The bike is a grievously underrated mode of transportation. For four years during veterinary school, I used my trusty bike Samson (normal folk name their bikes, right?) as my primary means of getting about town. While biking everywhere limited my fashion choices (let’s be honest- rectally palpating cows doesn’t necessarily lend itself to super-cute miniskirts anyway), I looked forward to the twenty minutes I’d get to spend with the wind in my face, observing the daily goings-on of my little northern California college town.
Biking provides an enviable opportunity both to observe and engage. Plus, (and they did not teach this in vet school) dogs know something we don’t: there’s something devil-may-care euphoric about wind blowing your face. Especially when said wind is blowing through Bali.
Day #10,655: I wasn’t 100% sold on taking a bike tour of Bali, mostly because tours suck. But unfortunately, unless you spend more than a couple days in Bali, it’s difficult to navigate the backroads on your own; streets aren’t named, or they have multiple names, or they end abruptly in the middle of a rice paddy. Because getting lost in a rice paddy sounded fun but wrought with logistical problems, I decided on a bike tour. It ended up yielding one of my Most Favorite Days Ever in Life.
We started with breakfast overlooking Gunung Batur, an active volcano that created a huge crater when it blew a looong time ago… it’s since become a quite scenic lake.
Our guide Ring told us that the most recent eruption was only two weeks earlier, but the Indonesian government didn’t allow the story to be released to international press because it was the height of tourist season. (Mr. M & I had already gotten a taste of government censorship while in Kuala Lumpur and were not surprised.)
Breakfast was fine, but the whole buffet-on-the-edge-of-a-volcano felt a bit contrived. It was time to delve into the heart of the countryside.
Part of my reluctance to join the tour was erroneously thinking that the pace would be far too slow. But I’d barely picked out my Balinese Samson before our adventuresome, balls-out group of eight took off careening downhill on the narrow, corrugated dirt backroads. Fast. Crazy motorscooter drivers honked, potholes came fast and furious, unknown insects screeched in our ears… it was an assault on the senses and absolutely amazing.
All of us miraculously intact, our guide Ring offered to show us around a traditional Balinese home compound. Multiple generations live together in one family compound that always contains a Hindu temple. When the elders pass away, the family compound is passed down to the youngest son, who then becomes the new elder.
The kids came out to greet us, and we met the family matriarch- an 83-year old woman who was spry as ever and refused to retire from weaving. I liked her feisty spirit.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but that’s to be expected when you’re exploring.
Ring taught us about the complex Balinese coming-of-age rituals (which include filing down their canine teeth before getting married… ouch!) and elaborate cremations, which Balinese Hindus believe allows them to ascend to the heavens after death.
The villages gave way to rice paddies, which were gorgeous beyond words. Cycling through this world that was so unlike my own was one of those moments that reminded me why I’m desperately in love with traveling.
Ring talked the local rice harvesters into letting a few of us have a go at weeding the fields… and most declined for fear of “getting dirty!” All I could think was sucks to be you, and off went my Crocs, as the deep, goopy mud immediately swallowed up my bare feet.
After a few brief attempts at weeding (I gave up when I realized I was creating more work for the farmers rather than helping them), I realized I couldn’t balance well enough to get out. Of course, instead of offering me a hand like a gentleman, Mr. M snickered at me out of arm’s reach and filmed the whole thing, wherein he managed to catch one rice farmer guffawing at my ineptitude and clearly thinking “Girl can’t even walk in a rice paddy? Damn city folk” in Balinese.
Along our ride through the Balinese countryside, we passed Bali’s largest banyan tree…
…got mobbed by local schoolchildren who all wanted to practice their English and give us ‘high fives’….
… talked to two beautiful rice harvesters…
…and watched a villager take his cow to the river for a bath (at which point Ring was confused by all of us taking pictures and asked: “Don’t you wash your cows at home?”).
Somewhere along our ride, Ring found a terrifyingly huge- and admittedly beautiful- woodweaver spider. He assured us that the spider was quite gentle, and Mr. M asked to hold it. Like most other things in life, spiders terrify me. But damn if that little voice inside my head told me to man up and remember my ‘balls-out’ motto. Sometimes I really hate that voice.
Like getting a shot at the doctor’s, I looked the other way and felt eight tiny pencils walking up on my arm at once. And screamed. Loud enough to capture the attention of the local rice farmers who seemed quite confused as to why I would have a harmless spider placed on me, then shriek like death was upon me.
At the end of our journey, our guide Ring announced an optional 10km ride uphill. A van followed to collect those of us who wanted to sit it out. This was a very good thing cuz it was hot, humid, and steep, and people started dropping out one by one… even Ring called it quits. (Not gonna lie- Mr. M was first to throw in the towel. Brave, but not committed to The Win, that one.) I may be afraid of everything that roams the earth, but I’m also stubborn as Hell… and ended up restoring our family name by beating all but one up the hill. BOOya!
After we returned to Ubud later that night, Mr. M & I set out in the tropical mist to catch a performance of the famous kecak monkey dance at a nearby temple in Ubud.
I sat below flickering candlelight in the thick, dark night of a land so far and so different from my own… some days seem too stuffed to the seams with life to be real.
And that’s what travel is all about.
Details of the Day:
Bali Eco Cycling: As people that truly hate tours, Mr. M & I both agree this tour was the best travel decision we made in Bali. In case you didn’t get this already from my post, It. Was. AWESOME. We had eight people on our tour, so it never felt like too large of a group to manage. The pace was surprisingly fast (I really had to hustle, and I like to think I’m a Spin Class Supahstah). I will say that I think we got a particularly fantastic group- for better or worse, I’ve heard other groups with perhaps… less athletic… participants went at a *much* slower pace and probably would’ve had me antsy. Ask to be paired with a like-minded group when you book.