Bike tours are common place in Ubud, if not Bali in general. The company we went with (Celebrity Bike Tour) was one of many bike companies. The object is simple, ride bikes around while seeing some of the great sites in the area. It should be noted that I use the word "ride" in the most generous of interpretations as the activity we engaged in was little more than sitting and steering.
Being a volcanic island, mountains are in abundance and so the aim of the tour is to drive groups of tourists to elevated locations, equip them with bikes and send them back down the mountain, using back roads to avoid most of the traffic. However, before reaching the selected biking location, there are a few stops to be had on the way.
PURA GUNUNG KAWI
Pura Gunung Kawi is one of the oldest temples on Bali, in addition to being a funeral complex. It spans both banks of the Pakerisan River and dates back to the 11th century and is thought to be dedicated to king Anak Wungsu.
Being a place of religion, it also holds to some rather archaic ideas, as seen here in their third rule, which forbids ladies to enter the area during their period.
Another necessity was attire. One must be dressed correctly to enter the temple grounds, so we were asked to wear a traditional wrap-around.
Who says men can't rock the skirt?
Properly attired, some friends listen to our guide as he shares some of the history of the Gunung Kawi.
Our first task was to descend into the valley.
This was a curiosity I couldn't identify. On the sie of this tree is what appears to be a web catching the light, but when looked at more closely appears to resemble strands of hair more than it does web. Perhaps this is a perculiar kind of spider web, or perhaps it is something made by the tree or a parasite plant.
Close by the river at the centre of the complex someone in our partly spotted a spider referred to scientifically as Nephila maculata and commonly as the giant golden orb weaver. They're harmless to humans, by all accounts, but as their legspan can reach 20cms, they can be daunting to see.
Anyway, our guide overheard the commenting and pointing out of the spider and decided to enlighten us. Next he performed something that looked like a kangaroo hop and carefully snatched the spider right out of the web. He then showed us it was harmless by letting it run over his hands, as one would a pet hamster.
The offer was extended to any brave enough to hold out their hands. I remember something like a ticklish sensation, though more akin to goosebumps when it picked its way over my hand and wrist.
Our guide saved the best trick for last.
Coming up the far side of the river, we came to the old temple grounds.
This portal represented the aim entranceway into the older sections of the temple. It is customary to walk with hands apart, palms up when approaching the portal, slowly bringing them up and together as one walks through. This is a sign of bringing your physical and spiritual sides together.
Beyond the portal lay the cliff face where the candi (shrines) had been cut into the wall. Before that, however, was an area off to the side where the ancient temple grounds had been cut into the stone of the cliff. Shoes were not permitted to be worn in this area.
On the far side of the temple buildings (before the obligatory souvenir shop) stood the candi, carved carefully into the side of the cliff, a reflection of the ones cut on the far side of the river.
A single shaft of light peering between the trees.
Our next stop en route to bike riding was a coffee shop of sorts. Coffee and cocoa beans are grown in the area, but their trump card Luwak Coffee (also known as Kopi Luwak or Civit Coffee).
On first description, Luwak Coffee sounds like a weird concept. The coffee is made (partly or entirely) with coffee beans that have first been ingested and defecated by Asian Palm Civits (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, the claim is that the civits only select the best coffee cherries to eat. Secondly, the enzymes in the civits' stomaches are said to reduce the bitterness in the coffee.
Display civit cage.
Cocoa beans growing.
The different stages of preparing Luwak Coffee. The closest bowl contains beans collected from civit poo, the next the same beans after being cleaned, then various stages of them being roasted.
The same bowls from the opposite side.
Here a young lady roasts coffee beans over an open flame.
There are also a variety of spices that are used to make the various styles of coffee that are offered at OKA.
Then our party was seated at a table and brought a selection of teas and coffees to sample. There were a few I took to, but it was interesting to note how much sugar was added to some of the drinks. A few were saturated, as we discovered when we reached the bottom of the glasses.
I found the coconut coffee to be my favourite. Their Bali Kopi was, sadly, lacking, but then all Bali Kopis have paled in comparison to the one I had in Sidemen.
The list of teas and coffees in order.
The drinks themselves in the same order.
In our coffee tasting we were asked if we wanted to try Luwak coffee. It wasn't particularly cheap by Bali standards (IDR 50,000), but only amounted to around €3.
While I can agree that it's not as bitter as the usual coffee, I don't feel it's special enough to warrant the attention it gets.
Preparation of the Luwak Coffee.
My cup of Kopi Luwak.
Others sampling the Kopi Luwak:
The wedding couple.
Next came a stop for breakfast (or possibly a light brunch, as it was too late for breakfast in the official capacity).
The view from the place was spectacular, though owing to only having my phone's camera with me, these pictures cannot capture the light as effectively as I'd have liked.
The dark patches on the volcano are not shadows, but rather burns from the last time the volcano erupted.
What is not captured properly is the fact that alone the entire ridge of the mountain is a treeline. Obviously this ground is fertile and the trees strong enough to resist the winds.
Here's my attempt at a full view construction.
Friends enjoying their meal.
Inside the restaurant is a statue of Garuda, the winged bird-like creature who is the mount for Lord Vishnu. At his feet are pieces of volcanic rock from the volcano that can be seen from the balcony.
Finally we were ready to bike down the mountain. Our guides dropped us off by a small house where a selection of bikes had been set out. We each chose a bike, as did the guides who would accompany us.
At the outset of our journey.
The places we drove through changed from being more rural with open farmland to being small pockets of communities and back into open land again.
It's common place to see people riding motorcycles without helmets on, even if those driving them are not even in their teens.
After a while we came to a halt on a hilltop whose view commanded the surrounding rice paddies.
After leaving the fields the landscape took on a determined air to grow more and more residential, villages and towns became the norm, until we stopped in a town where our guides gave us lunch.
Part of my lunch, all traditional and delicious.