Cycling through rice paddies

Today was a busy day!  We started with breakfast by the pool, then at 8am we were collected from the villa for our cycle through the rice paddies.  It turned out to be quite an action packed tour!  We drove up to near lake Batur, then cycled back down the hill through rice paddies, but they had a couple of stops planned for us along the way.

Looking out over the rice terrace at Tegalalang

First off we had a quick stop for photos by a massive rice terrace at Tegalalang. There wasn’t much on the side of the road, but the view of the terrace was beautiful with so many tiers cascading down the hill.  It was interesting to follow the water down the hill running through pipes and gutters between each section of the terrace. The irrigation systems are very impressive!

Not far from the rice terrace we stopped again at a coffee plantation.  Here we were taken through a small garden where we could see coffee plants and beans at different stages of growth, and a lady who was stirring coffee beans over hot coals. This was apparently their traditional method of roasting coffee beans, but now they roast them in a large factory somewhere. There was also a luwak locked in a cage. We were told that they rotate the wild luwak in and out of the cages, and they’re very happy animals which roam around the plantation eating coffee beans. Once the beans have been digested and come out the other end, they collect them and roast them to sell. Luwak coffee is promoted as a Balinese specialty, but we were sceptical of the process and treatment of the animals.

After our brief tour of the garden we came out the other side to a nice outlook over the forest. Here we were given a free tasting of different coffees. Some of the flavours included black coffee, coconut, sweet potato, hot chocolate and ginger tea.  The coffees were nice, and I was particularly keen on the sweet potato which also had a hint of mint (I bought a bag to bring home, and noticed they took note of our drivers name when I made the purchase – he was going to get a commission).  After trying the free samples, we decided to pay for a cup of luwak coffee just to give it a go. It was interesting to compare it with the other coffees because this one came out in a golden china cup and was a lot hotter and stronger. To be honest I don’t think there was much difference between the coffees, but to try and promote the more expensive luwak coffee they serve it fresh and in a nicer cup so that it seems to be better.  Buzzing from all the samples, we took a photo on the lookout, then made our way back to the van to continue our trip.

Looking out over the forest and coffee plantation

We continued along the highway, at times turning off to short-cut through small villages where people were carrying large baskets along the road and motorcycles were over loaded and well balanced.  This was a recurring theme throughout our trip, where the roads were obviously not designed for the tourist traffic they’re now attracting, particularly when we were faced with large tourist coaches.  This made travelling between places take longer than necessary, but was also a chance to see some of the back roads of the island.

Before cycling, our final stop was at a restaurant looking out towards Gunung Agung.  Here we had a second breakfast, and when we were offered a choice between tea or coffee we quickly chose tea. Breakfast was a yummy fried rice with egg, fried chicken and satay skewers.  The highlight, however, was definitely the view.

Spectacular view of Gunung Agung as we enjoy our second breakfast

Completely stuffed from two breakfasts and too much coffee, it wasn’t long before we were at the top and choosing our bikes. They weren’t in great condition, but the brakes worked well enough and that was the main thing seeing as we were going to be riding downhill most of the way. It took a little while to build our confidence rolling down the hills, but once we got going the breeze was cooling and the ride pleasant.  Initially we were cycling on the road with an occasional car or van passing, then we moved off the road and followed gravel and dirt paths through farmland.

Cows tied up in the middle of a paddock

We seemed to be moving pretty quickly, but in total I think we were cycling for around 2 hours.  We stopped briefly at a small family farm complex, and our guide explained the different buildings to us. In a complex like this the parents lived in one building, and when their children married they and their families would also live in the complex. There was a small family temple, a greenhouse and all sorts of animals including cats, dogs, cows, a pig which fed on the family’s food scraps, birds and roosters.  Some of these animals were kept for pleasure, such as the birds, and others, like the cows, served a purpose on the farm.

At the entrance of the complex was a mass of cobwebs in the sky and tens, if not hundreds, of spiders. Some of them were up to 10cm wide, and Ron was brave enough to have one crawl up his arm!  The locals didn’t seem at all bothered by the family of spiders hanging over their garden. After checking our bikes and helmets for spiders, we continued on down the gravel track.

We were riding between paddocks, where lots of different foods were being farmed. There were some fruit trees and also vegetables. Our guide said that corn is becoming an increasingly popular crop on the island, requiring less water to grow compared with rice.  At times the road was asphalt, others gravel, and then there were patchy pot holes and rocks.  But we took it easy and made our way through, enjoying the feeling of adventure.

Pot holes and gravel track between paddocks

About halfway through our ride, we came across the rice paddies.  We were initially excited by the individual paddies we saw, but then we had ridden in to the centre and everywhere we looked was green and rice. It was beautiful.

Looking out across the rice paddies

At first we were riding on a concrete path, but this soon gave way to gravel and eventually mud. The track wasn’t built for cyclists, but instead as a way for workers to get to the paddock they’re working in for the day. There were occasional motorbikes parked on the side, and out in the distance we would see a worker tending to the rice.  In some sections they were planting, in others the rice was much more developed. But everywhere we looked was a constant green. Our guide wandered off at one point and I think he might have gone to pee.

A worker in the rice paddy

The rice ran right up to the edge of the forest, and was bordered by houses and roads on the other.  At one point there was a rhythmic clunk of a windmill, pumping water as part of the complex irrigation system, and there were some parts where the drainage was running under the track and the concrete cover had actually given way. Once or twice we climbed off the bikes to walk around these, worried we might disappear into the mud and water.

A narrow mud track through the rice paddy – not ideal for cycling!

Unfortunately this part of our ride came to an end, and we were back in forest which then opened up to asphalt roads through a village. That was definitely the highlight of the day, and I think one of my favourite days on the trip. After the ride we were fed lunch at a local artist’s house. It was a huge serving, with a large basket of steamed rice and mixture of dishes on the side. There was no way we could finish it, but we did our best. I was worried it would be spicy, but there was no spice at all.

Generous lunch at a local artist’s house

After lunch the host told us about his painting school and showed us a series of paintings, hopeful we would make a purchase. They were similar to the paintings I had seen the day before in the market, but quite a bit more expensive. We admired the work, but declined and thanked him very much for lunch. After that we were back in the van and drove back to the villa.

We hung out at the villa for a little while, enjoy the scent of Ron’s incense burning by the pool, then made our way in to Ubud, deciding on a massage to ease our muscles after a day of cycling.  Ron had checked out some reviews and chosen on a place called Sang Spa 2 which looked nice but not too expensive. We went there around 5pm, but they were full so we made a booking for 7.30pm and went to explore Ubud further. We went back to the market we had visited the previous day, and I bought a painting having been inspired by our lunch time visit.  Then we went to a place called Seeds of Life for some food. Seeds of Life is a raw food cafe, and they had an interesting assortment of smoothies and healthy food. We shared some dip and had smoothies, and relaxed on the balcony watching the street below until it was time for our massage.

I was a bit unsure about the massage, not really knowing what to expect and finding I’m normally very ticklish. But, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the experience. We had a full body massage, followed by body scrub. The massage was nice, but when it came to the body scrub things became a little interesting. First the lady rubbed the scrub over my back and legs, and then said something I couldn’t quite understand.  I said, “Ok”, and then Ron said, “Yoghurt?”  The lady said yes, as she started to rub yoghurt over the scrub! This was quite a strange experience, and the smell was a bit unusual, yoghurt being something I wouldn’t normally only eat. When she was done she asked me to roll over, and it was a bit gross as the yoghurt went all over the massage table.

Once she was done, they left us in private to shower down and have a soak in the tub. We both debriefed over herbal tea and had a laugh at the experience, both of us equally surprised by the yoghurt. Feeling sleepy from the massage, we weren’t feeling up to much more that night except for a quick bite to eat. There weren’t many places open near the spa, but we found a small cafe that had cheap local food, then made our way back to the villa, exhausted from our day of activity and sleepy from the spa.

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