3 nights in Ubud – Part 1
16 May 2010 | Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is my favourite place to stay in Bali and if I had my way I would spend weeks there. Unfortunately every trip to Bali revolves around surfing and of course this time it revolves around the Makani Kai so we would have to settle for just a few nights instead. We had managed to find a nice new villa about a 15 minute drive out of Ubud that could accommodate 3 couples at short notice. The villa itself was beautiful and had only recently been completed, with manicured grounds, sun lounges and a gorgeous pool to offer respite from the heat that was noticeable despite being in the mountains. As the villa next door to us was vacant we had an army of staff at our disposal, I could certainly get used to this! What we had trouble getting used to though were the differences between us and the local people working just beyond our fence. The rice paddy views that were boasted about on the website were not the lush, green ones that had been pictured. They were paddy's that were being worked by the local people and they were busy with the harvest. The contrast between their living conditions and ours were vast, we, lying around on our sun lounges and they, doing back breaking work all day before retiring to their makeshift tents put together from tarps and any other materials they could find.
A driver was included in our stay and so it wasn't long before we decided to head into Central Ubud. Ubud has changed a lot over the years and is now very cosmopolitan, full of funky little bars and world class restaurants and shopping. Some things remain the same though like the multi level marketplace at the top of Monkey Forest Road which has all the sights and smells you would expect of an Indonesian marketplace and is so jam packed with rubbish that it can make you feel claustrophobic to walk through it! A beautiful dinner at 3 Monkeys Restaurant finished off our first afternoon in Ubud, back to the villa to chill and get a good night's sleep before our next day's adventure, a bike tour through the villages of Ubud!
It's amazing to me that after nearly 20 years of coming to Bali we can still find things to do that we haven't done before, one of those was a bike tour. I got in touch with Baik Bike Tours, which is a wholly Balinese owned and run business, to organise a trip for the 6 of us. They picked us up at our villa first thing in the morning and we met the other participants in the van, a young couple from Singapore and a lone American woman who pretty much kept to herself. The van would take us to Kintamani from where we would begin our descent on the bikes, this was a great relief to both Mel and I as the least fit people in our group and the ones with the greatest aversions to any form of exercise! Our day did not begin and end with bike riding though, we stopped at a coffee plantation on the way to Kintamani where our guide walked us through the plantation and explained what the different plants surrounding us were. We soon found ourselves seated around a table looking down into a rainforest filled gorge, staff placed small glass mugs filled with samples of the different coffees we could buy in front of us. We also met our first Luwak! Well kinda, he was very sleepy and wasn't very obliging when it came to taking photos, preferring to curl up in a ball hiding his face and ignoring the curious tourists crowding around his cage. For those of you who don't know, the Luwak is the animal responsible for the famous and ridiculously expensive 'poo' coffee. The Luwak is a weasel-like animal that knows exactly the right time to eat the raw coffee beans, it digests the soft outer layer of the bean but not the inner bean which is excreted and is then collected for sale by the locals. The digestion adds a unique flavour to the beans and removes the bitter flavour. A cup of this brew can set you back about $50 and a kilo of the stuff has been known to cost around $1,000 and above! Nice work if you can get it but I'm not going to hurry out to taste the 'poo' coffee or Kopi Lewak regardless of the price!
Back in the van and on to Kintamani where a buffet breakfast awaited us. After the heat of Sanur the chill of being in the mountains set in, we hadn't exactly dressed for the cold but in shorts and singlet tops instead anticipating that the cycling would make us warm but 2 hours into the trip we had yet to see a bicycle let alone sit on one. The warmth of the tea, coffee and Indonesian favourite's nasi goreng, mie goreng and fried banana were welcomed as we took in the view from the restaurant of the regions active volcano Mount Batur and Lake Batur. The clouds wafted in and out, one minute we could see everything, the next everything was swathed in white. The restaurant was crowded, it seemed that all the bike tours, and there were many, came to this restaurant for breakfast. The car park was crowded with vans and local hawkers selling everything from sarongs and t-shirts to wooden carvings and postcards.
Back into the van and off to find these elusive bikes, we converged on an area along with another group to find our bikes ready and waiting. We each found the right fit and declining our helmets which were available but not compulsory we finally set off... downhill!! The weather was perfect, just the right amount of sunshine and breeze and the scenery, well, it was very scenic! We rode through villages and were greeted by children shouting out hello and holding out their hands for us to give them a high five, squealing in delight when a connection was made. We rode through rice paddies where workers paused in their back breaking labour to give us a big smile or wave a hello, happily posing for photos when asked. We witnessed every stage of rice farming, from preparing the field for planting, the planting of the rice, the beautiful green rice paddies that are the subject of many a visitors photos, fields ready for harvesting and of course, the harvesting. The photos taken really do not do justice to the beauty of the area that we travelled through.
All too soon the journey was over and we arrived at the Balinese family compound of our host, Wayan Sujana, where we would enjoy a traditional Balinese meal prepared by his family and served in the compound. A mixture of Balinese delights were on display and it was all delicious! After the meal Wayan took us on a tour of the compound, introducing us to his family and explaining the layout of a Balinese compound. Family is very important to the Balinese, there are no old people's homes to banish the old and infirm to, family takes care of family and they live together until death. Even after death the Balinese worship their ancestors as it is believed that they have the power to direct the forces of nature. They also have a belief in reincarnation, it is said that their ancestors are reincarnated back into their families, a newborn is often deified as the reincarnation of an ancestor. For this reason a baby is not permitted to set foot on the ground literally for the first 210 days of their life as it places them too close to the underworld. Sadly, it was time to say goodbye and head back to the villa where another beautiful spread of food would soon be awaiting us prepared by the villa staff, who as always would prepare enough food to feed a small army!
I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Bali that they do a tour with Baik Bike Tours, it was truly a memorable experience that will stay with us for years to come. The other thing I really liked about this organisation is that they sponsor an English program in the local schools and gladly take extra donations, 100% of which go towards books, supplies and the salary of a qualified English teacher. Their aim is to enhance the employment opportunities of their children. They walk the walk and talk the talk, giving back to and employing the local community. It's nice to see a local organisation benefiting only locals and not lining the pockets of a westerner. For more information go to www.balibike.com.