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Batur Cycling

Leaving behind the bright lights of Kuta, I cycled through fragrant plantations and tropical forest, and stopping only to eat unique local food. My first day on Batur Cycle Route ended that day in Ubud. It was all a far cry from most people’s vision of Bali as a bustling tourism industrial island.

The island is certainly not short of wondrous landscapes. Bali is rugged beyond belief with thousands temples, one active volcano now-days, mount agung and a sleeping beauty of mount Batur. Most pleasingly, the country retains an almost museum-like reverence for heritage and the cultural attitudes. From ancient superstitions (God forbid if you ever write a person’s name in red ink) and syncretic religious beliefs to traditional medicines featuring borderline curealls for everything, all thrive here. The Balinese are among the one of friendliest people you’re likely to meet in Asia.

Well, within a few generations, Bali’s economic growth bestowed great wealth and leisure time upon its people; this coincided with the global success of local tourism industry. The government has since developed network of cycleways. The popularity of this particular ride became enshrined in the local consciousness who cycles the country in an act of self-discovery. For me, Batur Cycle Route promised to be the road trip of a lifetime. Besides the romance of circum navigating an island relying on human power, I saw cycling as a way to get deep into the countryside and seek out the real Bali. I would not be disappointed.

Steep-looking mountain road

By my first morning, it was actually extra gas I desired, not oil, when facing a fearsomely steep-looking mountain road. Fortunately, the merciful Goddess answered my prayers. Very few people speak English in rural Bali yet our simultaneous gestures, pointing uphill, weremutually understood and they will help you to find hot springs arround batur. I tried google maps but in some location it failed to work, limited by network connection.

Batur is something of a geothermal colander, leaching hot mineral-rich waters. To avoid guests simmering like lobsters, the water is tempered by a cool mountain stream. This mixture not only boiledmy trout supper but enabled me to luxuriate outdoors long after nightfall in a hot spring, serenaded by hidden tree frogs.

The kindness of strangers

I met other cyclists attempting route. When crossing a plateau of rice on ubud path, you see more on a bike and have time to think about your future before an inevitable exchange of selfies. I swapped selfies again minutes later in Tegalalang rice field. I asked local police officer for directions. It is hard to find a bike shop when requiring to tweak my misfiring gears. So I went to a motorcycle garage and the repairman – random acts of kindness having now coalesced into the norm – refused to charge me. Thereafter, the mountains lost a bit altitude as they headed towards east at Batur. From Tegalalang I rejoined the village route via a deserted back road, heading towards Batur through montane forest. The finest expression of the latter was Mount Batur view and temple, where the bright murals of the indigenous culture fused with standard Hinduism icons. But I would soon leave it all behind.

The end of the road

Batur view narrowed towards its tip and I eventually hit the buffers of a wide view horizon, its windblown dunes curling around the mountain. It had taken me exactly few hours to reach here and I was ready for the flatter south. In all honesty, the final ride of cycling back to Kuta was, scenically, a bit ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. Bali has a bipolar geography and its soutern flank is prodigiously flat and crowded with industry and urban developments that concertina into a continuous conurbation. Care is required here because the cycle lanes are often delineated from heavy traffic by little more than painted lines. Yet, at the end of long, flat days, something delicious or stimulating usually awaited my arrival. That all seemed unlikely when pedalling into the outskirts of Bali’s second-largest town, Kuta. Here, I was greeted by a dystopian view of industrialised refi neries. Yet beyond this harsh exterior, the centre of Kuta has transformed in recent years from an industrial behemoth to a city for the people, all by way of modern architectural projects and night club. Kuta’s centrepiece, Kuta Beach, was known as one of the best beach in the world, but it is now a funky strip of hotel, bars, cafés and – just as importantly – becareful when cycling here. It was here, after all that pedalling, that I sought two of Bali’s signature ‘pleasures’. The town is crazy about reflexology and spa. In a warehouse-sized salon, I flopped onto a couch to join dozens of locals enjoying, or possibly enduring, foot massages. I told my masseuse I was cycling route. “You crazy,” she barked, “where have pain?” “Just about everywhere,” I confirmed. “This help legs and back,” she said, burying her knuckles into my soft soles as if kneading dough. My feet throbbed so much that when I left, I forgot how weary I felt. I guess it worked. Pleasure number two was mixing with a hungry foodie crowd, where among the dizzying aromas of blended fruit smoothies, and grilling meat. Best of all, my favourite bali art festival, to mark the annual event on Denpasar, was taking place. Waves of devotional chanting drifted among sweet burning incense while a flotilla of light tourch warmed the night. Fatigued and sun-baked, I felt satisfaction at not only completing a challenge of a lifetime but also getting under the skin of Bali. I finally understood through Balinese eyes why route is a cherished quest of a lifetime.

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