(Traveling with Ciel was so much fun that blogging took a back seat. I found myself starting stories and never getting around to finishing. Now that I’m on my own I’m going back to Bali in my mind to finish some of these stories…”Bali Backtracking”)
We’d imagined renting bikes when we got to Ubud and riding around on the long empty streets surrounded by rice paddies – just like we’d seen Julia Roberts do in Eat Pray Love. That rosy vision was abolished when we actually arrived in town and witnessed the narrow streets packed with motorbikes, taxis and trucks. In Bali they have not yet incorporated bike lanes – or even shoulders alongside the road. It seemed that biking through Bali was not to be.
But then we saw the multitude the tourist stalls advertising bike tours. An assortment of tours were offered – all a little more expensive than we’d like, but a chance to get on a bike outside of town. On our first walk down Monkey Forest Road, we stopped in a little shop for postcards and chatted with the woman who told us about the “Eco-Cycling Tour.” We’d be picked up at our hotel and driven up to Ganung Batur, the scenic volcano where we’d all get on bikes and take a long meandering downhill cycle back to town. She reassured us that the route really did look like the pictures: quiet lanes with little traffic.
Now that sounded more like what we’d had in mind. She presented us with coupons for the “children’s price,” and we promised to return when we’d picked a day.
Several mornings later (Ubud has a way of pulling you in and the days float by before you’ve realized how much time has passed) we stood on a street corner waiting for our pickup. We’d offered to wait on the corner because we knew how hard it was for vans to navigate down the narrow alley where we’d rented a room at Rumah Roda. Bad idea. We turned away countless offers for taxis, tours and transport, as we stood on the corner for more than a half hour. Finally a mini-van pulled up and a smiling young man beckoned us in.
“You are Sarah? My name’s Joe,” he said with a lilting accent that reminded me of Australia. I shook his hand and climbed into the front seat next to him while Ciel found the last seat in the back. Joe looked Balinese but his accent was so perfectly British/Australian, I had to ask if he was from here. “Oh yes,” he assured me. “I practice and study my English every day. I learn from the boss, he’s Australian.”
Our tour included stops to view rice terraces, a visit to a coffee plantation, a Balinese family compound, a giant sacred Banyan tree and some other attractions. It was to end with a sumptuous buffet lunch.
Our first stop was the famous rice terraces, which we’d already viewed on a driving tour guided by the son of our homestay host, Abut. Apparently this particular spot is a popular tourist destination – hawkers and vendors pour out from cracks in the hillsides to surround us and entreat us to buy. The first time I was talked into paying way too much for a sarong I’d admired by a friendly gentlemen who wormed his way into our affections by offering to take our photos against the beautiful backdrop. I was then followed back into the car by a woman with a stack of them on her head, shrieking at me that hers were much cheaper, I should buy two.
This time, a cute little girl worked me with her book of postcards. At first I thought I could buy just one, but she wanted to sell the entire stack. “Please, please, good price good price, only 80,000,” she begged over and over, in a monotone. When I refused and began beating a retreat to the van, her parents appeared and seemed to be yelling at her for failing to sell the postcards. I guiltily shut the vehicle door.
We continued up the mountain to Gunar Batang where we stopped at a viewpoint restaurant for the promised big breakfast. After filling up on eggs, rice and pancakes and snapping a few pics of the volcano (which was miraculously not shrouded in mist) we climbed back in the van.
Our visit to the coffee plantation was up next. As we drove further up the mountain Joe told us the story of “Luwak Coffee.” It seems that the most delicious, gourmet coffee (sometimes selling for $30 a cup!) comes from beans that have been consumed by a local civet cat. The creature eats the beans, then excretes them and they are quickly collected, cleaned and processed. These beans are said to brew an exceptionally smooth tasting cup of joe, low in caffeine, but easy on the stomach and like velvet on the tongue.
“And you can have a chance to try this fabulous coffee for only 30,000 rupiah ($3.00)!” Joe exclaimed. Continue reading