I haven’t really done much cycling in years even though it used to be a sport I loved when I was in my teens.
You see, I was a late bloomer when it came to the bicycle. While I had a trike as young as a year old and distinctively remember the excitement of upgrading to a shiny yellow bike with training wheels when I was about five, somehow, my parents failed to teach me how to properly ride a bicycle. I grew out of my training wheel bicycle when I was about 8 years old and life went on without a nare thought about bicycles until I was 12.
One day, there was a huge public holiday gathering at my maternal grandfather’s home. All my cousins of all ages and sizes decided to bring their bikes to head out to the nearby park. It dawned on me that I not only didn’t have a bicycle, I couldn’t even borrow the bikes from my cousins since I couldn’t cycle without training wheels. Most of the cousins on training wheels were below 6 years old, and the cousins age 7 and above could ride without help. Needless to say, my sister and I stayed at my grandfather’s home that day instead of joining the rest at the park. While my sister didn’t care less, I was unhappy and felt totally left out.
When my cousins returned at about 6pm for dinner, I carefully snuck out with one of the bicycles, determined to learn how to ride. By the time I pushed the bike to the park, most of the children were gone and twilight was fading. The park lights came on and I was pretty much alone with a bicycle that was way too big for me. I wasn’t sure how to start and without having anyone around to guide me, I just kept trying and trying.
I fell twice, it hurt like mad and I was scared. But my pride was hurt that day and I refuse to admit defeat. Suddenly, on my millionth try (I lost count so this is definitely an exaggeration) , I was on the bike, going further and further without stopping and without falling at all. I kept cycling in circles around the park, just to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke.The feeling was incredible! It felt as if I learnt to fly and I knew from then on I was hooked on cycling.
In case, you were wondering, I managed to sneak back to the house unnoticed ( with more than 30++ people in the house, it was quite chaotic and not difficult for others to think you were just with another group in another part of the house). I never told anyone that I learnt to ride or my adventures that night. I just assumed control of one of the old unused bikes and cycling became a daily routine for a few years.
When I moved into a HDB, I stopped cycling. There was so many new things to try, cycling was just one of the things that got left behind. Over the years, I’ve cycled with my dogs on a couple of occasions but not regularly since I don’t own a bicycle anymore.
Being to Bali countless of times, I had always been keen to do a mountain biking adventure there. I did some research and found dozens of interesting trails. However, since I haven’t been biking regularly, I signed up for one of the simplest mountain biking routes that runs through the padi fields of ubud, villages, pass dams and deep into Kintamani. It wasn’t totally without challenges but compared to the rest of the hardcore, off road, up volcano routes, it looked simple enough (or so I thought).
As luck would have it, it was raining the day of my mountain biking trip. But I’m not going to let a little rain water get in the way of adventure! The rain came and went so many times that I had to take off and put on my poncho quite a few times as well.
Being early, we had to wait for the rest of the team to arrive. It gave me an opportunity to explore the village that marked the beginning of our route.
The villagers were really kind and invited us to explore their gardens freely. I’m holding a freshly plucked cocoa fruit and the photo above shows the seeds before they are processed into cocoa powder. Since everything in this village is organically grown, there were insects as well. Quite irritating but harmless.
Fed some pigs and chased around some of the free ranging chickens. Just look how skinny the chicken is (in the background of the photos). That’s how chickens should be and not the fatty unhealthy ones that they sell us these days. Even the kampong chicken sold in the Singapore supermarket these days are quite fatty.
The villagers kept bees to pollinate their garden and for their honey too.
While I was there, I learnt of local alcohol made with coconut and called arrack. I witness a super agile villager climb up the super tall coconut trees to harvest the milky sap from the coconut flowers. It’s amazing how fast they climb without any aid or safety devices. It’s just their way of life. The milky sap from the flower can be drunk on it’s own but usually they ferment and distill it to make a super strong alcohol (60% -80%) called coconut aarack. It’s clear and super strong! The taste is a mix of rum and whiskey and this is not commercially produced so you can generally only find it in farms or homes. Farmers drink a shot of this before they start work and end the day with another shot. Interestingly, this alcohol can actually be consumed by muslims as well! The “loophole” is that it’s neither distilled from grain or fruit. Other than drinking it neat, they also use it with mixers to make cocktails.
While I was having fun in the villagers homes, the rest of the cyclist arrived and the guides told us to put on our helmet and get ready to move.
The air had a fresh rain smell and with the cool breeze brushing my face, I was ready to get going!
We rode pass villages and temples, avoiding potholes and puddles as much as we could. It started off as a pretty easy ride.
After a few mini up and down hills, we finally got to the padi fields. By this time the rain started to get heavier so we all stopped to put on ponchos.
We were all in high spirits that day so the wetness and rain didn’t dampen our moods at all. By this time I stopped caring about getting dirty and was happily speeding through puddles and getting all muddy. lol.
It weird that how a little mud affects you but when you have a whole lot of mud, you stop caring and just enjoy the flow.
I learnt so much about the Bali culture, their unique traditions, trees and hidden secret temples that day. It only made me want to stay even longer to emerse myself in their culture. I want to stay as far away from touristy Bali and venture as deep into real Bali as much as possible.
Look how cute the ducks are! There were so much of them over one of the small areas that we rode through.
The path started to get harder the more we got off road. Those were the times that I didn’t take photos because I was working hard to concentrate on the terrain. There were a couple of “main roads” we needed to cross as well. The roads in Bali are rather narrow and often used both ways so in the interest of amateurs like us, the guide would advice us to get off and push our bicycles instead of riding.
I loved chatting to the guides along ride and they were more than happy to take you to see “extra locations” if they were near enough. We even had a small detour to see spots that “Eat, Pray, Love” was filmed. The villagers around this area all had a chance to meet Julia Roberts which was a major highlight for them.
They explained that the combinations of mountain biking trails are endless as there is a myriad of ways to get from one village to another. Secret waterfall locations, deep canyons, fast flowing rivers, volcanos and more! It is pretty much a dream destination for tons of mountain bike enthusiasts. Generally speaking the slopes on the north side of the island are steeper and closer to the sea, conversely the slopes to the south are more gentle with a longer run-off to the coast.
When they told me this was the easiest trail, they were definitely just being modest. The island of Bali is made up of a small chain of volcanoes which trend roughly east – west and make up the back bone of the Island. Which means there is no such thing as a flat trail and any mountain biking requires putting hard work. So I was working up a sweat way before reaching the dam which is the halfway point of my journey.
We had a nice pit stop at the dam with the loud water gushing at an impressive speed. I was then told of a good news and a bad one.
Good news – Its the halfway point! Yay!
Bad news – The easy part of the trail is over.
Gosh! If the easy part of the trail could get me sweating like a pig, I didn’t dare think about how I was going to make it for the 2nd half. But the beautiful scenery and fresh air really made the trip so enjoyable despite the crazy pedaling and rocky terrain.
There are a lot less photos on the 2nd leg of the mountain biking expedition because stopping in the middle of an uphill climb was unthinkable. I tried as much as possible to push myself to cycle uphill and keep the bike pushing to a minimum. I didn’t want to be “that” tiny asian girl in the group that slows everyone down! Luckily, I fared better than most and my light physic helped me to do surprisingly well. There were a couple of crazy fit team mates but quite a few of them resorted to pushing their bike up steep winding paths which made me feel relieved.
I managed to work through most of the cheeky uphills using sheer will power but gave up on one of the super long, pathless treks across the vertical incline of terraced rice paddies.
Once we got to the duck filled paddy fields again, I knew the worst was over and I was on the home stretch. Yay!!!
The end point was in the village at one of the guide’s home and we were greeted with a beautiful spread of food, lovingly prepared by the guides’ wives!
More importantly, was there were drinks and beer to reward us for making it to the finish line. The perfect way to end a wonderful day.
The home cooked meal was super yummy! Coupled with the fact that we were all really hungry.
The local deserts were really unique and I don’t know what they are called but I remember them to be pretty tasty. The Balinese are brilliant at using whatever nature provides to the fullest and a lot of their food are wrapped using leaves found in their gardens.
I was a little surprised I did well on this trip despite not cycling for the longest time. Looking at these photos again renewed my passion to start cycling again. I need to start off by getting myself a bicycle. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one or even a mountain bike but any reasonable bicycle to get me off my butt and cycling again. Any recommendations from you peeps are welcome!
Hopefully someday soon, I’ll be fit enough to attempt doing a harder trail in Bali. I really want to do the 5 to 10 days mountain biking tour along the crater of their volcanos, cycling the ridge tops and down the coasts. If I work hard enough, maybe (keeping fingers crossed), just maybe, I’ll even manage to attempt the legendary ‘lung-busting mother of all climbs’ which rises from the crater floor to the inner rim.
Everything starts with a dream right?
PS- I couple of readers asked about my good skin on my Facebook page when I put up some recent photos of me. One of the things I can accredit my clean pores to is a wonderful beauty and new beauty gadget by Hitachi. You can read and watch my review about it on the Hitachi blog!