Virtual Vacation: A Downhill Ride, Day 21

Today was our free day in Ubud. Everyone was free to choose whatever activities they wanted for the day. Choices included: time to write and wander, time to shop, bike trips down from the top of a mountain, white water rafting, cooking classes, visiting a healer (a real one, not one of the Eat, Pray, Love hype healers), salon or spa treatments, body work, going to the art museum, and a number of other suggestions handed out yesterday.

Karyn and I (and two others in our group—Abby and Mary) opted for the bike excursion. We were picked up at 8:00. On the way up to Mount Batur and our drop off point for biking, we stopped at a little tourist farm that demonstrated how Luwak coffee was made. We saw what the beans look like when they come out of the civet cat:

And what they look like after they’ve been dried for two weeks and cleaned:

This is how they’re roasted, by hand, with no oil, in a large clay wok:

And here’s the cat that digests and shits our these famous coffee beans:

On this same farm, we saw cinnamon trees, vanilla beans, ginger, banana, papaya. This is what cacao beans look like:

A little further up the road, we stopped to see a vast rice field and got into a conversation with our tour guide, Wayan, about the percent of rice in Bali that is now GMO rice from Monsanto—80% of the rice crop. With the GMO rice, the farmers are forced to continually buy new seeds and can’t get seeds from their existing crop. The yields are higher and the crop is turned over more quickly, in a three-month cycle. The GMO seeds require chemical fertilizer—whereas the traditional methods were all based on organic agriculture. Rice grown the traditional way only produces two crops a year, half as much as the GMO rice, and relies on cow manure for fertilizer. Wayan said there is some movement back toward organics and the old rice—something I’m sure we will be talking about and learning more about when we move to Munduk tomorrow.

We stopped for breakfast (the food was mediocre, but the view was spectacular). Mount Batur is an active volcano, and the lake is at 1200 meters. The last major eruption was in 1917; the last small eruption in 1993.

After we ate, we stepped outside and chose our bicycles:

We’d been promised a downhill ride, and that’s pretty much what we got. My hands (from squeezing the brakes) got a much better workout than my legs, though there were a few minor hills we did have to climb. Mostly we were coasting down paved roads, dirt trails, small villages and all kinds of terrain.

Along the way I kept seeing these designs by the side of the road. I believe they represent the balance between good and evil—as so many of the black and white patterns are you see in Bali everyday.

At one point we stopped at a poor, traditional home that had been in this particular family for at least three or four generations. Wayan explained the layout of the property and who lived in each part (the elder of the family in one place, the family and children in another, a third area was reserved for rituals (like laying out the dead). We learned about the different family altars and shrines. And we got to peek into this woman’s kitchen:

Inside a very dark room there was a wood stove and a large pot simmering.

We found out later it was food for the cow. The food for the family had been cooked much earlier in the day. We left to reclaim our bikes, hoping that this family makes a little income every day (or maybe several times a day) from tours like ours traipsing through her “authentic Balinese compound.” At least we hoped so.

We did see a lot of real life as we barreled town road after road, street after street:

These is rice drying on the road:

These are coffee beans drying on the road:

I kept seeing these poles as we drove by. Again, I assumed they had some spiritual significance. When I asked Wayan, he said no, that they had no spiritual meaning. They are to make the roads more visible because there are no street lights.

The best part of the ride was when we stopped in the village of Taro, a stone carving village. The villagers shovel sand and stone from the river, and the women carry it on their heads into the workshops where it is put molds and shaped.

Here’s the bags of raw material:

This is one of the molds.

These two young men were shaping the molded pieces into the precise shapes they need to be as pieces of temples. Each part of the temple has a specific, precise shape.

 Here’s a closer look:

Look at how he grips his work with his feet:

This is what some of their finished work looks like:

And here’s how it looks in place. This is the temple that serves this same community:

It was a great ride!

P.S. In the midst of me (and our group) having our tourist fun, Karyn (and many others) have come home with stories like this one: Karyn was in a store today and she met a young girl who had gone all the way through high school, which is quite unusual for many Balinese. Her dream was to be a nurse, but it was a dream she could never fulfill because the cost of school to become a nurse was beyond anything her family could ever reach. So her plan was to go to a special school they have in Bali to teach locals how to work with tourists. If you complete one year of this school, that qualifies you to be a maid. If you complete all four years, you might possibly someday become a hotel manager. That’s the best possible future for this young girl who dreams of a career in nursing. That’s one of many sad and similar stories I hear everyday—kids who are asked what they want to be when they grow up, and they excitedly say, “A maid!”

P.P.S. When she was out buying some gifts in town today, Karyn also met a shopowner who runs an educational foundation. He told her that the poorest people in all of Bali are in Amed—and from my time there, I’m not surprised. I just wrote him an email to see if there’s any way I can sponsor the children of “my Ketut” for their schooling. If there’s a small way I could make a difference for his family on an ongoing basis, that’s something I’d really like to do.

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