Cycling through the countryside around Ubud in Bali
Back in May while we were in Ubud in Bali (here’s my blog post about Ubud), we went on a cycling tour of the countryside and it was one of my favourite things about our entire time in Bali. On our penultimate morning in Bali we rose early to be picked up for a cycling daytrip with Bali Eco Cycling. This was another recommendation from a friend and it’s a daytrip beginning with breakfast at a viewpoint overlooking the enormous crater of the Mount Batur volcano, which last erupted in 2000.
From there you cycle downhill (or rather, freewheel) all the way down 25km until lunch. En route you’ll pass through rural villages and stop off at intervals to learn about the local culture and meet local Balinese people. Learning about Bali this way was one of my favourite parts of our entire trip to Bali, and I only wish I’d had more time afterwards to learn more. But alas, this was our last full day in Bali.
So to start off with our excellent guide Win took our small group of cyclists to a coffee plantation, where he described the properties of various plants and a weird type of coffee that goes through the digestive system of a local raccoon… We tried about 20 different coffees & teas for free but unsurprisingly declined to pay extra to try the ‘luack’ raccoon-poo coffee. I’m neither a tea- nor coffee-drinker (very abnormal for a Brit, I know) but I did really like the pandanus tea and the coconut coffee.
Off on our bikes again until we took a cross-country route and stopped to explore some rice paddies, which are formed in terraces and reminded me of the endless rice paddies seen on my 2008 trip. I still find it difficult to fathom how gigantic a quantity of rice is grown and consumed every year. How one planet alone can continuously feed over 7 billion people is just mind-boggling, or is it just me that is stunned by that?
After that we cycled a little further to look round a typical Balinese family compound. Win explained how the family dynamics work in Bali, detailing the North-South-East-West ranking system and how new wives move into the compound. The cousins all grow up together in the same compound and treat everyone like their immediate family, so for example a single child will have multiple symbolic ‘fathers’ instead of uncles, meaning that all family relationships are much closer. The women have yet again drawn the short straw in this traditional society (as in pretty much every culture in the world!) as their role is to cook for the family and they are the ones who must leave their original family to move into their husband’s compound. No big surprise, but saddening all the same.
The compound looked neglected, dirty and unloved, and I wondered if a family actually lived there, as they didn’t seem to and we only saw one old woman on the property. We grilled Win on everything about a typical family’s daily life and he was more than happy to teach us. Re-saddling our bikes, we left the family compound feeling distinctly glad to not be living there… But it was fascinating to see inside one of the many family compounds we’d seen in Ubud.
Still freewheeling downhill with a lovely breeze in our hair to keep us cool, we stopped briefly to explore a hollow 500-year-old Banyan Tree with thousands of downward-growing roots trying to forming new trees, which is why it’s known as the tree of eternal life. We asked Win about the Hindu celebrations and traditions, and I learnt snippets that only made me thirsty for more.
Another few kilometres of downhill cruising, passing groups of small children waving and keen to high-five us on-the-go, and we reached a river, which is where we dismounted and were greeted by cold, refreshing towels and a minivan to take us the short journey to lunch. The tour cost us 420,000 Rp (equal to US $35) and was well worth it!