Lots of tour operators offer downhill bike rides of the countryside around Ubud. We booked one such tour early in our stay. We both liked it so much, we booked another at the end of our stay! (Robert was happily shocked that I was willing to go on not one but two bike rides in our week in Ubud.) Both tours were fantastic, although surprisingly different.
Both tours stopped at the ubiquitous coffee plantation before the biking began. It is pretty much impossible to avoid going to coffee plantations around here if you book a tour. It seems like every single tour stops at a plantation. And, all of the coffee plantations have civits in cages and want you to buy civit coffee. Urgh….! I wish they would all just get rid of the civits. Because, other than the fact that the civits are in cages, the plantations themselves are somewhat interesting (at least the first time — the third time, not so much).
We got to see the different types of coffee that grow in Bali, along with a variety of fruits, herbs, and spices (how many of you have seen a pineapple growing?). And, check out all the different flavors of coffee (not pooped out by civits) and tea that we got to try. The ginger tea was amazing. So was the mangosteen tea. And the pandanus tea was just like drinking caramel. So good (until we learned that the purpose of pandanus tea is to increase your appetite — something neither one of us needs!).
One of the tours also involved a stop to see Mount Batur and the largest lake in Bali. Mount Batur is an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted since 2000.
The last large eruption was in the 1960’s, and you can still see where the lava flowed. It was quite a pretty view, and shockingly cold up that high. If we had really been ambitious, we could have booked a sunrise tour to hike Mount Batur. Those tours leave Ubud at approximately 2 in the morning. I don’t think I need to say anything more about why we didn’t take a sunrise tour…
After the coffee stop, it was time to get on the bikes and — for the most part — coast downhill. Coasting downhill is definitely my kind of biking! I could coast downhill for hours and hours and hours. Thankfully, both sets of bikes had good brakes or we would have been in serious trouble.
The two tours took completely different routes, which was a pleasant surprise, but both used mainly small roads.
One of the two tours did involve a bit of riding in the jungle and the rice fields, which Robert loved. I felt lucky to get out of the rice field alive, as we had to keep skirting irrigation systems (basically big cement holes in the middle of the path). One more than one occasion I hoped off my bike and walked it around an obstacle rather than risk breaking an arm or leg. A better biker (ahem, someone like Robert), would have been just fine.
One of the tours stopped at a public school. Believe it or not, the kids were all cleaning the school when we arrived — they had just returned from a two week vacation and the place needed to be swept up. It was unlike any school in the U.S. First, the kids were cleaning with no need for teacher supervision. They weren’t doing the best job, and they certainly weren’t working efficiently, but they were cleaning on their own.
And, there is no cafeteria or the like for lunch. There was a “canteen” at the back of the school where the kids could buy snacks, but it was dirty and full of flies. That said, the kids were friendly and several wanted to practice their English with us.
Both tours involved a stop at the home of a local family. Both families were very, very poor. It was a bit shocking to see how they lived. For example, the “kitchen” is a separate building with an area to cook over a fire. That is it. No sink, no electricity, no stove or oven. The housewife cooks the daily meal over the fire, with no exhaust hole or anything for the smoke. So, everything in the room gets black. And, the elders often sleep in the kitchen — we were told that is because it is the warmest building. (We understand that wealthier families have electricity, but both guides indicated they don’t like the taste of rice cooked in an electric cooker — the fire adds flavor to the rice).
We were also told that the housewife would make a single meal for the day and then family members would just eat whenever they got hungry — all three meals would be exactly the same food. There is no dining room or the like, so people just eat where they want.
We also learned that, when children are born, the placenta is buried in front of one of the buildings and often covered with a rock to mark the spot.
And, we learned a bit more about the offerings. A “good housewife” can make 100 offerings in an hour and will likely go through 40-60 per day, depending on the size of the family. I can only imagine what all of these offerings cost.
We also heard a bit more about the tooth filing ceremony. One of our guides had not yet undergone the ceremony, as he was waiting for his younger siblings so they could all undergo the ceremony at the same time. Why, you might ask? Because it costs IDR 20-40 million (roughly $1400-2800) to hold the celebration. The 2018 monthly minimum wage here in Bali is about IDR 2 million (roughly $140), so this is a significant expense.
Finally, we learned it is next to impossible to buy a house in Bali. The houses are passed down from generation to generation. The houses cannot be sold because the family temple is believed to contain the spirits of the ancestors. Query what that means for any chance of upward mobility? I wonder how many sons go to the city to make their fortune and then return to the village?
Both rides also involved quite a bit of dodging of chickens and dogs and scooters and even rice. The dogs and chickens just run loose here, and the dogs seem to really like sleeping on the side of the road. And, rice is sometimes dried right in the middle of the road. Apparently, it is not considered rude to dry your rice in the road or to run right over the drying rice. (At least that is what our guide told us right before we all biked over a pile of drying rice….)
Both rides ended with a pretty good buffet lunch (and both included excellent peanut sauce, which is key around here).
If you are interested in doing a similar tour, we used Bali Bikes (http://www.balibike.com/) and Green Bike Tours (https://www.greenbiketour.com/). Both were excellent, but have their pros and cons. Green Bike involved more off road riding and was the longer ride. Bali Bike let us go a bit faster and had the better food by far (home cooked and served at the family compound instead of in a restaurant). The Bali Bike tour route includes two big hills, one of which everyone ended up walking up (Robert says he wouldn’t have needed to walk if people like me hadn’t stopped in front of him….), whereas Green Bike had no significant hills but more flat areas which involved only a minimal amount of pedaling.