Bali by bike
Easy rider in Ubud
“Hole on the left,” yells our guide as we carefully cycle through narrow rice fields. A split second later I scream as I almost come-a-buster. Laughing off my near miss, I continue, wary of the distracting view.
I’m nearing the end of a 25-kilometre cycling tour through central Bali’s countryside, around three hours north of its capital, Denpasar. It started in Ubud with a driving tour to the cycling start point in the Kintamani District.
Along the way we notice rubbish littering the beautiful landscape. Its source is one of culture and westernisation. “Traditionally, we use banana leaves for plates and we throw it away when we’re done. Then plastic was introduced and we just throw it away too,” says our guide, Gita.
Another major element of Balinese culture is rice. “We eat rice at every meal and most families need to grow their own,” says Gita. And it’s a lot. A one-metre-square rice plot feeds a family of four for just one week. It takes four months from planting to harvest, so one family needs at least a 120-metresquare rice field.
Thirty minutes into our drive, we stop at possibly Bali’s most photographed rice paddy. The luscious green Tegallalang rice terraces are a visual treat and masterstroke of farming genius. Steep mountains make rice cultivation impossible, but by creating flat terraces into the mountainside, and with enough water, rice can thrive.
From rice to coffee, we pause at the I Love BAS coffee, cacao and spice plantation. Here, three main coffee varieties, Arabica, Robusta and Kopi Luwak, are produced. The latter is the world’s most expensive and unique coffee. Civet cats, housed in cramped conditions, are fed ripened coffee berries. Unable to digest the beans, the cats defecate them whole before the beans are roasted for brewing. Those unperturbed by the production process swear by its delicate taste, but I’m dissuaded from trying the unconventional brew. I do, however, enjoy sipping from a paddle of coffees grown, roasted, blended and
We weave through village streets and narrow lanes between rice paddies and fields. We pass villagers tending their crops and women masterfully walking with wares atop their heads.
brewed on site. There’s coffee infused with ginseng, vanilla and cacao, as well as teas with ginger, saffron and turmeric, pandanus and rosella.
Re-boarding, we next visit Lake Batur, Bali’s largest lake, at the foot of the active volcano Mount Batur. Standing at 1717 metres above sea level, the mountain is lined with hard and blackened lava trails have hardened to the mountainside; a reminder of the volcano’s last big eruption in 1963.
The scene is magnificent. Village homes dot the landscape; Mount Batur seemingly scrapes the sky, while clouds waltz on Lake Batur’s calm waters below. The peaceful scene is interrupted by the cries of townspeople hawking their wares. Among the offerings are artworks created from the hardened lava and sand of the mountainside.
We reach the cycling start point, and after bike and helmet adjustments and checks our ride begins. The wind brushes through my hair, and thick mandarin orchards and luminous orange fields of marigold flowers (planted to ward off insects) rush by.
Before long we reach a modest family property. It’s compound-like, replete with kitchen and bedroom buildings, animal pens and temple. The matriarch sits on the open landing of the ceremonial building, shelling broad beans for planting. Roosters crow in bamboo cages, at her feet readying for a sacrificial fight.
Before leaving, we create our own Balinese Hindu offering, known by the 95 per cent of Bali’s practising Hindus as canang sari.
Gita guides us through pinning banana leaves and bamboo with a fine stick before decorating with cheerful flowers representing gods and deities. The daily ritual shows gratitude and praise to their supreme god, Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.
Continuing downhill towards the village of Taro, famed for its holy white cows, we bump along dirt roads and tracks through the forest, and wind past the village’s industrial hub. Here, intricate concrete-cast temple adornments are stacked outside workshops for purchase. Hindu temples, some gilded, zoom by and local children dish-out high-fives before we have a quick break in the town centre.
Our final leg weaves through village streets and narrow lanes between rice paddies and fields. We pass bubbling irrigation channels transporting water to nearby rice fields, villagers tending their crops and women masterfully walking with wares atop their heads.
I’m disappointed when the ride ends, but we’re taken to a restaurant set amidst the rice fields for an Indonesian banquet of chicken satay, beef rendang and mie goreng, complete with banana leaves lining the bowls. It’s the perfect end to a perfect ride.
Air Niugini flies from Port Moresby to Bali weekly. See airniugini.com.pg.
Pedal power ... off the beaten track (opposite page); Balinese Hindu offerings (above left); a path through a paddy field (above); the Tegallalang rice terraces (left).