While in Bali a couple of months ago, I had heard about Bali Eco Cycling Tours a fun bicycle day-trip in Ubud. The initial appeal was the fact that the route was downhill. Sounded very do-able. Then read a great review on them in The New York Times and coming back to Bali, thought it would be fun to check out while in Ubud. It really is an all-day adventure – as much about promoting the Balinese culture and exposing visitors to traditional aspects of Balinese life as it is about cycling. This turned out to be a highlight of our trip to Bali, and would not hesitate to recommend it strongly – almost as a requirement – to anyone visiting.
The tour starts with early morning collection at your hotel. Once everyone is on-board, we head up to Mt Batur for a breakfast of pancakes and fruit overlooking the caldera. Nice way to get acquainted with other members of the group while experiencing a totally different aspect of Bali’s vast and varied topography. It was a little chilly up there! Then we piled back into the van and were taken to a small coffee farm where the specialty is Lwok coffee, aka cat poop coffee. I will not go into the process of the cats and the beans and the fermenting, but know that it is a highly-sought after beverage, unique to the area. Here, we were able to taste the infamous brew as well as try various other coffees and teas grown here. Definitely try the lemongrass tea and the ginger coffee was TO DIE for.
Then we were off to begin the cycling. The bikes were in good working shape with functioning gears and excellent brakes. There was a healthy assortment of bikes as well as helmets for all size craniums, including my ultra small one (which reminds me – there are also child sized bikes & helmets). Each of us had a bottle holder and we were provided our first bottle of water for the 20+km ride (again, downhill – no stress or strain). A big plus right off the bat is that you are followed by the van AND the bike truck, so if you have any difficulty – physical or technological – there is immediate support. The guide, in our case Joker Joe, leads the group and his partner picks up the rear so no one is left behind. The pace is not difficult. The route consists of side streets and little alleyways off the beaten track, with very little traffic. The views are magnificent. You meander through towns, stop for a quick sound byte from Joe and a swig of water, and continue on. They take you inside one of the traditional Balinese communes where you see how Balinese families live, which is really interesting. You pass through rice paddies and some of the most beautiful topography you will ever see. You learn about how the towns are structured, with the grave yards and the three temples which mark a town. You even get to ride IN the rice paddies!
When you arrive at the end of the journey, you hop back in the van to a beautiful (and excellent) local restaurant where a sumptuous buffet lunch awaits you. The view – stunning – right on the rice paddies. A perfect finish for the tour.
We thoroughly enjoyed the day. I have to stress that our guide, Joe, was professional, courteous, informative – had a great way about him and the kookiest, most infectious laugh (and sense of humor – he is called “Joker Joe”, after all). He was fun to be around and so knowledgeable. His English was excellent and his love of his job and showing visitors the traditions was obvious. When he biked, he would slow down enough to high-five the kids walking by and say hi to them. There must have been 100 kids along the journey. His smile and enthusiasm never flagged. Note – definitely bring little treats for the kids in the villages. You can stop at a local food store and pick up candies. I brought rubber lizards that stick to walls. Big hit. Only wish I had brought more.
After lunch, they take you to the office to settle up, and in our haste, we forgot to give Joe a tip. A major oversight on our part. We didn’t even realize it until today. He was superb, and made the trip so special for us. Hopefully people will read this review and tip Joe just a little bit extra!