Monday, February 14, 2011

Bali: Bali Bike-Baik Tour

Friday 24th December 2010
Christmas Eve.
Bali Bike-Baik Tour.
We sat in anticipation at a long, wooden table at the edge of a coffee plantation. We’d already wandered under large coffee and cocoa trees, witnessed a coffee bean roasting demonstration, and seen how they grew vanilla, spice and all things nice. But now it was time to get down to some serious business. Sampling the wares. My five-year-old stared at me with a big grin and wide-eyes as I explained how ‘poo coffee’, the plantation’s specialty, was made. “Bahhhh Hahhhh!” He bellowed. “Can I taste it?”
Now freeze right there.
‘Poo coffee’ is really called Luwak coffee. We’ve just re-named it. It is said to be the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee. And here’s a very simple explanation as to why it is rare, expensive and deserves our tag of a‘poo’val.
The Luwak (or Asian Palm Civet) is a tree-dwelling mammal that is native to Indonesia and parts of Asia. It eats small vertebrates, insects, seeds and ripe fruits. And it loves to hang out in coffee trees, where it eats the ripest whole coffee cherries it can find. In the Luwak’s stomach, the soft outer flesh of the coffee cherries is digested. But the beans remain intact, and the animal’s enzymes penetrate them, making them less bitter than normal coffee beans. The beans then pass through the Luwak’s intestines before being shat out into long, faecal-coated bean bars. They look a bit like small Picnic chocolate bars...only nowhere near as inviting to eat. The bean bars are then collected and the beans are separated from the excrement, cleaned, lightly roasted and ground. Coffee producers then sell the finished product for a motser. And some people pay a motser for it, brew it, and drink it. The coffee is supposedly smooth with a full, sweet taste.
Now if you’re going to let your kid try coffee for the first time, I’m not sure that it’s best to let them guzzle a brew that started its tender years in the bowels of wild animals. But hey, we were on holidays. So, what the hell.  
Our five-year-old eagerly put the cup to his mouth. Woo hoo. Coffee! Caffeine! Despite two years of harping, Mum and Dad had NEVER let him taste THAT before. He took a sip. He looked into the cup. Then he turned and stared vacantly out towards the nearby rice terraces and coconut palms. His eyes started to water. We watched him swallow. Brave move. Then he screwed up his face, poked out his tongue and said, “Blehhhhh”. If rudie words were in his vocabulary, I’m sure he would have blurted out, “This coffee tastes like poo!” But instead he quietly muttered, “I didn’t like that, mum. I don’t want any more”. No worries, sweetie. Hand it over to mummy. I wasn’t scared either. Bring on that pooey brew. Now I’m not a big fan of coffee, but poo coffee was really good. It was smooth-tasting, and without a doubt the strongest coffee I’d ever tried. I’d drink poo coffee all the time if I could afford it. But I can’t. So I’m happy with the thought that we’ve not only tasted this rare concoction that kept my heart racing for most of the day and (unhappily) kept me awake for most of the night, but we’ve also potentially turned our son off coffee for life. Yesssss. Result.
The first sip of poo coffee

Thinkin' about it...
Ooooh dear...

Damn it! I missed the tongue 'blehhhh'. But here's the stunned look afterwards.
This coffee plantation visit was the kick-start to a day full day of bike-riding and sight-seeing with Bali Bike-Baik Tours. And it was a fitting start. We’d need all the energy we could muster for that ride, even if it was caffeine-induced. So before moving on to fully fuel our bodies at breakfast, we tasted tropical fruits and sickly sweet organic chocolate, and sampled ginseng tea, lemon tea, ginger tea, hot chocolate, and strong, bitter Balinese coffee (which tasted weak compared to its pooey counterpart).  
Roasting coffee beans
Tropical fruit at the coffee plantation
Breakfast was at Kintamani, where we sat on a restaurant verandah eating deep-fried battered tuna, rice, prawn chips and deep-fried banana overlooking nearby Lake Batur and Mt Batur, an active volcano. The view was stunning. The volcano last erupted in July 2000, and you can still see a charred, grey trail spilling down the side of the mountain. Our guide told us that it is “very beautiful” sitting at the restaurant at night when the volcano is erupting. You can see the orange sparks and lava. Hmmm. It might be pretty. But I think I’d choose another dining venue. As adventurous as I am, I don’t fancy being barbequed whilst downing my bowl of nasi goreng.  
Breakfast overlooking Mt Batur, an active volcano

After brekkie it was back onboard the minibus to the start of our bike ride. And what a ride! It was definitely a highlight of our trip. It’s often hard to find travel adventures for tiny tykes that also pack an adrenaline punch for Mum and Dad. But we found a winner here. Sure, it wasn’t the kind of adrenaline rush that had you crapping your dacks or gasping for your life (unless you were REALLY unfit and couldn’t breathe!) It was more the kind of rush that came with thinking, “Holy crap. I’ve got my kid in a tiny plastic seat on the back of my bike on winding roads  in the mountains in Bali and I hope like crazy I can stay balanced and my brakes don’t fail and I don’t stack it going down this really steep hill around that blind corner whilst dodging that chicken and...oh shite, is that a dirty, big truck coming towards us?! Hold on kid! I’ll keep you alive. Trust me. I’m your motheeeeer! Wahhhhhh Hooooooooo....wasn’t that HEAPS of fun?!! Awesome! Bring on the next chook-infested downhill corner!”  
My three-year-old and I at the start of the ride

The crew at a rest stop

We’d previously seen some of rural Bali and the Ubud area from the window of a van. But this ride gave us an opportunity to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and taste it. We rode mostly downhill or on flat, isolated roads with very little traffic, except for the occasional motor scooter, truck or car. We passed through tiny villages, where local men and women in batik sarong skirts went about their everyday life. Some women balanced thick bunches of reeds on their heads. Others skilfully head-balanced large bowls, bags or baskets of produce.  
Riding through a village

The narrow roads were lined with large blue or white tarpaulins strewn with drying rice, white-husked corn cobs with bright orange kernels, and pale, cream-coloured peanuts in their shells.  Chickens pecked at the rice and corn, and ducks waddled haphazardly down the road.  
Riding through a village

A Hindu Temple

Smiling children rushed out of houses to say “Helllooo!” and slap our hands in a side-5 as we rode by. Their giggles turned to looks of surprise when they saw the kids perched on our bikes, followed by excited laughter and yells of, “Baby! Baby!” Adults sat on the road-side or under the shelter of awnings watching us curiously, before chattering quickly amongst themselves, nudging each other and pointing at us with wide smiles muttering, “Baby!” I suppose it’s not every day they see two pale-skinned kids in plastic bike seats wearing brown, leather aviator helmets riding through their ‘hood’.
We passed beautiful, ornately carved terracotta and grey, stone Hindu temples, parts of them covered in thick, bright-green moss and white lichen.  Each village appeared to have around 3 of these temples, and their grounds were often scattered with Frangipani trees.  
As we rode through the villages we could hear children laughing, roosters crowing, birds chirping, and chickens clucking. Occasionally we’d smell a subtle waft of spices or food cooking. Locals dried their washing flat on the ground, on tarpaulins or over stone fences.

Temple entry

Outside the villages the landscape varied. One minute we’d ride through jungle filled with thick-stemmed, dark-green bamboo, ferns, tall coconut palms and small waterfalls cutting their way through narrow, little gorges. The next we’d be out in the open passing rice paddies filled with countless rows of bright green rice plants, their reflections sometimes visible in the shiny water of the flooded fields. People waded in shin-deep water tending to their rice crops, some wearing those peaked hats you see in Vietnam. Each rice field housed a small temple for worshipping. And most rice paddies were surrounded by coconut palms with dark-green leaves and long, thin grey trunks towering into the sky. The smell of moist, hot soil (one of my favourite smells) occasionally teased my nostrils. 

Riding past rice paddies
My three-year-old and I whizzed past a large, squashed snake, and I nearly crapped myself when my foot pedalled way too close to a very alive, small light-brown one. Hopefully not a viper. Yikes. Once again, my sense of adventure has been known to wane, especially when a snake rears its shiny, tongue-pokin’ little head. Luckily we all completed the ride free of fang-marks.
 Once the ride ended, the tour continued. We were taken to the tour operator’s home – a traditional Balinese compound – in Ubud. His entire family lived there. It was stunning. And peaceful. The buildings were ornate. And the garden was beautiful. There were red and yellow ginger flowers stretching to the ground, white and purple orchids, bird baths, Balinese lanterns, and grass so soft and bouncy underfoot you’d swear you were walking on a sponge.   We sat on cushions at a long, low wooden table in an open-aired building over-looking the garden, where we ate a traditional Balinese lunch cooked by the tour operator’s wife. Without a doubt, this meal was the best we’d eaten on our entire trip through Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Tour operator's garden

Traditional Balinese lunch

A soybean dish

Our lunch table

After lunch we were given a tour of part of the compound, and were given an insight into everyday Balinese family life and Hindu culture. We learnt that the placentas of newborns are wrapped in cloth and buried in the family’s garden so that part of the child is always there. The site of the buried placenta is given daily offerings of flowers and rice. We also learnt that a newborn’s feet cannot touch the ground for the first 3 months of their life. The compound housed a beautiful Hindu temple, upon which offerings of rice and flowers in tiny, palm-frond bowls were scattered. We felt honoured to have been given such a personal insight into this family and their way of life.  
At the end of the day we felt pleasantly tired and elated. And thirsty. Back at the hotel my hubby asked me what I wanted to drink. I actually felt like a poo coffee. But I settled for a cocktail. It was cheaper. And our five-year-old quickly asked for lemonade. I think poo coffee was still fresh on his mind, but had permanently disappeared from his ordering repertoire. Ahhhh well. I’m glad we let him try it. At least now we’d be able to finish a latte without his tongue hovering over the froth begging for a taste. And one day he’s going to love telling his mates that the first coffee he ever tasted came out of an animal’s butt. And we couldn’t deny him of that kind of glory, now, could we!

On the way back to the hotel

Statue at tour operator's home

Tips for general travellers and those travelling with children:
- Bali Bike Baik Tours:
I have not been asked to promote this company. I want to recommend it as it was fantastic, particularly for children.
Bali Bike-Baik Tours cater for toddlers and children.
They supply bike seats on the back of adult bikes for smaller children. Our five-year-old, who is quite tall, fit into one of these seats. I did not see any children’s bike trailers available.
They also have different sized children’s bikes for older kids who are competent riders. I’d want to be sure my child had a lot of road sense and pedalling capabilities before setting them loose on the ride by themselves. The company owner, Wayan, told me that the youngest solo rider they’ve had was seven years old, and the oldest rider was about 75. They once had a man ride with a toddler on the back of his bike, and a baby in a carrier strapped to his chest. The man is featured in photos on the website.
Bali Bike-Baik supply helmets (even for children), bottled water, bikes (and bike seats for little ones), and cold towels and more bottled water at the end of the ride. 
Their insurance covers children as young as one (a couple of other companies catering for children that I saw did not insure children under five).
The ride is suitable for all ages. It is mainly flat or downhill, with about four uphill stints. Staff members ride with you, and warn you when the downhill and uphill stints are coming, so you can change your gears accordingly. The uphill stints are not too challenging. If you couldn’t ride up a hill, you could easily and quickly get off your bike and walk it up.
There is a support vehicle that follows the group, and it carries extra bikes in case something goes wrong. Hubby had gear issues, and staff quickly attached the child seat to another bike for him.
You would not need to be super-fit to complete the ride, either. But if you were exhausted and felt you could not finish the ride (which I reckon would be rare), you could hitch a ride in the support vehicle and still complete the route with the group.
The company is Balinese owned. Wayan sponsors his local elementary school’s English literacy program & only employs Balinese people, so some of the money he earns helps support the local community.
The food is fantastic, and vegetarians are catered for. Wayan’s wife, Made, cooks it, and she also runs a cooking school. Details are on their website. 
The company picks you up at your hotel early in the morning (we had a 7am pick-up from Kuta) and drops you back in the afternoon. The tour price includes transport, the coffee plantation visit (where you sample fruit and hot drinks...and pooooo coffeeeeee), breakfast overlooking the volcano, everything you need for your bike ride, a guide, doting staff, and lunch at Wayan’s house and a tour of his home. The tour costs less for children.
There are other companies offering similar tours, but they include different things (some end at the safari park) and cater for different ages. A Google search will list them all so that you can make an informed decision about which company to use.
If you are keen on doing a tour with Bali Bike-Baik, I recommend contacting Wayan directly, otherwise hotels might talk you into using a different company. I contacted Wayan via email prior to leaving home, and called him from Bali to confirm our tour date. You’d need to stress that you have children, and stipulate their ages and whether they’d need a bike to themselves or a child seat. That way staff can get your bikes ready prior to your arrival.
The website is . Wayan’s email link is on the website. He answered my emails swiftly.
It might be an idea to take a plastic bag if your child experiences motion sickness. Our mini-bus drove around some winding roads near Ubud, and our five-year-old got sick unexpectedly. Luckily we had a plastic bag. (Tip: take a large zip-lock bag. You can seal up the vomit in a neat, tidy little package with no spillage ;) ) Wayan was great. He offered our son bananas to help him feel better, and supplied us with a small bucket lined with a plastic bag to use on the bus for the rest of the day. Luckily the fresh air on the bike ride pepped our son up.
I would highly recommend this company. The tour was fun, well-run, supported the local economy, and provided a lot of cultural insight into Bali and its customs and religion. And I loved finishing at Wayan’s house. It was a unique Balinese experience and a great way to end a bike ride through Bali.