Bali Eco Cycle Tour

While in Bali, I had the great pleasure of taking the Bali Eco Cycle Tour. It was recommended by a friend and it was an excellent recommendation. It showed the side of Bali I was looking for, the culture and the countryside. It was a full day tour that was balanced in a way that you never felt bored or rushed.
We were picked up in a van between 7:30 and 8:00 am. (I was picked up at a random supermarket that I was told was close to where I was staying, it wasn't and I got chased by a very scary dog on the way. I uttered a scream I didn't now I had in me, as it chased me up a hill on the outskirts of Ubud.)  By the end of pickups we had a group of 9 people, plus our guide Argus or Augus, I’m not really sure which one it actually was. We learned through the day that Argus was a funny man, a jokester. He was subtle about it and for a second you thought he was telling you a real fact about Balinese culture when in fact it was a joke. It made for a very entertaining day. As with all tours, the guide makes all the difference in the end.

Our first stop was along the roadside to view some florescent green rice paddies. It was an unscheduled stop but everyone was interested so Argus had our driver, Ketut, pulled over. Argus gave us an overview of the day once we were back in the van. He also went through introductions of himself and the driver and some basic tidbits about Bali. For example, how people are named. People are named by their birth order, for example, Wayan is the name of the first born, Ketut is the name of the fourth born. However, they only have names for four, so if there is a fifth child it starts back over at Wayan with a minor variation or addition. Augus told us, casually that fifth children were known as "Wayan by mistake." He was kidding of course, but it got a good laugh. Some parents will also add on a given name, in Argus’s case, or use a nickname. Male and females are distinguished between by putting an I in front of the name, for example, I Wayan.

The journey to breakfast took a little over an hour. It was an enjoyable ride that took us through more green paddies in varying stages of development, villages full of handicrafts, and fields of palm trees. We arrived for a late breakfast overlooking Mount Batur, the most active volcano on the island. The volcano runs alongside the largest lake in Bali, Lake Batur. On the other side of the lake in clear view are Mt. Abang and Mt. Agung. We had a clear day and could see all in their full splendor. The restaurant deck was the perfect viewing point for the whole panorama.

Mount Batur
Lake Batur
Mount Batur is part green regrowth and part visible lava field. It still smokes and if you trek up there for sunrise (a very common trip), they will cook you some food on the steam that rises out of the caverns. One of the most interesting things I noticed was that a ridge surrounds the volcano in a semi circle while the Lake creates the other half of the circle. It creates a border that seems to act as a natural fence. I would assume this means that the lava can’t go very far when it does erupt. The visible black lava field points to this as well. It is either going to be stopped by the rising ridge or by the water. A brave or crazy village still sits on the edge of the lava field.

Cloud show over the lake.
While we ate breakfast, the clouds put on a show. They changed rapidly and often formed shapes that were identifiable. This is one of my favorite nature watching events.

Even though we had just eaten breakfast, a stop at the coffee plantation was next on our list.  Argus showed us many plants in the garden they had out front. This particular plantation was very specific in its nature.  It specializes in producing "poo coffee."Yes you read that right.  Read more.

 Directly following the coffee adventure, we got on the bikes. They tell you ahead of time that the cycle part is mostly downhill. I didn’t really believe them, but it was. It was a fast ride! The bikes were in pretty good shape and the operation was very organized. Two tail cars followed us, one with extra bikes and our van, driven by Ketut.  Argus joked that he was like the ambulance; I didn’t think it was that funny.  As we whipped by the countryside, Argus would occasional have us stop to explain something, including but not limited to visiting a local village compound and examining massive spiders. Our half way point was one of the most monstrous Banyon trees I have ever seen. They regularly have to cut the hanging roots so they don't take over the village. Little boys played football under the tree completing the cliché but it was a lovely scene.

NOT my hand. 

One part of the Balinese family compound. 
Splitting bamboo. 

Hanging roots. 

The Banyon tree was our half way point and we spent the remainder of the time riding through villages and rice paddies. At some points the road got so small I couldn’t believe they were for cars. It was obviously hard to take pictures during this ride and I wished I had a GoPro to do it proper justice. I ended up last due to my many picture stops. At the very end we took a steep downhill and went over a dam to our completion point. We were bused to a delicious lunch and then brought back to our lodgings. It was a great way to spend a day and get out of Ubud for a day.

Clearing the paddies by hand while they burn in the background.

Random Interesting Things I learned on this tour

- In the villages, each family has a compound. The house is not one building, it's multiple. Each serves a different function. One for sleeping, one for kitchen, one for bathroom, one for grandparents, and one for birth and death ceremonies.

- The compound passes to the youngest son in the family, not the eldest. If there are no sons, then it passes to the eldest daughter. The person that the compound passes to is required to stay there for their entire life. They can never move away. If they did the shame would be unbearable. Therefore, the youngest son of a family and the eldest daughter of a family with no sons cannot get married because each cannot leave their compound. Argus told us that there are three kinds of marriages in the villages, the one where you fall in love, the kind where the guy follows the woman to their compound and “mba,” marriage by accident, meaning when the woman is pregnant already.  There are many instances he said, that a youngest son and eldest daughter in the above situation do get together and cannot get married. It must make for some pretty unhappy people.

- In the afternoon, the women split the bamboo. It actually splits into three pieces if you do it properly. We watched a woman do it for some time and it was pretty fascinating. One piece is used for weaving baskets and such, one part is for firewood and the outer skin is used for offerings. (see picture above)

- The Balinese in the villages do not eat at set times. The mother cooks only one time per day and leaves the food in the kitchen. People go and get something to eat when they are hungry. Argus called it a “self-serve” system.

- If a family cannot afford a private cremation ceremony (Balinese are by and large Hindu), they will have to cremate their family members in mass cremations. The mass cremations happen every five years in the villages. Because they only happen every five years, and have upwards of 40+bodies, the bodies are put in temporary cemeteries. When the time comes for the mass cremation, they are dug up and put all together. A private cremation can cost upwards of 20 million rupiah. This is due to the elaborate alters and other offerings that are built. Most families cannot afford this and rely on the mass cremations.