I groaned as the alarm clock blasted into life. It was far too early to get out of bed.
Finally figuring out how to turn it off, the annoying little tune was replaced by an equally unpleasant noise.
I know it’s the end of the wet season in Bali, but typically that means a downpour in the late afternoon. Apparently somebody forgot to mention that to the weather gods on this particular day, however. It was absolutely throwing it down outside, and getting heavier by the minute.
Perfect weather for a cycling tour, right?
I kept glancing at my phone as I got ready, hoping the guys from Banyan Tree Bike Tours would ring up to cancel. They didn’t. Instead the irrepressible owner, Bagi, rang a few minutes later to let us know he was waiting in the van outside.
No putting it off, then – we were getting on those mountain bikes today whether we liked it or not.
Driven about an hour outside central Ubud, we eased into things with a leisurely breakfast. The views from the restaurant balcony were meant to be superb, looking out over a valley of rice terraces towards Mount Batukaru.
Instead we saw this:
Still, we had been assured that the downpour was only temporary, and even as I drained the last of my strong Balinese coffee the fog started to lift and the rainclouds gave way to glimpses of blue sky. Despite the deep puddles and muddy trails (more on that later), everyone was quite pleased at how the day had turned out. Several hours cycling in direct sunlight would have been a recipe for heatstroke.
Fitted out with bikes and helmets, our small group set off half an hour later along the back roads of central Bali. Compared to the snarled traffic and bellowing vendors of the popular tourist destinations further south, the fresh air and friendly smiles seemed a world away.
Stopping at a compound in a nearby village, the importance of the family unit in Bali was plain to see. Several generations can live in a single compound, with shared responsibility for care of young and elderly family members. No childcare centres here, and our guide seemed mildly perplexed that shipping old people off to rest homes was an acceptable thing to do in the West. The more we talked about it, the more I started to agree with him…
Leaving the small townships behind we soon entered the rice paddies. If I had one word to describe them (and most of Bali, actually), that word would be green. Everything is so lush here, and with the amount of water around it wasn’t hard to see why. The vibrant fields stretched away to the sharp peaks on the horizon, the natural beauty belying the hard physical nature of subsistence farming in this part of the world.
Leaving the roads behind, we hit the muddy trails through the paddies as our guides warned us not to fall into the rice crop. “The leeches like Western blood”, they joked. Or at least I think they were joking.
The trail got steadily muddier and riding changed from hard to impossible. Walking the bike reduced the risk of swimming with the leeches, but introduced a new challenge. Keeping my flip-flops on my feet. First one, then the other, remained submerged in the mud puddles as my feet kept moving forward. Oh well. At least washing them at the end wasn’t going to be difficult.
Despite the dirt and potholes I was loving it, out in the countryside where we were the only tourists for miles. Even when certain people fell on their ass in the mud or slid back down a small hill on their knees, we bounced back up with a smile on our faces. It was that kind of a day.
Apparently there are different routes the trip can take, depending on weather and fitness levels of the riders. I think our guides judged it perfectly – a bit of a challenge, some gorgeous views and a few stories to tell at the end of it.
Finishing the ride back on the tarmac with a fast 15 minute downhill stretch, we piled back into the van and headed towards Ubud. The trip wasn’t finished, however – Bagi welcomed us into his home to enjoy some quite incredible local dishes courtesy of his lovely wife. I didn’t know which ones would taste the best, so obviously avoided missing out by trying too much of everything.
And then going back for seconds.
We were dropped back at our hotel late afternoon, covered in mud and grinning from ear to ear. So much for wishing for a cancellation when we got up – it had ended up being a great day’s riding, with beautiful scenery and a whole lot of fun out there in Bali’s rice paddies.
Banyan Tree Bike Tours was kind enough to offer us a complimentary tour, but as always all opinions are my own.