Well, we are definitely cycling now, I jokingly said to Heather, who like me was pedaling extra hard as we tried to cycle our way up the steep incline. My heart was pounding fast and I was having trouble breathing. I was definitely not prepared for this, I said as I got down from the mountain bike and began pushing it up the uphill road.
Heather laughed and got down from her bike, too. We can do this!
Let’s rewind to a few hours earlier.
Are you American or Canadian?
This was the next question Heather asked me after she and I exchanged names. I laughed in my perplexity. This is the first time anyone’s ever asked me that! I replied and that is with good reason. I’ve never been mistaken for anything other than Southeast Asian. I certainly look the part. I’m Filipino, I explained.
Well, you can’t really tell these days, Heather replied. She was American, studying in Australia, but has traveled extensively for the last few years, and now, in her mid-thirties has started med school. We got along really well. She’s just one of those people you click with immediately. Today, she was my cycling buddy and a new friend. This was how we met, in a van that picked us up from neighboring guest houses, on our way to cycling Bali’s countryside. I chose cycling because I thought it would be a fun way to explore Bali. I had originally wanted to see the temple by the lake in Bedagul, but so far, no one has signed up for it and I was not up for doing the tour on my own and shouldering the entire tour rate. After we had picked up two lovely girls from Jersey Island from their guest house and a couple from Perth, Australia from their fancy hotel, we were off.
Now, we didn’t get to cycling immediately. First, we stopped by this coffee and tea plantation, where they toured us through a garden and have us taste test different kinds of coffee and tea. I found out the next day that this was a common stop for most group joining tours you sign up for as we made a similar stop the next day, but on this day it was a novelty to me. They showed us what the different coffee plants are, what the beans looks like when they are harvested, how the beans are cooked and how they are ground—all manual by the way. They showed us the civet cat and explained the process of making the most expensive of coffees, Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee. I was able to try this type of coffee the next day and in my opinion, it is not worth the hype. But that is a story for the next day. Today, we went tea crazy. My favorite was the lemongrass tea.
So yes, you will figure out that they are trying to sell you their products, but they weren’t being pushy about it. The two girls from Jersey Island bought some souvenirs, but the rest of our group was satisfied with the tea tasting and was amped up to do some cycling. Where was the driver anyway? After waiting for about an hour for our driver, who didn’t follow us into the plantation, our small group decided it was time to get to cycling, so we went back to the parking lot to find our driver, in the van. We were not too pleased about that, but we were still in pretty good spirits. It was already 10AM; surely, cycling is the next stop?
Unfortunately, it was not. But I’m not going to complain either. The tour that we signed up for had free breakfast and lunch included and the next stop at half-past ten in the morning was at this small restaurant with the most spectacular view of Mt. Batur. The driver took our breakfast orders (banana pancake and coffee for me) and we ate the sweet treat while we soaked in the view. After everyone has had their fill, we were on to our next stop–finally–the jump off for the cycling tour.
The whole time that we were in the van, a second vehicle followed us that had the bicycles and gear on it. On this stop, they unloaded the bikes and checked the tires, pumped the tires with air if necessary; they also check the bells and breaks to make sure everything was working. When they were done, they each handed us a helmet, loaded each bike’s water bottle holder with a 500ml bottle each, and let us choose our bike. I picked a yellow one with a cute red bell. The driver introduced us to our guide and off we went.
For a good hour most of our ride was downhill, first through a main road, then eventually into a smaller road, and now through Bali’s beautiful countryside. I didn’t get to take a lot of pictures throughout the ride as I mainly enjoyed the view. If you are from the Philippines like me, then you know what provinces up North look like—the ones with the rice plantations. This is what Bali’s countryside looks like: rice fields and terraces on each side, except, their houses are distinctly in Balinese architecture. I envy the Balinese for never losing touch with their own architecture. I feel that the Philippines had been too keen to adapt Spanish and American culture that we had lost our own. As we rode through the countryside, I thought of this famous line you hear from people traveling around Southeast Asia: same same but different. If I was to pick a country in Southeast Asia that was so similar to home, it would be Indonesia. The terrain, the weather, it was so alike. I wonder if we didn’t get colonized by the Spanish and Americans if this would be what our country looked like today.
We made some stops while cycling. Some for water breaks—they provided more water if you are done with your bottle—and some to know more about the culture. On one stop, we visited a Balinese household. The family had just arrived from a religious service. Our guide showed us how the houses are laid out. They had different structures for their living and dining areas and for the rooms. The family also had their own temple. The guide explained that no two families can worship at the same temple because of the caste system.
We also stopped at a village temple, where people who did not have their own temples, can go to worship.
Along the way, we saw glimpses of Balinese life: children coming home from school, children playing, the adults busy in the farms.
On the next water break, the guide had asked us if we wanted to load the bikes into the truck that followed us and ride in the van. He warned that the next hill is quite steep and if you aren’t a regular cyclist, it may be difficult to cycle up the hill. Our group exchanged looks. How steep is it? I asked. The guide gestured with his arm with what looked to me like a forty five degree angle. I think I can do that, I said. The rest of our group, apart from the woman from Perth stayed with their bikes as well. The guide shrugged, made sure everyone had their water, and away we went.
He wasn’t kidding about how steep the hill was. Well, we are definitely cycling now, I jokingly said to Heather, who like me was pedaling extra hard as we tried to cycle our way up the steep incline. My heart was pounding fast and I was having trouble breathing. I was definitely not prepared for this, I said as I got down from the mountain bike and began pushing it on the uphill road.
Heather laughed and got down from her bike, too. We can do this!
We continued joking as we pushed our bikes up, taking short stops every now and then. Finally, we made it to the top, back on even plane. I downed what was left of my bottle of water and promptly asked for more.
After that it was pretty steady riding, more beautiful scenery, mostly downhill; and finally through an actual rice field.
It was such a good ride. We ended at around three in the afternoon. Everyone was tired but happy. They brought us to this small restaurant for lunch where we had traditional Balinese fare (seafood Nasi Goreng for me). We talked and ate for an hour more, before finally, they took us back to our separate guest houses.
Heather and I would be meeting again later that evening, first for yoga (first time for me) and then finally, for dinner. It was such a good day, and a sign of better days to come.