Bali by bike

Easy rider in Ubud

Paradise - - In Paradise | Contents -

“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 airni­ug­

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).

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