Day 2: A little village that could

Posted: June 10, 2010 in Cycle touring Mountain biking Bali, Indonesia 2006, 2008
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Monday May 8, 2006, 10 km (6 miles) – Total so far: 10 km (6 miles)

If there was a little village that could, it would be Ubud (ooh-bood) What started out as a village is now a fully fledged must see and do destination on Bali. Ubud is about 30 kms north from Bali’s airport, an hour’s drive or 2 to 3 hours bike ride through Indonesian traffic which adheres to one basic rule. Might is right. Easy enough. It’s the other law, the one with the ‘jungle’ in it that worries me. Suddenly appearing poultry, cows or even a family of sauntering pigs are common especially in the countryside which also has the best cycle touring roads. Getting to Ubud is easy. Follow the road signs right out of Ngurah Rai Airport on a wide shoulder for about 15 kms on a highway before the turnoff into the central hills of Bali. Ubud is only 200 metres above sea level, but can really be cool in the mornings, with temps hovering around 20 C in the ‘winter month’ of August.

So what’s the big deal about Ubud? You’ll see the ‘real’ Bali here, as the guide books and brochures will claim. As one leaves the beach enclaves of Kuta, Jimbaran, Sanur and Nusa Dua in the south and explore northwards there’s more greenery, rice paddies and looming volcanoes on the horizon. Far from the airport and urban sprawl of the island’s capital Denpasar, the air gets cooler, the nights quieter and the pace of life and traffic is noticeably slower. So should the real Bali be a rural Bali with mud brick walls, thatched roof wooden homes, crowing roosters, endless toiling in the ricefields, temple festivals every other day or night, giggling village maidens bathing in a stream……just the way Charlie Chaplin saw it in the 1920s, an antithesis of modernity and urbanization? Well some remnants of a real Bali still exist and there’s no better way to find, see, smell and hear it than from the saddle of a bicycle.

Yesterday’s taxi ride had also brought us closer to the mountains and Ubud is our usual choice to start and end our ride. In days gone by, I used to time trial out from the airport to Ubud or anywhere else which I fancied. Those were the box-less bike and solo riding days, unlike today where bike assembly on the shady terrace of our room will be pleasantly interrupted by the scent of a freshly showered wife and/or brewed coffee.

As a center for anything artsy and cultural, Ubud is a magnet for painters, sculptors, musicians and dancers local and foreign. It seems that fertile volcanic soil and abundant water gave the farmers three good rice crops a year. Most farm work is also done by midday when the sun gets too hot, hence the many free afternoons left to dabble in the arts and religious ceremonies. In today’s context there’s lots of stuff to see and buy. Paintings, woodcarvings, basketry, jewelry, clothing, fashion accessories etc. What you cannot carry home can be freight forwarded to your address. Say a hand carved Balinese door, giant bamboo bed or sofa set. Whole families have prospered on selling containers of carved wooden fruit or intricate paintings of Balinese landscapes done by legions of village children.

Cycling around Ubud is best done in the mornings when it’s still cool and shady. Spin around quiet back lanes through the morning mist as people start the day offering prayers and canang outside home and shops. If you’re into scenery, and who isnt?, head further north where the rice terraces reveal themselves at Ceking. It’s easy to chalk up 5 or 50 kms in and around Ubud’s many surrounding villages. It’s even possible to find off road singletrack among some of the rice paddies, though on occasion a baffled local will ask why I would cycle on a narrow muddy trail when there are smooth asphalt roads nearby. Early evenings are when most Balinese chill out, families relaxing on their front porches watching their cell phone screens and the world go by.

Mid day is good for a long slow lunch in the many restaurants and cafes which oddly enough serve food from around the world but none from Bali. Other diversions would be a dip in a pool, checking out one of the many spas around town and making dinner plans way before sunset. The cycle touring life in Ubud is difficult indeed.



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