Since Michael and I covered a lot of ground in our quick trip to Bali, I’m going to do a series of posts instead of just one. First up is a bike tour we took with Bali Eco Cycling. Surprisingly, this was just as much a cultural tour as it was a cycling trip and we learned a great deal about local Balinese customs. The tour started with breakfast at the top of Mt. Batur, an active volcano in northeast Bali overlooking a crater lake. We weren’t able to fully appreciate the view due to the fog, but were able to catch a glimpse of the lake and the perch fisheries that dotted its shores.
After breakfast our group of 10 was carted to a Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) plantation, home to one of the most expensive coffees in the world. The coffee is made by feeding ripe coffee beans to the civet cat, collecting the beans from the cat’s excrement, thoroughly washing, drying, and then lightly roasting the beans. The enzymes in the cat’s stomach supposedly do something magical to the beans that make them irresistibly delicious. So delicious, in fact, that people shell out more than $160 for a pound of them. Our guide jokingly offered us a taste of the famed “Cat-Poo-Chino” and we kindly declined.
After several members of our group sampled the cat crap coffee, we were finally off for the cycling part of our tour. We started near the summit of Mt. Batur and made our way down through several small villages and hillside rice terraces. At each village kids would come running from their family compound for high-fives, nearly throwing this clumsy rider off-balance. We stopped at one traditional family compound for a look around. Our guide, Frodo Jo, explained the layout. A short wall surrounds the entire compound, and there’s just one entrance to the main road. About 4 feet directly behind this entrance there is another short wall, just slightly larger than the entrance. Balinese believe that evil spirits cannot turn corners, and this wall requires all who enter to immediately turn a corner, thus keeping evil spirits at bay. Inside the compound there are sleeping quarters for each family and a kitchen for each family. Up to 4 families may live in the large family compound. A temple is located in the northeast corner facing the mountains and the sunrise and is used for religious ceremonies and ancestor worship.
A few kilometers later we rode through a village that was in the midst of celebrations for a royal cremation. There was a 25-foot funeral tower in the center of the village being prepared to transport the deceased’s body throughout the town for the funeral procession. We continued on and just outside the village we rode past a decorated bull sarcophagus. Once both the funeral tower and sarcophagus reach the village temple the body would be placed inside the bull and set alight, completing the cremation. Unlike the average westerner, Balinese believe the cremation is a joyful time when the deceased’s soul is released from the body to go to heaven and eventually to be reincarnated. The celebrations were certainly more festive than any funeral I’ve ever attended.
We stopped one last time before the conclusion of our tour, this time to trek through the rice terraces to a small clearing where local villagers were harvesting a mature crop of rice. It was a muddy trek along the edges of the elaborately formed terraces and bamboo irrigation tracts, but was well worth it. The women let us take turns thrashing the rice stalks against a bamboo rail to release the grains. It was amazing how much rice came out with that first whack! Similar to Sapa, the rice terraces in Bali were the most vibrant shades of green.
The tour ended with a traditional Balinese feast over which our group of Dutch, French Canadian, Australian, and Wisconsinite tourists shared stories of travel in Bali and beyond. The tour may not have been as much exercise as we had anticipated since it was mostly downhill riding, but it was so much more informative than we ever could have imagined. Our guide was incredibly patient with the group’s many questions about local culture and incredibly knowledgeable about all things Bali. It’s definitely a tour we would recommend.
Photos from this trip to Bali, including the bike tour, are HERE!