The brochure for the Bali Eco Cycling Tour enthused “we begin our tour by … breakfasting overlooking the smouldering volcano, Mt Batur and the crater lake …”. I imagined a small café with a terrace jutting out over a pristine lake high in the mountains watching the sun rise over the volcano … not quite right, as it happens. Our mini bus was one of several pulling up to a large barn of a restaurant perched on the hill, although it did indeed have a great view of the lake and volcano. Luckily, we were the first tour group to enter the restaurant so we got prime seats on the outdoor terrace – huzzah!
On the drive up to Kintamani, the location of Mt Batur, we had a quick photo stop at the Tegallalang rice field terrace. This terrace, like most of the others in Bali, was created around the 9th century and “engineered by the Balinese themselves using water coming from the mountains. The results are steep, garden like terraces designed on hillsides and mountain edges with irrigation channels that keep them wet all year round”.
The landscape was beautiful and we just had time for Ty to negotiate a batik sarong purchase from a street-side vendor as our bus was pulling away.
Mount Batur has two calderas, and we had our breakfast overlooking the black lava remnants of the last eruption in August 2011. Mount Batur, obviously, is still active, and this volcano itself sits in the hearth of another extremely huge volcano, the serrated edges of which can be seen running around the ridge of this entire area.
After breakfast, we stopped at a Balinese organic plantation, where we were shown the uses of many local plants and traditional herbal remedies, and the process of making coffee. Among the crops are cloves, garlic, chili, cocoa, vanilla, tapioca, taro, jack fruit, cinnamon, and persimmon.
This plantation specialises in civet cat (called Luwak here) coffee – “catpooccino” – in which the coffee beans are extracted from the animal’s poop, a delicacy which sells for $80 a cup in New York and is $6 here at the plantation (so, naturally, I had to have a cup – very smooth and strong!).
We also sampled 6 other kinds of coffee and tea on a terrace overlooking the gorge, including the delicious ginger coffee and lemon grass tea.
After that caffeine overdose, we hopped on our mountain bikes and zoomed off down the rural road to our next stop, a family compound in a local village.
This family compound houses 25 people, all the descendants of one old granny, a 90 year old we encountered still at her bamboo weaving. “If I don’t work, I will die”, she replied to a question about whether or not she was tired of weaving. She looked to be in incredible shape.
The compound has three kitchens, in which women prepare meals all day long with self-service for the family, the members of which eat alone; meals are time away for themselves.
We saw several young women weaving, using material from the family’s bamboo patch, two women and one man cooking, several animals, including pigs being fattened up, fighting cocks in bamboo cages, and the family temple. Apparently, cock fights are held every afternoon, with the attendant gambling.
With respect to the various life passages of the Balinese, when a baby is born it is considered unclean, and must be kept off the ground for several months, Similarly, the mother, also considered unclean, must not enter the temple or kitchen for three months. When a baby is born its placenta is buried in the family compound, one location for boys and another for girls; when a family member dies, the body must be returned to the same place to be reunited with said placenta, for burial.
Cremations are very expensive; if the family does not have enough money for one immediately after death, the body is buried first and not exhumed until the funds for a cremation are available. Sometimes, for poor villagers, mass cremations are arranged once every five years. With respect to puberty, if a boy gets a girl pregnant and doesn’t marry her, he receives 3 years in jail; if he tries to run away, he gets 10 years in jail (!). All the family’s material wealth goes to the youngest son, whose duty it is to look after the parents (the rationale here is that the youngest will live the longest and be available to help the longest). All the sons remain living in the family compound, while the daughters go off to their husband’s family’s village. Each eldest son is named Wayan (I had wondered why there were so many Wayans …). [Note: The cycling company pays the family to reimburse them for the hassle of all of us trooping through their home].
Our guide Ring told us that there are one million temples on Bali, not including family temples; in addition, each family compound has its own temple. The village temple is used for services on full and new moon, twice a month. The profusion of sculptures and architectural decoration is incredible, even in the smallest village.
Riding down the road once again we wove our way through throngs of village kids coming home from school and through typical village traffic: bikes, cars, trucks, motorbikes, dogs, chickens, chicks, pedestrians and school kids high-fiving.
Once through the village we made our way down a very thin windy down and uphill cement path, and then into and through the rice fields, where we stopped for a walk through the terraces.
A short while later we also watched villagers harvesting rice: 40% of the rice income goes to the workers, and 60% to the owner of field. Statues mark the boundaries between one family’s field and another’s.
Our final stop was an enormous five hundred year old Banyan tree, after which we rode along very bad pavement – rutted, pot holes – and forded a river to complete the twenty-five km downhill portion of the ride, before embarking on the optional ten km up-hill ride to the restaurant, described as for the “more athletic guests”.
For an hour, we’d heard thunder following us, and felt a few drops of rain, it being the beginning of the rainy season here, but as we jumped on the bikes for the uphill portion, it started pissing. By the time we reached the restaurant, all of us were absolutely soaked. But the cold beer and Indonesian feast waiting for us almost made up for it – smoked duck and chicken, chicken satay, tofu in peanut sauce, and gado-gado, a vegetarian dish, to complete a fantastic ride which is highly recommended.
ps: When we first arrived at the Merthayasa Bungalows, we met a Belgian family (living in France), Annick, Peter and their two small children, who are cycling around Bali. The two adults have a tandem cycle with a chariot to carry the little girl, and the boy rides his own bike. They intend to ride the entire way around the island – I salute their initiative! And hope that nothing happens to them.
See more pictures here.