Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cycling Through Ubud

I was not very happy to get up early that morning.  It was 7am and I felt so tired, having had a very late previous night singing Karaoke with friends. I nevertheless pulled myself together, packed my bag and went to my friend’s villa where hot Nespressos lattes were awaiting me. After our small coffee session, 7 of us hopped into the mini-van and took off to Ubud, the cultural heart and soul of Bali. Nearly two hours in the van not only gave us a chance to share laughs and chit-chats also a glimpse of the locals’ day-to-day struggle with the heavy traffic. You really have to be a skilful driver to survive on the mean streets of Bali whether you are on the motorbike, bicycle or car. 

Mount Batur, Bali's famous Volcano

Fortunately, we were welcomed by a cool and lovely weather by the time we reached the famous Mount Batur. We took some group photos with the volcano in the background and headed down to the bike park thereafter.We  picked  up our bikes there and soon afterwards our cycling adventure began. We followed the tour leader as he took us through a small village with lots of trees and temples. At one spot, we paused and looked at the trees with hanging coconuts in which human placentas were buried as part of a Balinese ritual. We also learned that it is the only village in Bali that practices this tradition.

Cycling for me was not very smooth in the beginning as I completely had no idea how to function the gear system plus the roads were bumpy and wild. I ended up being the last biker to arrive at the first resting spot. Of course, the other members of our group teased me constantly and questioned my physical endurance. (But hey, I was never that street kid doing stunts in the neighbourhood with a BMX.)

Balinese Rural Living

Later on, we found ourselves in another small little village. Our tour leader took us to this little Balinese house and showed us, according to him “a lower-class Balinese family house”. His choice of adjective “lower-class”, although I knew he probably meant “modest”, made me very uncomfortable especially when said in front of the family. He went on to give details about the functioning of the house, showing the kitchen in which chickens were roaming around and the part where the married son resides with his family, the family temple that they all have to take care of on daily basis and the place where they buried the placenta of the baby and so on.  

As I became more comfortable on the bicycle, I started to enjoy the ride.  Charming rural setting and friendly people along the way especially the children who never failed to say “Hello” to us while passing through the villages. Those smiles on the faces of Balinese toddlers and young children made the arduous bike ride on the bad roads such a worthwhile experience.
Balinese Children at School

Besides, it was a good cardio exercise but I also knew that I’d have to pay the price the next day. To be honest, I made a mistake by going to the gym and doing the squats the day before and it sure didn’t help my life on the bike that day either. My leg muscles were all aching rhythmically. I however soldiered on till I got to the beautiful vast paddy fields where I was rewarded with a Julia-Roberts- in-Eat- Pray-Love moment. Cycling through a stunningly lush green setting was indeed a memorable one, incredibly movie-like, as a matter of fact. 
Beautiful Bali

Finally, we reached the Bali Elephant Safari where we had lunch while watching Australian families riding on the slow-moving poor elephants. The restaurant was quite clean and the food was decent. It was of course tourist style buffet (which I hate).  I knew there’s usually not so much to expect from meals like this but how can u possibly mess up a simple” fried rice”. (Or am I asking too much?)

After lunch, we changed ourselves into more appropriate water-friendly gear and headed down to the river Ayung for our next adventure, the river rafting. Having gone through this experience in the same river a year ago, I was quite relaxed and looking forward to go through it again. Dressed up and ready-for-action in my most favourite swim wear, a life jacket and a helmet provided by the company, I went down over 600 steps down to the river where the rafts were docked.  Poor, Poor me had to sit down for a while to rest my trembling knees upon arrival. (Gosh, I’m an old soul, Am I really 26???)

Then we hopped onto our rafts and carefully listened to our guide’s instructions. “Forward” means “ paddle forward”, “Backward” means “paddle backward”  (Very Simple!) and the most important “boom boom” means we are about to hit some big rocks. Then we set off and braved through the big boulders and rough water. We were screaming and splashing water using the oars to the other people from other rafts. There were Taiwanese tourists who got totally bullied by our two rafts, dripping wet with cold river water. Good thing, it was not a rough ride at all times. We had lovely breaks simply floating on clam water and therefore we got to enjoy such magnificent natural Balinese landscapes: mini waterfalls, cliff and beautiful resorts that appear along the way.   

A cloudy day but it was so pleasant and cool that during our calm-water moments, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to just float away endlessly with a bottle of champagne while enjoying the beautiful leafy landscape. (The only problem would be getting the refill once that bottle is gone!) 

When rafting was over, we once again climbed up over 300 steps to get to the restaurant where nice cold beers were waiting, thankfully. We sat and watched the video that the camera man, who followed us with his own raft (sometimes ahead of us!) recording journey in the wild all throughout.  I bought a picture of us in the raft with which cost 35000 rupiah which is about 4 USD. Not sure what I’d do with that picture later on but hey, tourists do silly things and buy crap all the time, no?  

The way back home was vague. I did not remember much.  Only that I slept like a baby all the way.

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