Most people who are drawn to the calm of Ubud are in search of raw, organic food and an inviting yoga studio. We did that during our trip too. But when we read about an adventure through the hills by bike, we couldn’t resist the chance to jump in the saddle.
Ubud is one of those places where you have everything within a relaxed arm’s reach, so it’s easy to ignore the surrounds. That’s where local guides can help – not just to show you where to go, but to facilitate the journey in the comfort that most of us are hoping for in a holiday.
We were picked up by our guide from our hotel at about 8.30am and began our climb up into the Ubud hills by car. We met our fellow bikers; a couple from New Zealand and another from Victoria on the journey. By the time we reached our first stop (about 20 minutes drive) we were well acquainted and eager to start exploring together.
A viewing platform overlooking the famous Bail rice terraces was the perfect place to start our adventure. A few tourist snaps later and we were back in the car for a few minutes before reaching the Manik Abian Bali Agriculture coffee plantation. Lead down a narrow path, past coffee plants and fruit trees, we were encouraged to feel and smell the spices the plantation uses in both their coffee blends and hand-made chocolate. The aromas of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and turmeric were a beautiful way to start our day immersed in local sights, smells and sounds.
The front path delivered us to the stunning view over the ten acre property covering the valley floor below. A small table for tasting their coffee creations was waiting for us. Our tastebuds danced through flavours from a simple black coffee to coconut, ginseng and vanilla flavoured blends, followed by some sweetened lemon tea (sweetened with honey the owner told, me “not sugar” – if only I’d had more time for that conversation).
The Ubud specialty, Kopi Luwak is what many come here for. It’s a coffee unique to Bali and one which requires a teaspoon of bravery to try. To produce Luwak coffee, wild luwaks or palm civets (similar looking to a possum) feed on coffee berries. Unable to digest the coffee bean, it eliminates it whole. The beans are then cleaned and roasted and you apparently have a healthier, softer blend. I didn’t partake of the ‘poo’ blend, but one of my fellow tourists described it as ‘smooth and syrupy’. I’ll leave it to you to take that flavoursome journey yourself.
Now slightly more awake thanks to a caffeine fix, we driver further up the mountain to our stunning breakfast spot. Looking out at Mount Kintamani (or Mount Batur), one of Indonesia’s active volcanos (there are more tan 100) over some fresh fruit, eggs and a Balinese blend prepared our group to hit the road.
Helmets, check! Brakes, check! Tyre pressure, check!
Did I mention this is a downhill tour? If you’re looking to burn some serious calories, you won’t get that on this tour. The majority of the route is spent with your hand primed to hit the brakes. You are riding down a mountain after all. It makes the tour a great choice for families.
You will do a little off-roading of sorts when you take the first detour off the asphalt into the dirt tracks winding through local crops. Rejoining the main road (a very quiet one I should say) and we stopped to see a few locals of the creepy kind. Our guide fearlessly collected a couple of spiders from a huge web on the side of the road and we cringed as they quickly made their way from his arm to his neck. Not to worry, he assured us he’s been bitten so many times he’s used to it and the venom isn’t that bad.
Our next stop was a visit to a typical village home. Walking in the front gate we came to the rice drying hut and meet the “pet rooster used for cock fighting”, communal living rooms and the impressive family temple. Hindu families generally build their own small temple. It’s a place where they make offerings to the Gods, worship and believe their loved ones return to be close to them after death. In comparison to the house itself, the temple is generous in size and features intricate hand-painted detailing on each structure. The home and garden is an example of the way contemporary and conventional Indonesia cross over: a pair of sports sneakers waiting by the beautifully decorated door to the house; a soccer jersey hanging in the rural garden and a new family wagon covered in the carport.
Back on the road and we rolled through more villages, passing children offering enthusiastic smiles, high-fives and a “hello!”. Women wearing colourful traditional Batik clothing walked in single file on the side of the road carrying baskets on their heads and elaborate floral offerings in their arms.
The scenery quickly changed again as we entered the rice fields; it was quiet, still and free of people (other than a couple of farmers working the fields). It’s was a precarious route with a few soggy patches with our guide warning us that some people topple in. Nevertheless, I made it through clean and it really was my favourite part of the ride; it was so blissfully, beautifully Bali.
Popping out the other side of the fields, we were back on the main road and charging our way towards lunch, as the afternoon storm set in. A little wet, we arrived to a table of classic Balinese dishes including tofu, fresh chicken, coconut milk curry, tempe, vegetables and freshly-cut watermelon. Sitting, chatting and reliving the ride with our group as the rain came down in the garden around us was the perfect end to an enriching day in the Ubud hills.
Lizmala Bali Tours
(0361) 928 6970
cost: 350,000 Rp (about $AUD35 per person)