Sometimes you just have to get out of Ubud.
The Putri Ayu Cottages were lovely. The room inviting. The pool refreshing and the landscaping beautiful.
They took great care of me when I was sick for a week after Nepal— cold and stomach cramps etc…One clerk called me, “Mama.” The owner smiling here told the pool boy to climb a coconut tree to get me healing green coconut water.
But, the traffic was impossible to negotiate crossing…. No crosswalks. My Bisma Street which was originally built for those farming the rice paddies, degenerated the further you got from the main road. The asphalt turned into paving stones turned into potholes. I apologized to each taxi driver who took me home— they didn’t know I lived in that part of Bisma that would turn an ankle in the dark and probably a tire!
Tourists everywhere of course. And the poor taxi drivers just needing one fare for the day to survive and the massage people who played on their cell phones when there wasn’t a customer, which was usually always. They were annoying in their requests for business, in their hunger to support themselves. I was tired of the effort it took to ignore these honest people who just wanted work. Tired of saying, “No thank you.”
I needed out!
There are a zillion booths lining the tourist streets with the same fading pictures of tours for hire — ride an elephant, raft wild waters, see this waterfall or that temple. Too hard to choose and who should I trust and who speaks English well enough to be a guide???
So I ducked into an actual building that looked like an official tourist information center. Not! But a very pleasant woman sold me a ticket to a Greenbike Cycling Tour— “500,000 rupiah, but for you, 400,000.” Great trip advisor ratings.
I was a little uncertain about the state of my knees and no bicycling for the past 8 months. I didn’t want to hold up the group or randomly fall over. But… I had to get out of Ubud. Not much more dangerous than walked down Bisma Street in the dark! Perfect.
They picked me up promptly at 8:00 AM, loaded on three others and a guide who spoke perfect English, understood bicycling, and taught us all kinds of cultural things. Turns out that the tour in the van was just as much fun as the bicycling.
First stop, a coffee plantation.
Well, actually a tourist attraction which gave pancakes and 10 tastings of coffee and tea, included in the tour price.
The best? Ginseng coffee.
The most interesting? Luwak coffee. Or civet cat coffee. What?
Convinced they were putting me on, our guide showed us this little bugger on display.
The luwaks love coffee beans for the sweet fruit around the beans! They eat them. They drop them in their poop.
People collect the poop, wash it thoroughly, roast it and drink it. Because historically it was from wild luwaks who were attracted to the very best beans, it became an expensive delicacy.
This charge would be extra. Well, should I? For $4 I could have a once in a lifetime experience. They brewed it at the table. Tasted like coffee, but with a stuffed nose the nuance of scent was probably wasted on me. But I did it! (A Dutch fellow rider said that when Balinese workers were forbade the coffee beans on the Dutch plantations in Bali, they just found some luwak poo. That’s how it started.)
Here is one very caffeinated civet cat.
Then onto a great view of Volcano Batur
...from which the locals gather black debris or stones with which to decorate their temples. And Lake Batur under it, down from which the rice fields are irrigated.
Finally we got on our bikes, with me pleading to lead up the rear so as not to endanger anyone else and off we went— down-hill.
It was much more like riding the brakes than riding the bike. The whole trip was downhill! I’m sure I never even burned off the calories of the pancakes! But wow, was it wonderful. Through villages and tangerine groves (which can grow at this elevation) and under which are planted coffee or vegetables or ginseng.
We stopped at one compound which Greenbike helps because the father is disabled.
They hospitably showed us the rooms, the making of three times a day ceremonial offerings, and offered me the clean hole in the floor bathroom.
Our guide detailed how the open-air ceremonial room in the center of the compound is used for rituals, including teeth filing. Yep— the top front six teeth are filed flatter at puberty by a priest— so that with the feel of the tongue one is reminded to curb the six bad habits of lust, greed, anger, jealousy, confusion and drunkenness. Hmmm…
Then on to the rice fields!
Now, I’ve seen rice fields in Nepal. I’ve harvested rice in Nepal. But these were grand, green swathes of undulating curvaceous exuberance. So beautiful!
With an intricate, orderly and ancient irrigating system called…suwak.
How do you know which is your rice field? By the markers. Does that include those really tall coconut trees? Yep— and you climb the tree like a monkey to harvest your coconuts. Why not just let them fall like we do in Florida? Because once on the ground they no longer belong to you. OK…
And then more non-strenuous bicycling downhill, and the rain started.
Out came the free use of ponchos and we rode on. Now this was the scary thrilling part for me. A spill could have sent me back to the States. But here I was — “Focus” I told myself. The guide leader did just what he should— pointing out pot-holes and little ditches in the road obscured by the down-pour. I followed the buttocks of the woman in front of me, avoiding debris and dangers.
But what to do about sudden dramatic downhill slopes, dangerous with gravel, chickens, dogs and random children? Much less a woman with a sickle? Ring the little bell? Worked for the humans but not for animals or gravel. And sudden braking on slick pavement not a good idea. I just pretended that my dear friend and competent ride leader from Florida was beside me saying ,“Focus, no sudden actions, you can do it…” And St. Larry as I dubbed him in my appeals got me through it upright.
I survived, a bit muddy but happy! Yay!
And the celebration was here, at the buffet provided by the Greenbike Cycling Tour’s own restaurant. Maybe the Vero Beach Bike Club should adopt this model, Larry?
So, for $30 I had a full day out of Ubud. Sights, tastes, nature, culture, learning weird luwak stuff, proving my survival skills … and coffee, pancakes, banana and water, and full buffet.
(And because I wasn’t strapped to a GoPro for the really exciting rainy dangerous part of the trip and can’t show you that video, I’ll leave you with this. Enjoy the expansiveness and serenity.)
And yes, I survived without a spill!
Yes, the best day yet in Bali!