Batur Cycling, leaving behind the bright lights of Kuta. I cycled through fragrant plantations and tropical forests. And stopping to eat unique local food. My first day on Batur Cycle Route ended that in Ubud. It was far from most people’s vision of Bali as a bustling tourism industrial island.
The island is certainly not short of wondrous landscapes. Bali rug beyond belief with thousands of temples, active volcano now-days and a sleeping beauty of mount Batur. Most pleasingly, the country retains an almost museum-like reverence for heritage and cultural attitudes. From ancient superstitions and syncretic religious beliefs to traditional medicines featuring borderline curealls for everything, all thrive here. The Balinese are among the friendliest people you’re likely to meet in Asia.
Well, Bali’s economic growth bestowed great wealth and leisure time upon its people. The government has developed a 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 cycling trough the Batur Cycle route promised to be the road trip of a lifetime. I saw cycling as a way to get deep into the countryside and seek out the real Bali.
Steep-looking mountain road
It was an extra gas that I love when facing a fearsomely steep-looking mountain road in my first morning on Batur cycling. Fortunately, the merciful Goddess answered my prayers. Very few people speak English in rural Bali. Yet our simultaneous gestures, pointing uphill, were mutually understood. They will help you to find hot springs around Batur. I tried google maps but in some locations. It failed to work because of the limited network connection.
Batur is 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 boiled my trout supper but enabled me to enjoy nightfall in a hot spring, serenaded by hidden tree frogs.
The kindness of strangers
I met other cyclists attempting the route of Batur cycling. When you are crossing a plateau of rice on Ubud path, you see more on a bike. Have time to think about your future before an inevitable exchange of selfies. I swapped selfies in Tegalalang rice field. I asked a 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 have now coalesced into the norm – refused to charge me.
Thereafter, the mountains lost a bit altitude as they headed towards the east at Batur. From Tegalalang I rejoined the village route via a deserted back road and heading towards Batur through the montane forest. The finest expression of the latter was Mount Batur’s 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 a 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 bipolar geography. Its southern flank is prodigiously flat and crowded with industry. 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, something delicious or stimulating usually awaited my arrival. That all seemed unlikely when pedaling into the outskirts of Bali’s second-largest town, Kuta. I was greeted by a dystopian view of tourism industrialized.
Kuta Beach was known as one of the best beaches in the world, but it is now a funky strip of hotels, bars, and cafés. Be careful when cycling here. It was here, after all that pedaling, 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 favorite 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 torch 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 the route is a cherished quest of a lifetime.