fascia with the new split grill, the more modern headlamps, and the revised rear end. Chevrolet has a brand-new groove in the looks department, and it’s led by a designer named Michael Simcoe; he was the one that penned the equally striking redesign of the Colorado pick-up and the Trailblazer.

Bali has quite a few dual carriageways, surprising for an island, but necessary given the island’s status as one of the Asia’s (and the world’s) best tourist destinations. In fact, 80% of their economy depends on tourists from all around the world, as evidenced by the long, long lines at immigration at their regional international airport that can easily rival our own.

Their highways are a good place to stretch the Trax’s legs a bit. The crossover is a front-wheeler, and that’s expected. Under the hood is where the surprise comes in: it’s a 1.4-liter turbocharged motor, and its 140 horsepower and 148 foot pounds of torque are more than plenty for motivation. No, it’s not a manual, but it’s all good; a six-speed auto is perfect for this kind of driving, not to mention the fact that it takes a while to get used to driving on the right side of the car.

The further we drove, the more we got to see what it is that makes Bali special. There’s the unique culture of the island, one that stems from the synergy between the people and their religious beliefs. Unlike the adjacent island of Lombok which has a Muslim majority, this island adheres to Hinduism. The bright colors, the elaborate temples, and many other elements speak of the strong influences of Balinese Hinduism.

Though, while there are many out there who have a penchant for absorbing the culture, I was generally more inclined to the uniqueness of Balinese carpentry. Amidst all the shops, restaurants, and many car and motorcycle dealerships were smaller places that catered to DIY and carpentry enthusiasts (i.e. myself). Of particular interest were the Balinese doors for their uniquely ornate and long-lasting nature. The enthusiast in me wanted to stop, but it wouldn’t have been sporting if I radioed the others so we can take a break and smell the roses. Or the fresh woodwork.

On we went, though soon, we get off the motorway and make our way onto roads more common in Bali. It’s two-way, but you’d have to pull over to fringes of the tarmac if you encounter oncoming four-wheeled traffic; the main reason why two-wheeled transport is extremely popular here. For the Trax, however, it’s perfect.

We drive past town after town, barely having any time to take in the sights, though one thing was clear: the Balinese were preparing for something. All along the way, locals were hanging up decorations on the lamp posts much in the same way that Filipinos would set up streamers and banners during fiestas. Apparently, we arrived just in time for their second-most holiest festival: Galungan Kuningan.

The significance of Galungan is the battle between good and evil, and is celebrated twice a calendar year, as Balinese Hinduism uses the much shorter Gregorian calendar. As explained by a local guide, the festival commemorates the legend of the battle between the evil Balinese king Mayadenawa and the Hindu god Indra. The god of thunder, rain, and lightning prevailed, and Galungan commemorates that victory.

The drive takes us up to Mount Batur, and the way there means there’s a good mix of long uphill straights and twisty corners of the blind kind. Thankfully, the Trax has good power and torque to play with and comes matched with a chassis and tires that have the characteristics for good handling.  There’s great visibility from the rather large greenhouse while, more importantly, the dimensions of the car -err, crossover- are ideal for this kind of driving and these roads.

Halfway up, we took a breather and parked our Traxes at the base of a temple. The place was called Pura Kehen, and it’s on the southern slope of Batur. What’s different about this temple is that you have to walk up 38 steps to get to the main courtyard, but in Balinese tradition, you have to wear a sarong around your waist as a sign of respect. It’s all good, but given that I’m not really used to walking around with one, I did trip on the stairs. Twice.

The climb was, of course, worth it. Once up on the main courtyard, you’ll see massive banyan trees protecting small structures that the Balinese call mehru; little huts built for the gods to rest on their way up to the temple that dates back a millenium. It’s incredible how they preserved such a facility as original as possible after a thousand years.

We hopped back onto our Trax, and the group promptly made their way further up Mount Batur. Here, we got to explore the capabilities of the Trax; nimble and agile, and with turbo power for overtaking convenience. There was a +/- shift switch on the stick, but we didn’t use it; paddles or a proper shift gate would have been better. Still, it’s an exhilarating drive, and the heavy rain and slippery road proved to not be a problem for the little crossover, carving its way up the mountain, past rice terraces not unlike our own, and under a canopy of banyan trees.

Our destination was Lakeview, a resort that overlooks a caldera way up in the mountain. It’s 20 degrees outside with rain and fog, and looks like I was the only one who packed a light jacket given that temperatures down by the sea were around 35-37 degrees, with what felt like maximum humidity. From the balcony, well, the caldera/lake was nowhere to be seen, nor were the other peaks that make up this volcanic range. Such was our luck, but what a drive it was.

The Trax is proof that Chevrolet has the capability to make such an enjoyable vehicle; one fit for emerging cities or even tight, ultra-congensted ones like ours. Practical, maneuverable, and equipped with everything you really need and more. And that includes Apple CarPlay.

Down from the mountain in the middle of this tropical paradise, I can’t help but imagine the Trax loaded up with things like mountain bikes on a rack at the back, diving gear in the boot, and surfboards lashed onto the roofrails for many a weekend adventure. That’s what the Trax is made for, and I have no doubt that it can perform.

For me, however, I’d rather have a Balinese door up there, but that might be tricky to check-in at the airport for our flight home.

mm
Executive Editor