For most families, a visit to the Island of the Gods is an opportunity to embrace sun, sand and beachfront pools, perhaps venturing out to visit the Bali Zoo, a market or one of its many temples.
For mine, however, there are only two things on our mind: food and bicycles.
The first we tackle with a delicious afternoon with Executive Chef Dean Nor at The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Ubud, following him through his garden as he shares samples of ginger and exotic citrus that end up in our traditional Balinese cooking lesson. The second sees us leaving the fly-and-flop tourist trail behind on a scenic bike ride from the edge
of a volcano into Ubud.
Bike Tours in Bali
There are probably close to a hundred tour companies offering family-friendly downhill
bike rides in Bali. Most of these offer a similar itinerary: hotel pick-up, stop at a
luwak coffee plantation, breakfast overlooking the volcanic crater of Mount Batur,
then a three-hour-or-so cycle down through villages and rice paddies to the tour
company ownerís family compound for lunch.
Many will arrange kidsí bikes for little
ones, even tandem or bikes with baby seats for those too young to go solo.
Our experience with
Bali Bintang Tour begins at 7am in Nusa Dua, kitted out in yoga
pants and T-shirts that look out of place in the marble lobby of our beachside resort.
Pick-up for accommodation in Ubud is a more leisurely 8.30am, but weíre on the
express route this morning with only one other family to collect.
We meet our guide when we pull into a kopi luwak plantation overlooking a palm-filled
valley, just out of Ubud and on the way up to the village of Kintamani. He explains,
for the uninitiated, that the exotic (and expensive) luwak coffee is derived from
coffee cherries fed to the Asian palm civet (a possum-like cat) that are then passed
through its digestive system, the beans retrieved on the other side and then roasted
like normal coffee.
Naturally the kids find this process a delightful blend of
fascinating and gross, and warily watch one of the nocturnal creatures dozing.
With our fill of morning coffee, itís time to continue on to our meeting point in Kintamani, perched on the edge of Mount Batur. Breakfast is waiting inside a restaurant just off the side of the road, with views spreading over the lava field and crater lake of the active volcano. We donít linger over our meal; just outside, the guides are preparing our bikes, pumping up tyres and testing brakes.
Thereís a big group ahead of us leaving first, with several guides in their midst. We follow along after, a cosy group of seven, with both the support truck and the air-conditioned van trailing right behind.
The Village of Pejeng
From Kintamani, itís nearly all downhill (or at least flat) into the
village of Pejeng outside Ubud. The ride itself is easy, but very heavy on the brakes.
Make sure your kids know how to work both front and rear brakes on their assigned
bikes, and how to back-pedal (as someone who has previously disagreed with a brick
wall about this, I assure you this knowledge is vital). Load up on water (we were given
bottles throughout the day) and douse yourselves in sunscreen regularly.
Within the first few minutes of freewheeling down the road, past tiny shops and
talls, weíve all got the hang of this bike thing again and we already love it. The
rushing morning breeze is a soothing balm against the perpetual tropical heat of Bali
and there are a few whoops of joy as we course down the mountain.
After the paved freedom of the main road, the first time we take a back road comes as
a bit of a surprise. Pitted with potholes and gashes in the bitumen, we all slow down
and start to look around. On our right is a stream of palms and jungle; on our left
are lines local homes.
As our guide will later tell us, the Balinese donít have houses
but rather these compounds, with separate sections for elders, parents and children,
cooking and eating, and a small family temple. Family life threads through everyday
existence. Out on this pitted road, itís easy to see this fact for the first time
our arrival in Bali.
Children wave as we bump on by, waving enthusiastically and calling out in English and
Bahasa Indonesia indiscriminately. Rice is laid out by the roadside to dry; chickens
occasionally serve as a moving obstacle to dodge.
The pace is easy-going enough for little legs. Once theyíve got their confidence up,
the kids are soon showing off and marvelling at the sights. Theyíre most impressed by
the local school children, piled onto the family motorbike with a 10-year-old at the
controls and singing songs. Iím rather more terrified.
Our bumpy back road left behind, we are now on a smooth path through villages, rice
paddies and jungle interludes. We stop in rice field, learning about the terraces,
irrigation and how to tell when the grain is ready to harvest. Further down the road
we stop before a temple, its pillars intricately carved and festooned with fabric,
waiting for the next festival that will bring every soul in the village to its gates.
Itís while weíre freewheeling once more through a hillside hamlet that we realise this
is what made Bali a must for travellers all those years ago. Like us, they were
enthralled with the beauty of the landscape, the friendliness of the people and the
fascination of their ceremonies. While its international appeal has changed with the
times, this slice of rural Bali remains and itís this aspect that should make an
bike tour the top of your family travel wish list.