Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bali Eco Cycle Tour:

In Bali, we signed up for a bicycle day tour that sounded like it was right up our alley: breakfast at a volcano, cycling, touring spice and fruit plantations, seeing coffee made, riding through rice fields, and seeing life inside one of the family compounds.  Several companies offered similar tours, but the original, and best reviewed was Bali Budaya’s Eco Cycling tour.  We had a great time with them!
After a brief bus ride, our first stop was breakfast overlooking the caldera of a massive volcano.  Mt. Batur is an active, but smaller remnant of the older volcano system here; it last erupted in 1968.  The darker area in the picture above is not in shadow—it’s the lava flow from that eruption.  The view was beautiful, and the breakfast buffet was also nice.
After breakfast and a brief stop to photograph some rice fields, we headed to a local plantation to learn more about the various crops that are grown in Bali, and to be introduced to one of it’s most special workers: the civet cat.
The civet cat is the animal that eats (among other things) coffee beans, which it does not digest. Once it’s pooped out the coffee beans, they’re washed and roasted for something called Kopi Luwak. It’s considered to be the most expensive coffee in the world, largely because the amount of it produced is very minimal, as the cats don’t just eat coffee, and they are general captured from the wild and used for a while to “produce” the coffee, and then they’re returned to the wild after a little while, because being caged is stressful to the animal and theoretically the coffee that’s produced is not as good.
We tried a sampler of various varieties of teas and coffees at the plantation, included in the price of our tour.  We also tried the kopi luwak, but it didn’t taste like anything worth the $6 we paid to try it.  It didn’t taste bad, it just wasn’t particularly noteworthy in any way. We did, however, enjoy the coconut coffee (flavored with coconut cream), the pandan tea, and the lemon tea.  The other samples were ginseng coffee, ginger tea, and arabica and robusto coffee samples. Robusto tasted like truck stop coffee (it’s stronger, but has less rich flavor) and arabica tasted like good coffee (rich flavor, and milder).   The ginseng coffee was pretty bad.  Only the truck stop robusto could wipe the flavor of it out of your mouth.  It was really fun sampling them!
We also made a new friend in this guy. He was just hanging out in his web (actually could be a she, we didn’t ask). He was perfectly harmless, and they call it a garden spider, and he had a good crawl on my hand before we put him back in his web.
Finally, we got to the bicycling portion of the tour.  We picked out bikes that fit us (and David ran a quick safety check on brakes, quick releases, etc.), helmets that sort of fit us, and headed out on the road.  They advertise it as being downhill, and it most certainly was.  Lana’s not a big fan of going fast on bikes, and the downhill was reasonably steep.  We were soon bringing up the rear.  Fortunately, the bikes had disk brakes, so David wasn’t worrying about heating up the rims and the excitement that follows, but we’ll definitely be looking for bike tours that are flat or uphill in the future.  That may sound odd, but if you’re not absolutely comfortable on a bike, you have a lot more control when your speed is based on your pedaling instead of your braking.  It’s like the difference between falling up stairs and falling down stairs.  Here's a little video David shot while we were cycling. Show off.

Our first stop was at a family compound, where our guide described and showed us some of the aspects of family life behind the decorated walls.  Traditionally, several generations of a family share the same compound.  The youngest son in a generation is given the most responsibility for caring for his parents, and he is also the one who will inherit the compound and the farming land.  Each compound has a temple which the family uses for their own ceremonies (pictured above).
The family in this compound was working on bamboo weaving, to be sold in the market for supplementing their income.  The husband is preparing thin shavings from sections of bamboo, while his wife is doing the weaving.  Their daughter did not seem to be in the mood for receiving guests, and who can blame her?
Some villages have a holy tree, a banyan.  This one was about 500 years old; Lana took the picture from inside the dangling roots.  The villagers trim the root vines weekly, to make sure they don’t reach the ground and root, as the main trunk, or what they call the Mother Tree, will begin to die when that happens.
We also stopped in some of the rice fields, and discussed the harvest cycle. Typically due to really good irrigation systems in Bali they have three harvests a year, so rice is in some portion of it's life cycle all year long. Our guide told us that the water for the rice fields comes from the lake where we had breakfast, and that the farmer who lives at the bottom of the irrigation channel is the one who controls the irrigation flow, since it is vital to him that the water reaches his crops. Seems like a fair system, all in all.  We were told the rice pictured below was just about ready for harvest.
We rode through several small villages.  One was in the process of cleaning up some of its parade statues.  These are carted/carried around at new year, and other festivities.

We also chanced upon a ceremonial procession for one of the temples in a village.  The women were carrying offerings, and the men were carrying and playing a version of the gamelan.
Our last stop, before lunch, was at a wood carver’s shop.  All of the doors in Bali are beautiful; intricately carved, painted and gilded.  Here, we got to see the intermediate steps.  There wasn’t a power tool in the entire place.  There were hand saws, chisels of every shape, and a number of different mallets.
After our last stop, we were given two options: ride in the air conditioned van to our lunch spot, and chill, or ride our bikes uphill to the same spot.  We definitely took the path less traveled—only one of the other people in our group joined us, and he was traveling with his own helmet and shoes, if that tells you anything about him.  Our guide glossed over how technical the uphill was, even though Lana pressed him on the topic.  There was, in fact, some pretty decent technical mountain biking, by David’s estimation, but Lana made it just fine.  She has excellent balance, and when she’s going at a speed she’s chosen, she’s much happier about the ride.
Just watch out for ducks crossing the road!
When we reached the lunch spot, our guide had a final surprise for us: frozen, wet wash clothes in a cooler.  Every hot bike ride should end with those! It was heaven. Followed up by an Indonesia buffet lunch and a big Bintang beer for Lana as a reward for making it down, and up!