Ubud, Bali proved to be as magical as we had heard. Our days were spent strolling the back streets in awe of the local culture, eating amazing local cuisine, visiting temples and cultural events such as the Fire Show, and simply sitting on the patio of our gorgeously carved cabana and wondering how we ever got so lucky as to be spending time in this enchanting town.
However, one of my very favorite days was the day we left town and headed high into the hills to base of Mount Batur for a biking tour. As we started our day enjoying a delicious breakfast overlooking this active volcano I took in the scene around me. We had been on the road for almost four months by the time we arrived on Bali and were in need of a break from the traveling. We were road weary, a bit homesick with Thanksgiving approaching, and simply tired of moving every few days. A stop in Ubud was proving to be just what we needed to soothe our weary souls and, while very much on the well-worn backpackers trail through Indonesia and SE Asia, the culture is so intriguing that it is easy to get lost in the feeling of simply wandering.
We all mounted our bikes after breakfast and I felt some nervousness and some trepidation. I had learned to ride a bike as a child, like most people, however while growing up on a farm in small town Minnesota we spent our time riding horses and driving ATV’s and tractors…who needed a bike!
The tour was extremely well organized. From our pick up in Ubud all the way through to the spectacular lunch as our finale, the day was fantastic. The route from Mount Batur back towards town wound it’s way through many small villages with stops along the way to learn a bit more about the Balinese cultures, see some artisans at work, and visit several temples. It was an unforgettable experience that has remained with us.
Luckily for me, the biking was easy, downhill or flat for nearly all of the 26km. We glided past rice paddy fields, that iconic image so many associate with inner Bali, and through bamboo forests. Women carrying baskets on their heads shared the road with us and children raced our bikes and yelled greetings while the sun shone high above.
A coffee and tea plantation was a natural mid-way stop in our day with an opportunity to taste several varieties of each and learn more about many of the herbs and spices used for both culinary and healing purposes.
The stop at a family communal living home was truly enlightening. Unlike many cultures around the world, in the Balinese culture it is the youngest son who is responsible for remaining at home to take over the family home and care of the aging parents. Family members all reside in a walled compound (uma) inhabited by a group of brothers and their respective families. Within it, grouped around a central courtyard, are separate buildings for cooking, storing rice, keeping pigs, and sleeping.
Each compound has a shrine (sanggah) and a thatched pavilion (bale) used for meetings and ceremonies. While Jim & I were secretly thinking this must be an incredibly challenging living situation, our guide admitted his wife and mother could barely stand each other and things were tense in the compound, this was his life and he didn’t feel he had any other choices but to follow tradition. A favorite part of travel for me is to learn more about both the challenges and benefits others around the world experience and be more appreciative of the choices we’re allowed in our own life.
Toward the end of the day of biking I was pretty proud of myself for navigating the streets of rural Bali and only one challenge remained; crossing a narrow bridge followed by a short but steep downhill to meet our waiting van to head back into town. Heart racing I started across, hoping to not embarrass myself by falling in the river. Imagine my surprise when I got to the bottom and turned to find Jim tumbling down the hill, the front tire of his bike crumpled beneath him and he landed in a patch of grass.
After laughs all around we headed to an exquisite lunch in a pavilion set in a rice field before arriving back at our guest house. We had seen a side of Bali we hadn’t yet experienced, meeting delightful people and seeing gorgeous scenery along the way. An hour massage and dip in the pool and our day was complete and we slept like babies. It doesn’t get much better.