Archive for the ‘Cycle touring Mountain biking Bali, Indonesia 2006, 2008’ Category

The first of 14 Balinese sunrises, stunning !

You’d think that after 20 trips to this island that I’d have no trouble writing about, but I do. There are so many alluring facets to Bali that some visitors never leave. I am not one of them as I am discerning. Lately though, paradise is showing it’s pitfalls. I thought I had mastered the art of avoiding those. Many trips on all manner of bicycles, since (gasp) 1989, also meant that any maps I brought were rarely used. Peering into a map is a sure sign of being a tourist, and a lost one at that.

And the Balinese, any Balinese who has something to sell you can spot a tourist miles away. Heck they can even eavesdrop, from 20 feet away, and try to ‘help’ you with any ‘problem’ usually a destination you need to get to, in a flash. In Ubud, (with the beach 30 kms away and touts less persistent) while we were mentioning in passing the name of a certain cafe that we had read about, some guy runs from across the street, shouting the name of that cafe and ‘can help’ in driving us there !

Others flash nice laminated A4 sized notices proclaiming ‘taxi’ ‘transport’ with nary a word, less the visitor feels vexed, though having such cards flashed in your face 20 times a day and on every street corner is going to take it’s toll. We were flashed, even as we cycled by. So having a bicycle won’t stop some persistent career cab drivers (taxi is a real misnomer as all are privately registered cars or worse, borrowed. Insurance? What insurance?)

Grandmaster moonlighting as a taxi driver
Ubud is a Mood (also a book title)

We spent many an hour with the elevated views from our room at one of the rare guesthouses that still has a rice field view, http://www.warjibungalow.com and doesn’t gouge you with US$ rates. We knew that they had a new wing, meaning new rooms from our last visit in 2008. We also knew that the ‘new wing’ of 7 rooms took almost 10 years to build. First the foundations, a stairway and some (not all) walls and a very mossy tiled roof went up. Then some men came to dig up a huge hole 10 feet deep, presumably for the septic tank and human waste.

3 years later, ‘some’ rooms were ready, others nicely painted but empty, waiting for matresses and lamps. We were in time for the grand ‘completion’ ie, positioning of beds, mattresses/linen and connecting of the lamps. Boy they do take their time on this island. As yet 3 rooms remained unfurnished. Their reservation form works though. You might get your room, IF Widya, (a svelte Balinese woman whose family owns the place amongst rmany other properties) has passed on your reservation to one of Warji’s House caretakers. (In our case, she didn’t! :-()

Another dawn before the sun breaks
Zoomed in view of Mt Agung, (3712 m), again from our room

A decade in the making, but it was new and spacious. 2 nights were marred by a larger than life, French mother and daughter chain smoking tag team. (next door) Seeing my disgust, they were kind enough to smoke in their room with their doors and windows boarded up, but presumably to enjoy their haze even longer

A group of Thai tourists on their first trip to Bali. I thanked them for checking out and letting us have their room. What a loss as they don’t smoke, and were a cheery bunch

The latest bugbear this trip must be the incessant traffic of motorcycles, which any can be had for a low Rp 14 million / US$1500 for a Made in China 2 wheeler. Ist payment is a measly Rp 500K / US$60. All traffic increases 15% yearly, while road capacity stay the same, with just more potholes after each rainy season.

Hey dude, where's my bike ?

Bali is being swamped with tourists. I think, 1.5 million each year. It’s bursting at the seams in the tourist enclaves, the southern beaches. Ubud is well on it’s way too, but I still have a few secret places left to reveal or revel in. That usually happens once we get out of even Ubud, and into the mountains and the northern coast.

Most were discovered from cycling, and trashing the rental car through bath tub sized potholed country roads. Long conversations with a few Balinese friends known since the early 90’s helped too. One is the director for rural road works and a keen cyclist. How very convenient. Another  is the car rental company boss turned village headman / problem solver and marriage solemniser with good ‘family’ connections with the police. Some nights were looooong on this trip. 😉

Chucked in the garden of Warji's, I spotted a 'performance' MTB. Michael, a native of Hawaii, spends 4 months a year in Bali..... when he's tired of cycling in Hawaii. What a dilemma ! Where can I get/buy such a dire predicament ??

Urrgh ! Get back to work !
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We’re headed to Bali again. I’m trying to recall my past trips and bikes involved from memory. I’m sure of the years, not so much the months that I visited Bali, so here goes…..

What a paradise for pedaling 2006

Feb 1989    Bridgestone MB 3

May 1990 *

July / Aug 1991   Bridgestone MB 3

May 1992   Bridgestone MB 1 / 5

Aug 1992   Bridgestome MB 1 / 5

April 1993   Bridgestone MB 1

June 1995   Ti Lust MTB

Nov 1995   Ti Lust MTB

June 1996 *

Sept 1996   Ti Lust MTB

May 1998 *

Nov 1999   Ti Lust MTB / Silver MTB

At Penelokan 1717m in 1999

Aug 2000   Ti Lust MTB

April 2001   Santa Cruz Heckler

May 2002   Diamond Back MTB

Oct 2002   Ti Lust MTB

April 2003   GT Zaskar MTB / Miss Marin MTB

May 2006   KHS Alite MTB / Miss Marin MTB

Aug 2008   Sutly LHT / Miss Marin MTB

April / May 2011   BF tikit / KHS Coffee bike, really. Plus one 3 m wide stunt kite with an 800 m line !

* Denotes trips without a bicycle, what was I thinking ?

Feeding time 2003

the bridge looks familiar

Tuesday May 23, 2006

With our departure from Bali at 9 in the evening, I went out for the usual pre breakfast ride to check some familiar trails around Ubud. As the bikes were washed and packed by lunchtime all we could do was take a nap after a long long lunch watching the world go by.

Monday May 22, 2006

The real Bali lies just minutes outside of Ubud.

Cultivating flowers while waiting for the rice to grow. Most Balinese are now finding that its not safe to rely on just one income, especially tourism which has had its share of ups and downs.

Most Balinese go through a painful tooth filing ceremony or ritual to get their incisors in line with other teeth. This is usually done before adulthood or combined with a wedding ceremony. Why? Sharp incisors belong only on animals and evil spirits and with a staunch belief in reincarnation, the next life as a lowly animal is one no Balinese looks forward to. Calling someone, ‘”Hey dog” is a great insult.

An estimated 10,000 ogoh ogoh of varying creepy-ness were made in early 2006.

We were also lucky to spot some surviving Ogoh Ogoh (most are usually torched) after Bali’s Nyepi celebrations, the island’s major purification ritual. Weeks before Nyepi is a busy time for all Balinese with religious objects being taken in long processions to be cleansed in sacred springs in remote locations. Animal sacrifices are made and displayed at crossroads and street corners where evil spirits are thought to linger. The night before Nyepi is the noisiest on Bali. Drums, gongs, cymbals firecrackers and paper mache Ogoh ogoh are used to rid Bali of bad luck and evil.

In stark contrast Nyepi day is one of total silence. Balinese eat in, keeping quiet, TV or radios are turned off, no one ventures out the front door. The streets are totally deserted with shops and offices closed. To take things to the extreme Bali’s airport shuts down for 24 hours. Absolutely no flights except for emergencies. Tourists are expected to stay indoors and dine in their respective hotels and staff camp overnight as they cannot go home. Nyepi enforcement volunteers will stop and detain any offenders especially motorcyclists, foreign or local. You’ll be told to push your motorbike home and collect your keys from village heads the next day. With Bali totally quiet as can be, it is believed that any evil, upon seeing Bali in this lifeless state, will be fooled into leaving the island forever. The days before and eve of Nyepi is great fun, but if you happen to be in Bali in March or April, be prepared to spend a quiet 24 hours indoors, preferably with a wireless connection.

The beach in front of Kudeta

 

 

Sunday May 21, 2006

Here’s some pictures of what every cyclist to Bali needs : Food, glorious food which we saw, ran away from and/or ate during our trip. Warning, carcasses included.

The experimentation begins! Here’s Coleen’s garden salad with edible flowers on a table made from some recycled tiles. And yes one of the owners is from California

Typical non tourist warung with a kitchen behind, toiletry, stationery, pharmacy, snack, fizzy drink, basket, clothing, vegetable and fruit shop out front

Bottled water can be found in warungs all over Bali. Rp 3000 or 40 cents for the large 1.5 liter one, Rp 2000 from the larger supermarkets. Rp 1000 if you buy just a refill from some of the more earth friendly shops. The brand Danone Aqua seems to taste the best. There’s a ‘factory’ or rather a source where it’s bottled, in a village called Mambal, just outside Ubud. Tours of the factory available. Camelbak users, if you leave your bladder in a fridge overnight, your back could be chilled for a couple of cycling hours.

A Balinese staple, con-fusion style. Gado gado which means mixture, of boiled vegetables mixed in a spicy peanut sauce and a side order of rice inspired by the pyramids, $5

A dark chocolate topped coffee cake for dessert, $4. Romantic ambient light, priceless

Crispy fried noodles topped with stir fried veggies. About $2

Nasi campur or mixed rice on a platter. Usually the side orders are piled on randomly on a plate which I like to refer as rice with ‘slop’. It can get messy if there’s gravy or uncut meat and seafood. That’s wet slop. I like this dry pleasing to the eye slop, with deep fried tofu and some crackers. $1.50 of pure simplicity

These were to go, right back to Singapore, but we polished off most of it on the plane!

Oh yes, satay. Barbequed meat on a stick. Usually marinated chicken or beef. There’s also pork or lamb. Once in a while someone will be innovative and disguise rat or dog meat as satay. Lots of variants all over South East Asia. Eaten dipped in a spicy peanut sauce.

I came to a screeching stop for the picture only. Babi guling or whole roasted pig is a Balinese speciality and takes center stage in any warung. As it was late in the day, I didnt get to see the rest of it.

I think it’s going to be smoked duck for dinner tonight.

No, leave them alone

Saturday May 20, 2006, 109 km (68 miles) – Total so far: 672 km (418 miles)

I did this solo ride from Ubud to the Batur caldera and back by another small road because,

1. We didnt ride all the way to the crater rim road courtesy of heavy rains on the 3rd day of our trip 2. With the thick fog and mist 1/we didnt really see anything much that day 3. Because the mountains are there. 4. All that fine dining in Ubud had to be expanded into some fine cycling 5.The womenfolk are going to be in their element today – shopping, getting massages, shopping, lunch followed by shopping….. 6. No more cycling with the panniers since we got back to Ubud. 7. I had cycled up to Penelokan let’s see, in 1995 and was just wondering whether my body was still up to it 8. Once I reach the maximum height at a pass that at 1640 meters, the return ride to Ubud would be a downhill of about 40 to 50 kms. Should be back in time for a dip in the pool before dinner. 9. Cycling is fun. 10. Cycling in Bali, even better. Pardon the 10 reasons, only No 9 is relevant.

The route from Ubud to Kintamani is 35 kms of uphill tarmac.

I was clipped in and headed out by 6.45 in the morning and find some form of breakfast along the way. Unlike our climb up to Batur last week, this was a longer and less steeper route up Bali’s central highlands. It’s less populated with lesser traffic and the bane of all smaller vehicles, the big white 44 seater tour bus. I took my own sweet time spinning up this road in the cool morning air with distant views of Bali’s blue mountains in the distance. The 35 kms translated into almost four hours including many photo stops and a couple of caffeine fixes. I had forgotten even about breakfast relying on the reserves last night to pedal until the final 4 kms of switchbacks at which time any breakfast would have been good. It was times like this when brow sweat is smarting in your eyes and your lungs are about to burst from freshly scented pine in the cool air, that I’ve got to ask myself, do ya, well do ya feel lucky today? No, 1 km on the speedo is still 1 km on the road. Then some schoolgirls on a motorcycle will pass, screaming TOO-RIS !! giving the thumbs up and suddenly the wheels will start slowly spinning again.

The last 4 kms to the crater’s edge was just climbing bend after bend. I think I saw a cobweb on my brake pads.

Reaching the top was slightly anti climatic as the weather seemed gloomy as the faces of the mountain people here. Then there’s another 12 kms of cycling on the crater rim road before the actual turnoff heading south begins. As the road levelled out I was able to pick up speed till I heard a dreaded hissing sound from below. It was no snake. Changed the tube in a flash and took a leak, pun intended in some bushes.

A sign of things to come, wide sweeps of gravity friendly asphalt.

Time to get the cobwebs out of the brake pads. It was even more chilly as the wind hit my sweat soaked helmet and jersey. These back roads with no traffic are like a widened bike path with sufficient far enough views to ensure no surprises. Even in the remote mountains, there was some form of commercial faming. From the scent of what seemed like chicken sh*t ha it was. ‘Untuk Kentucky’ or for Kentucky some guy told me. Moving on I felt some rain drops which then turned into a full blown storm lasting a whole 5 minutes As I was Bali’s prime coffee growing district, I decided to get a beer glass sized coffee and pulled into a mom and pop shop filled to the brim with all the necessities for a life in the mountains. The road was broken and getting a bit rough for a rigid bike. Just as well as the potholes here were flooded and after the flat, the one and only on the whole trip, I did not want any more surprises.

Descending a few hundred meters in to a ravine is good until you have to ride or crawl out of the same on the opposite side.

The ravine at Plaga must be one of the deepest in the whole of Bali crossing a crumbling concrete bridge over an even deeper chasm where I could only hear the sounds a rushing river. The slippery moss covered bridge must get only 2 or 3 hours of sunshine each day. Looking at the bent and twisted cast iron pipes used as rails, it wouldnt be a good idea to be here during heavy rains when a wall of water hits it. I didnt stop too long as I wasnt making good time and knew what awaited, switch back after switch back climbing out the other side. When a motor cycle passes by and you can still hear it struggling uphill for 10 minutes,there’s still a long way to go. Somehow all that coasting without much pedalling puts the legs to sleep and the climbs seem just a bit harder.

A solution to deep dark ravines, but why connect two relatively remote and hamlet laced hillsides? The theme song from The Apprentice was going on in my head, money, money, money……

After almost three quarters of the downhill ride done, it seemed that more pedalling was needed. No more sudden bursts of gravity assisted speed up to 50 kmph. I was savouring every minite of this ride but still needed to hustle up since the sun was going down at a faster pace than I could ride. I pulled out my map and took a few short cuts heading east back to Ubud even though it meant cycling in and out of some deep ravines. Funny thing about shortcuts, there’s more pictures to take – a stud farm for pigs, some more wood carving villages, more bucolic ricefield scenery and kids on their bicycles wanting to start a race. I must have ‘wasted’ another 30 minutes, even longer if it was evening bath time in the rivers. While I almost, if not exclusively ‘prefer’ that the bathers were women, its not uncommon for men clad only in their briefs or nothing at all, to suddenly stand up in all their god given glory to greet and wave at tourists. Most are usually covered in suds or wave with just one hand. We havent met any two handed wavers, thankfully.

I knew the girls would be worried since I was 3 hours overdue. Somehow as wives go, Coleen knew that I’d turn up late as usual and didnt seem too worried. There was still 20 minutes of daylight left too, after which I’ll start to worry. I pull up into the gardens of Adi’s Cottages to find them on their way out to dinner! Hey, I’ll join you for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. We planted ourselves at the Jazz Cafe for the next 3 hours. Me with a tingling feeling in my over stretched leg muscles. I think the stairway to our room might be a slight bother tonight.

 

 

Friday May 19, 2006, 10 km (6 miles) – Total so far: 563 km (350 miles)

Feed your guilt marketing

Coleen’s sister Doreen who was working in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta flew to Bali/Ubud for the weekend to relieve Coleen from her supposedly exhausting cycle touring lifestyle. Try as hard as we did, it was difficult to find a large triple room without a swimming pool in Ubud, until I stumbled into an old, since 1991, favourite in Adi’s Cottages along Monkey Forest Road. Yes there is a sacred forest full of mschievious macaques at the end of this road. Adi’s published rates of $35 was knocked down to about $18, so it was a done deal for 2 nights.

The creambath was so relaxing that I walked 10 minutes back to our room before remembering that I had left my unlocked bike outside Milano’s Saloon. And unlike other places like Singapore, there was no panic nor sprinting to get back to the bike ASAP.

Thursday May 18, 2006, 10 km (6 miles) – Total so far: 553 km (344 miles)

As our bikes are taking a short break from rolling not more than 10 kms today, I thought some scenes of daily life in Ubud might be interesting.

a painting depicting local and foreign life in Bali

The Ubud equivalent of a downtown shopping mall. Locals throng the market for their daily needs from 5 to 9 in the morning. After 9 a transformation takes place. Every fish, meat and vegetable seller packs up and moves out, their spots taken up by vendors selling what they think a tourist might buy, cast iron toy bicycles, carved Komdo dragons, wicker baskets, placemats, t shirts, surf shorts, sandals, bamboo flutes, fake Rolexs, cell phone and I Pod covers and the list goes on. I found out that some road front shops are leased for $1000 a month, a very big sum in Bali. That’s where the big white buses from the south disgorge day trippers who have an hour to shop and dont bargain too much. If you’re not the shopping type the Ubud market is a great place to spend some time watching the human race. Hey there’s a lot of nationalities here. It’s also strange to hear Balinese proficient in 8 languages, well enough to make a sale or more.

Ubud market

One of the advantages of starting and ending our trip in Ubud is having access to even more gear, to use or wear. I’m talking about the number of things a bike box can hold. While the bike takes up some space and weight, the empty spaces below the down tube, between the wheels and front forks can be stuffed with shopping, extra footwear, mangoes, rattan matts, woodcarvings etc. After some time on the road, I really appreciated opening my box to dig out a seasoned pair of Adidas running shoes, a world of difference from walking in stiff soled SPD shoes. I was also thankful for packing a heavy and bulky digital camera batter charger in the box, since my after market, light and miniscule one started acting up and eventually failed a few days before.

Skilled

Wednesday May 17, 2006, 90 km (56 miles) – Total so far: 543 km (337 miles)

Today’s long ride back to Ubud involves a climb in a van 30 kms up to the central mountains, a 15 km ride across a crater and 40 kms downhill on a main highway connecting to south Bali. The van ride from Singaraja to Wanagiri is a repeat of yesterday’s ride into the mountains.

Nurini and her Swiss husband Urs represent a time when travellers visited Bali, became enchanted, stayed on and never felt the need to return to their origins. Having found paradise and a Balinese soulmate, Urs has through the years brought all his assets over to Bali transforming Rini’s Homestay in to a Hotel, adding more rooms, better bathrooms and bigger gardens. Lush gardens are a big thing in Bali with fierce competitions held for the best ones amongst hotels in each Regency. Sometime in 2002 Urs bit the bullet and bought even more land from a neighbour. Here he built 3 stand alone villas and a two storey complex of 6 rooms in anticipation of a tourist boom. We’re holed up for two nights in Villa No 7 for Rp 200,000 or $18 with breakfast, per night. With the exception of concreting, tiling, bricklaying and roofbuilding Urs has a huge open workshop where all woodwork of beds, wardrobe, furniture, even full length mirrors are made by him. Amazing, and he thinks cycling around Bali is tiring. Oh and their now teenage daughter who looks like Kate Moss studies in a local university. Rini’s younger and single sister runs a tight ship which is the front office, the kitchen and the hotel’s beauty shop as well as doing all the accounting. A muscular brother takes care of security patrolling the perimeter a few times during the night. If he’s not too sleepy he’ll drive you around in one of his two Volkswagen convertibles for a reasonable/bargainable price of course. It’s just one big happy family taking care of business.

Galungan is a Balinese New Year celebration every 210 days. Here offerings are being brought to the village temple. Balancing loaded baskets on the head accounts for these very good postures.

Our trip to Bali coincided with one of the island’s major festivals, Galungan which also celebrates the victory of good over evil. All ancestral gods are thought to return to earth, Bali at least to join in the festivities of the living. This lasts ten days, after which another date, Kuningan is a day devoted to more family gatherings, prayers and offerings made as the partying souls return back to heaven. It’s a fortnight of great revelry, everyone is out in their ceremonial best and the streets are decorated with penjor, the long and elaborate bamboo poles found outside each and every home.

We rode into Ubud in the evening as the shadows were getting longer. It was good to be back in somewhat familiar though crowded surroundings. I found this 4 bedroom guest house back in 1998, which now seemed to be surrounded by other developments, meaning more noise and less privacy. I wondered how Loka House down a quiet alleyway just wide enough to cycle by would cope with a video themed restaurant behind it and another restaurant whose kitchen shared a common wall with one of the guest bathrooms. I could smell Tandoori chicken while taking a shower, and heard gossip, pots and pans being washed at midnight! Some things are just too close for comfort or discomfort. Then again that same room is reserved by an elderly Dutch couple 2 months every year. Bali does that to some people.

 

 

 

Tuesday May 16, 2006, 65 km (40 miles) – Total so far: 453 km (281 miles)

Some history 101 on Singaraja which means Lion King. The town riches were based on ill gotten gains from a 17th century feudal king who was feared for his export of Balinese slaves to the outer islands in exchange for gold and opium. This was also the part of Bali where the Dutch first set foot in 1849, their influence much more lasting in north Bali than the south. Today there’s a rich cultural mix of business savvy Chinese Balinese and the Muslim community, descendants of Moroccan and Arab traders. There’s also a healthy rivalry here as to who has the biggest satellite dish crowned three storey marbled mansion or long wheel based BMW, as we cycled by some very posh and guarded houses out of town.

We negotiated a ride up 1500 meters and 30 kms into Bali’s central highlands. Mr Speedy’s red 1.3 liter Harley or Suzuki is a common runaround in the town of Singaraja, usually ferrying schoolkids or housewives to the market, sometimes packing up to 20 people inside. We spotted him at a gas station and made the opening offer for him to drive us to a pass at Wanagiri. He agreed on Rps 70,000 or $8 and off we went. Where’s Wanagiri? he asked.

nice CV

2 of 3 highland lakes we pass by on our ride down to the sea. Some potential campsites here with no shortage of water

Cycling above the three crater lakes of Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan in the central highlands of Bali is always a delight. A smooth and seldom used road runs for an undulating 10 kms with glimpses of the lakes before descending steeply into the last of Bali’s remaining primary jungle.There’s one perfect straight where a friend hit 70 kmph plus speeds, before skidding and blowing his rear tyre and rim in our younger and more reckless days. Another 15 kms up the road is the Dutch era village of Munduk surrounded by clove and coffee estates, which has some hidden gems like the Puri Lumbung Cottages and a few village homestays which we’ve come to know and love. See http://www.purilumbung.com

A steep singletrack leads down to this waterfall which I was prepared to swim in having brought my bathing gear. It was more like a 10 minute dip before hypothermia set in. The water was freezing! We did not have to back track uphill as I knew of a flat and more direct trail next to some very steep ravines, before it emerged on the main road.

The village of Munduk hugs a mountain ridge in north Bali, surrounded by clove and coffee plantations.

Made Bawa, retired school teacher, funnyman and owner, Guru Ratna Guesthouse, Munduk Village, north Bali 2003

We drop in on some old friends who run an old 5 room Dutch era guesthouse in the mountain village of Munduk

Family matters alot in Bali. Made Bawa used to be a schoolteacher, as did his father but it was also more lucrative leading walks around the surrounding hills and villages. Besides he likes to give a helping hand to any foreign women who has difficulty crossing a stream or muddy rice field, and still get paid for being gentlemanly. As he’s getting on in years, most of his time is spent tending to a small plot of clove trees or puffing on a clove cigarette or two from his private pavilion overlooking a stunning valley of rice terraces and a side road ‘where the ladies go to bathe’ Coleen found out that a younger brother he always doted on had passed away from a heart attack just weeks ago, and Made was still grieving, yet he apologised for his mood saying it was ‘mendung’ Indonesian for ‘cloudy’ His son and daughter in law will eventually take over the running of Guru Ratna, their spotless guesthouse in Munduk which today was full with travellers from Australia’s Intrepid Travels. We said our goodbyes after 2 hours.

Munduk rice terraces