One of the benefits of sitting down in the morning to type these blog posts is the opportunity to reflect on the day before and to begin to process some of the things that I have learned from it. In Bali, many things have numerous layers of meaning. I am discovering more about that from the Balinese context each day, and am also discovering more about that within myself. I am also running out of superlatives that can accurately convey the beauty of the country and my enjoyment of what I am experiencing here.
The day began with yet another delicious breakfast. The restaurant makes an excellent omelette, and a really good double espresso! Our group was divided yesterday, with half doing a batik indigo dyeing workshop (I’ll be doing that today), some taking the opportunity to rest and relax at the resort, and three of us taking the opportunity to go on a bicycle ride. We booked a tour with Green Bike Cycling Tours. We were collected from our resort and drove up toward Kintamani. Along the way we stopped to gaze at the rice terraces at Tegallalang. What IS it about rice terraces that makes them so compelling? Maybe it’s a combination of the intense greenery, the water, and the undulating shapes and one level is stacked above the other. They are so beautiful.
Our next stop was at Laksmi Bali, a coffee plantation. Our guide took us slowly down a pathway among a wide variety of plants that are grown and harvested across Bali. She explained the processes involved in harvesting a number of the plants, and focused on coffee. We were shown two varieties of coffee plant, and were introduced to the animal that assists in the processing of the beans used to make Luwak Coffee. At that plantation there are a couple of civets kept in cages to show tourists the animal used in the coffee production, but that particular producer uses beans sold to them by simple farmers that collect the bean-laded faeces dropped by wild civets on the jungle floor. The civets eat the coffee fruits, then the seeds/coffee beans in the centre of the fruit pass through the civet and are dropped in their faeces. These are collected, washed and dried, the outer seeds are removed, they are washed and dried again, then are processed into coffee. It takes about 40 days of processing the beans used for Luwak coffee; normal beans harvested from the trees take around 20 days. The beans were then dry roasted, then pummelled in a large mortar and pestle into powder. At this particular plantation it looked very labour intensive!
We had the opportunity to taste a number of teas and coffees produced by the plantation. And yes, two of us did try the Luwak coffee – as one of our guides called it, a “cat-poo-cino”! It was a lovely strong coffee that had been drip filtered, but wasn’t distinctive enough to make me buy the most expensive coffee in the world.
Our next stop was for late breakfast at Kintamani overlooking the active volcano of Mount Batur, Mount Agung and the caldera lake. Basalt from the lava flows is actively mined in the area to provide rock. The lake is fished, and the area mostly relies on agriculture for income, but as with many places in Bali, tourism is becoming more important.
Then it was time for our bikes! Green Bike Cycling provided mountain bikes with great suspension, double handle breaks and gears and bike helmets, as well as our brilliant guide Dewa at the front and Agus at the rear of our five-person group. The van that had driven us up to Kintamani acted as a support van, meeting us at different points on our ride with cool water and anything else that we needed. Then we were off! We started on very quiet back roads and rolled gently along, with the air rushing past us. It wasn’t long before we stopped to visit a simple family home.
This house was an interesting contrast to the one that we had visited on our ridge top walk a few days earlier. The basic layout was the same, but the compound was much, much less elaborate. Our tour group visits provide the family with much needed income. Dewa spent considerable time explaining the layout of the house, and took us into the building that was the grandparent’s home. It was a simple one room building with woven walls, a stretcher bed in one corner, cooking stove in the centre, and shelves in other corners. A basket of rice hung from the ceiling, and wood to stoke the cooking stove was on a shelf above it. The ceiling was completely blackened from the smoke produced by the stove. Rather incongruously, there was an ipad charging on the bed! Dewa explained that the grandparents were paying for their grandson’s education, and the ipad was part of that.
We also had the opportunity to prepare some offerings to contribute to the number that the family needed for the next day. The grandmother was busy weaving small baskets to be sold at the local market – apparently she had a large order for a couple of hundred. Her fingers worked incredibly quickly and deftly. The family had a number of roosters in bamboo cages that were apparently part of a side business of providing roosters for ceremonial cock-fighting (which often devolves to non-ceremonial “sport” cock-fighting for gambling purposes, which is apparently illegal but very common). Dewa answered all of our questions in detail, and provided us with real insight into life in Bali. He spoke of his own experiences growing up, where they didn’t have electricity until the 1980s, and how the traditional Balinese life is incorporating Western technologies. He explained in beautiful and touching detail major ceremonies throughout Balinese life. In the background four young children skillfully played jacks with small stones. I felt extremely privileged to have been allowed to glimpse a small part of the family’s life. It is a difficult balance. I don’t want to be intrusive and disrespectful, but do want to know how other people experience daily life. Dewa and his tour company balanced this extremely well with out visit to this family.
Once back on our bikes we travelled along roads and pathways through villages, rice fields, and jungle. I was challenged at first by how hard I found it to keep my balance well and keep the bike going where I wanted it to go on narrow raised concrete paths that had a steep drop down to rice paddies on either side. When I was on a dirt path that was just as narrow but with a wider and grassier verge on either side I was fine, but the concrete ones with the drop made me terribly nervous and as a result terribly wobbly. It was a bit of a wake up call, and as with many things in Bali, on different levels! First there was the straightforward issue of physical balance. I’m in my late forties now; I’m not the child who used to ride around dirt bike paths near the river at my parent’s home! And yes, my balance has deteriorated. It also highlighted issues of mind over matter. It wasn’t the width of the path that was affecting me as much as the potential of what was on either side. I am seriously considering how I might be able to integrate yoga into my life to improve my flexibility and my balance – on both physical and mental/spiritual levels. By the way, I didn’t fall off or hurt myself. Everything was fine!
We actually rode 25 kilometres over approximately three and a half hours, but I reckon that we only pedalled for about 1 kilometre in total. The tour took us right through the geographical centre of Bali. I am writing this the next morning and although I’m a little saddle sore, my other muscles are basically fine. It was mostly a coast downhill, and well worth it to pass people going around their daily business. Stone carvers hard at work painting concrete moulds with machine oil before pouring in the concrete to make buildings for temples. Women walking past in their sarongs and kebayas (or simple t-shirts) carrying large items on their heads. Harvested rice laid out on sheets of plastic in the sun to dry. Dogs lounging around and cats sitting up high. Children in their school uniforms. And the sounds! Motorbikes in the distance, a variety of birds, music coming from temples and from dance schools, people talking, the sound of the timber wind driven bird scarers in the rice fields going clack clack (apparently they are entirely ineffective), and the sounds of children playing and laughing. Then there are the smells. As we rode along the smells changes constantly. We’d get a whiff of compost, of smoke, the scent of a flower, of incense. One minute the sun would be strong on our skin and the next we would be feeling cool in the shade of the jungle as the breeze ran past us while we free-wheeled. Such a sensory experience.
I really felt that I had seen the way that many of the Balinese live their lives on an day to day basis, away from the areas of high tourist concentration like central Ubud. The Bali of many years ago is definitely still there. The day was a special one for me on many levels. I highly recommend to anyone coming to Ubud to schedule a tour with Green Bike Cycling. Our ride ended with lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking yet more rice paddies. It’s a good thing that I never seem to get sick of them!
We were back at our resort at 4pm, which gave me time for a dip in the pool before cocktails then dinner. Meeting at the end of the day to discuss our experiences is always wonderful. The group is learning from one another as much as we are learning from Bali.