Riding through the countryside in Bali, what could be more relaxing? That’ what I thought when we first signed up to take a day-long bike tour.
Little did I know that the Bali backroads are really bumpy and harder to navigate than I thought. Avoiding the motorcycles and the school children (who came out right onto the street to High-Five you), didn’t spoil the amazing scenery, in fact this was one of the best day-tours I’ve ever had.
Our whole group was driven up to the top of a mountain where we started the “all-downhill” bike ride — starting with chocolate pancakes in a restaurant located overlooking the volcano at Mount Batur.
We had a gorgeous view of Lake Batur located at the foot of the mountain, hemmed in by another volcano that hides a unique village of the Trunyan people who are indigenous to the area. They have a unique way of dealing with their dead, they don’t bury or cremate them, instead they wrap them in gauze to decompose outdoors. According to our guide, there is no odor in their open air graveyard because of an enormous tree there, a Taru Menyan, that works as a natural disinfectant for the graveyard.
At our next stop, about a 45 minute bike ride away, we learned how the Balinese produce their delicious coffee with a very comprehensive taste test of all the local varieties.
For just a dollar, we also sampled the famous Kopi Luwak, among the most expensive coffees in the world and mentioned in the movie the “Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. A local animal plays a key role in producing Kopi Luwak’s unique flavor profile:
The palm civet — a cat-like forest creature — eats only the sweetest, ripest coffee cherries. The pit, which is the raw ingredient for coffee, passes through their intestines undigested but the civet’s digestive enzymes break down certain components to ultimately produce a smoother, more flavorful brew.
Another 45 minutes downhill let us to an area with a fenced-in stone structure by the side of the road. It was a family compound of palm leaves weavers who make their living weaving sheets that are used for roofs and buildings throughout Bali.
Their compounds and living quarters are complete with family temples and are arranged in tiers — organized with the temple at the highest level followed by the elders’ quarters, then followed by the other sleeping quarters, then the kitchen, and finally the animal pens.
Our last stop before a late lunch was at one of the many rice fields where workers were harvesting rice.
The Balinese plant mostly white rice, but in higher elevation, there are some patches of red and black rice. Balinese typically keep the best quality rice for themselves, then exporting the rest. A harvester makes about $30 a week plus a cut of what is gathered. That’s why most of their dishes naturally center around rice, and in fact the average family of four eats about 3 pounds of rice a day.
Rice is not only the base for sustenance in Bali, it is even used in religious rites and holidays — by affixing a few grains of rice to the forehead as a blessing.