One cannot truly experience a new land without seeing how the locals live. A land far from tourist areas where the pace is slower, the grass is greener and the country really shows you what it is has to offer.
Our fifth day was spent venturing away from the buzz of the beach area and into the archipelago wilderness towards the serene Ubud. The journey from Seminyak took us a good two hours. We had arranged the day before and booked with Bali Eco Cycling.
Our transfer arrived and our driver didn’t speak much English although we wouldn’t have been able to hear him over the loud snore of the engine getting gradually louder as the gears changed. We picked up four more people on the way and ventured from the tourist areas past the little villages and lush green landscapes to Ubud.
We stopped and picked up Weda, our guide for the day. He explained how he used to be a rice farmer and that he was now doing tours to improve his English; which was perfectly comprehensible. With a wide smile and a welcoming face he explained a short history of Bali and certain cultural aspects of Balinese life.
Listening intently we drove the tight road into a national park in the Kintamani area which is home to the active Batur Volcano and the calm Batur Lake. Our snoring van came to a halt at The Lookout Cafe where we were to have some breakfast. The view made me forget all about the void in my stomach and I was taken back by the sheer natural beauty of the area. The Batur Volcano last erupted in the sixties but the fertile land is a blessing and the lake below provides water to the rice paddies in the larger surrounding area.
Eventually after a light breakfast and when I could tear my eyes away from the majestic landscape, it was back into our noisy van to visit a coffee plantation. We were shown a variety of different plants by Weda and told about a type of coffee very unique to Indonsia and the little animal who helps produce it.
Kopi Luwak is the rarest type of coffee around and is produced after a small luwak or civet cat digests the beans allows them to pass through their system and then locals look for the droppings, clean them and roast them. Unfortunately these days the poor little luwaks are just kept in cages and exploited for the sake of a very expensive coffee. Coffee you cannot bring into Australia.
With our tea and coffee experience behind us it was time to start seeing the countryside without the constant grumble of the van. We were trading our four wheels for two and placing a helmet on our heads as we began a 25km ride.
It wasn’t long before we picked up a fair amount of speed as we were continuously travelling downhill and just as I was beginning to get used to the gears on the bike it was time to pull over onto a dirt track to our first stop.
Weda told us that we were going to visit a compound where several families lived and that some of the money from the tour was used to help the family. Walking in we were shown the kitchen. The small fire in the corner had coloured the walls black and the preparation bench was low to the ground. Traditionally in Balinese homes the women cook but Weda explained that it is not exclusively the women who cook and that for Balinese people meal time is something which is enjoyed alone and not in the company of others as Westerners are so used to doing.
Walking out of the kitchen someone caught my eye. There was a small old man who had been following me through the compound. With skin like a well-used leather bag and more wrinkles than a shirt in need of an iron this man muttered to himself. He sat himself on the side of the compound; always muttering to himself and seemingly pointing at nothing at all. Meanwhile around him was a hive of activity where the women were doing all the work weaving banana leaves into decorative shapes and bowls in preparation for the New Year festivities in a few days time.
I couldn’t tear my gaze from this old man. His empty eyes had caught mine full of wonder and I took a photograph of his face, he had a face full of stories and I had to capture it. Once I had I asked Weda about this intriguing man. He told me that he was the crazy man and that when his wife died so did his spirit.
We wandered through the compound and saw the ATM; which is the livestock. The livestock in the compound allow the families to make a small yet steady income. The old man was the only male I saw in the compound all of the other women has busied themselves and there was no barrier on age.
The oldest woman in the compound was 92 and she sat weaving while she gazed off into the distance. It made me wonder what they thought of us, tourists watching them. Encroaching on their daily routine with cameras and a sense of curiosity. This old woman; the grandmother of the compound had captivating eyes the colour of the ocean just after sunrise and age spots covered her face. When we said hello she smiled and gave us a nod all the while her hands never once stopping the intricate banana leaf weave.
It was a humbling experience to see the way that the majority of Balinese people in the rural areas live and how important trade and hard work is to them. Walking out of the compound I turned around one final time to see if I could spot the old man but he was gone.
Peddling down the hill we began seeing wide open spaces with eternal green rice fields, people were working in the fields and children ran to the road to wave frantically and shout ‘hello’ as us, the strangers, passing by in awe.
We stopped in the rice paddies and got to have a little walk through, balancing carefully, so as not to fall in the mud below, we walked on the paths between the paddies. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the global population and to see the work behind something we take so for granted was fascinating.
Weda handed us ponchos and said it was going to rain; without question we popped them on and continued our ride through the countryside. True to his word the heavens opened and a refreshing tropical rain fell. Within minutes we were all soaked but there was something magical about riding in the rain. All the tension and electricity held in the humidity before just dissipated and the cool drops were welcoming with both of us opening our arms and embracing the droplets rolling off of our faces. The path cleared of frantic children, the rice paddies were deserted and had an overwhelming feeling of solitude and happiness.
Our day cycling around the countryside was nearly complete but we needed to have a final lunch stop before the journey home. We drove up to a beautiful restaurant which overlooked yet another rice paddy field and the smell of peanut and chilli filled the air along with the damp ground below from the rain. We sat and indulged on a variety of different dishes all with an Indonesian or South East Asian influence. There was Nasi Goring, similar to fried rice, duck, chicken satay with a tofu dish and of course fresh steamed rice.
Paying only US$40 for our whole day with Bali Eco Cycling; we were amazed at everything that had been included and I really would highly recommend them if you plan on going to Bali.
We eventually said our goodbyes to Weda our wonderful guide and began on the winding road away from the dense forest and green fields back towards the brown sandy beaches of Seminyak on the outer edge of the island. I began reflecting on the morning and everything that we had done. It had been spectacular, not just this day but all the previous days in Bali too. It is beautiful to see how the people are so gentle, friendly and welcoming.
Our last days in Bali were spent embracing the culture, rituals and traditions of the island. We sat and watched the sun set over the ocean, we laughed and we experienced a place of true beauty which captivated me and left me wanting to stay.