Riding in the mountains, Bali


Motorcycle riding in Bali isn't something I've really thought of as pleasureable except for a trip down to Ulu Watu one time. My friend Mick Turnbull who works as an engineer for Cathay Pacific invited me on a ‘slow ride in the mountains’ and I couldn’t resist. Mick has been here for a year and knows a lot of back country places where average tourist would never find. Being a veteran motorbike rider he has a reasuring presence and enthusiastic nature.

I showed up at Mick’s pad off of Jalan Raya Kerobokan at 10am and he was recovering from the previous night along with his girlfriend Jasmine and her friend Ida from Java.

The fifth member of the crew was Chris from Melbourne who is living in Bali and runs an underwater film company. When I start interviewing BootsnAll members underwater I’ll definitely use his services.

Mick rolled out his baby ( not Jasmine, she was already up, his Honda Asprilla 150cc ) and readied it for action, Jasmine and Ida rode on one of those scooter type contraptions. Chris came on his motorbike which has the loudest ‘pop pop pop’ muffler in Bali and I rode my rented motorbike. We slapped on plenty of Sunblock as the morning was sunny and I wore my bike gloves and jacket, being a man of paleness.

I was wondering how this little tour was going to work with all the different vehicles / riding levels and soon found out. Basically I was the tailender and the others had to wait periodically. Mick could give Barry Sheene a run for his money and the girls were fearless on their machine. I thought Ida was a superb rider and handled her bike better with Jasmine on it than I could handle mine solo. Chris told me to ‘put my foot down’ and I looked for safe opportunities to move along. Our plan was to head NW towards Tanah Lot, then carry on to Tabanan then keep heading in a similar direction to the mountains.

The road through Tabanan is one of the busiest in Bali and has a high density of traffic, especially trucks and buses. I sucked in so much polution it was amazing, trucks belching black and blue smoke as they changed gears going up the hill. Mick told us it would be busy and he was right. This is a road to avoid for any casual rider in my opinion, kind of reminded me of the LA traffic for cars.

Arriving at a point in the road where we turned off the main road the traffic was immediately down to a trickle and the scenery unfolded into rows of rice terraces. I stopped many times to to photo locals at work and to admire the irrigation methods used. Obviously a lot of work goes into maintaining these terraces and the fact that Bali has volcanic soil, plentiful rain and unlimited sunshine means they are very productive.

On one occasion where Mick, Chris and myself were waiting for the girls I chatted with some locals at their little store. Mick’s rocket was out in front and I jokingly suggested that we’d swap their store for his bike, to which the woman in charge gestured for me to come closer. I bought little chocolate waffers and gave one to each kid.

The girls arrived and we zoomed off in the direction of a hotel called Sanda located in a beautiful part of the mountains. Again I had to stop for photos and arrived well after everyone else. Mick is hoping to do motorcycle tours of Bali for the public and this was in some ways a trial run. We talked about me being a snail on the bike and he said it was good for him to encounter someone like me as he might have customers who want to stop and others who are not too good on a bike.

I think the advantage of touring Bali on a motorbike is that it is relatively fast, gives you flexibility and affords you access to areas a bus / car couldn’t get to. Add to that the fact that Mick is extremely knowledgeable about the island and its hidden jewels and has hundreds of local contacts and you have a pretty good way to make the most of your time here. I think people who like riding will especially enjoy this as the riding environment and scenery is totally different.

In the mountains the temperatures are noticeably cooler and the clouds tend to hang around. I felt a sprinkle and headed up the hill to the Sanda Hotel which Mick and Jasmine had recommend. The Sanda Hotel is a superb place complete with a restaurant, pool and gardens. It is set in the foothills of Mt. Batukaru. The have been spread amongst the trees in an old coffee plantation and other exotic trees like mango, papaya and durian abound throughout the property.

Sanda Bukit Villas

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I loved the sense of tranquility and the elegant rooms. In the rooms their is an adjoing section with huge window and long wicker chairs. Ant would die to be in this place, even I thought it would be awesome to sneak up here by myself ( a little female company would be better) and get into a book or 2.

The gardens outside were lovely and the pool had a view of the mist shrouded hills. The 5 of us ate lunch, I had a Thai chicken dish, and relaxed for a while before heading out on a hike which we had talked about. We seemed to be the only people there and I was thinking ‘man would Susan and Jeff Brady love it here’.

Mick and Jasmine had tried twice before to find a secret waterfall that they’d heard existed. Mick was determined to succeed this time and assured us it was ‘just around the corner’. Not wanting to leave our helmets out in the middle of nowhere with the bikes we left them at the hotel and rode off. As it turned out we had a 15 minute ride down winding country lanes and it crossed my mind that in the current wet conditions risking losing my 10,000rp helmet might of been a gamble I should of taken. I did enjoy riding through the small villages and watching locals carrying bundles of wood on their heads and carrying on their lives in a slow and traditional way.

Finally we arrived at a little street with a new sign post that told us we were on track. Turning up the stoney track our bikes started slipping, Edahs scooter fairing worst of all with Jasmine on the back it fishtailed. I tried to get Jasmine and Edah separately up the slope on my bike but I had no better luck. Eventually we decided to huddle under the locals’s shop while a quick shower blew itself out. The kids were a treat and grouped with their friends in front of this bunch of weirdos. This little girl gazed at us. People couldn’t stop eyeing Mick’s ride ( the Asprilla ) and he jokingly said it was going to be 50 miles away when we returned ).

The way we got up the rocky slope was to hire 3 locals guys with off road bikes. My guy was a tiny fellow and I asked him not to feel he needed to speed. He carefully negotiated us up steep slippery slopes and down through muddy waterloged sections. The whole ride was no more than 10 minutes and finished at a beautiful waterfall. On the site was an open area with a roof which showed signs of some religious activity. The little stick men hanging from each corner minded me of Blair Witch Project.

Chris decided to walk rather than ride the route and arrived not long after we got there. We stayed less than an hour and our guides waited for us for the return trip.

I think most westerners would love this place, it was out of the way with no one else around, imagine bringing your honey up here with a case of beer!

The access route to the waterfall mean’t we had to hike to the point where the off road bikes were parked and there was an elaborate concrete irrigation canal system, simialar to the one on our neighborhood in Seminyak. Walking through the forest large clumps of wild coffee hung from the trees on the slopes of the mountain.

Mike was behind me coming down a flight of concrete stairs and slid down several steps scratching his arm, the locals gave him some brown disinfectant to put on it. I was worried when I heard him fall then zoom down but he’s a tropper.

We posed at the bottom for a photo with our local drivers.

My driver told me to hold on to his shoulders for the return run and he slid us safely home in one piece.

We gave the 3 guys 70,000rp for their time, could of bargained way lower but figured these village folks were good folks and we could afford it. If every one of these kids gets some extra nasi goreng out of it I’m happy.

We waved goodbye and took off the way we came. On the return leg I gave it some throttle and kept up better. Mick, Chris and Ida overtake traffic effortlessly and anticipate well, this is something I have to learn and pushing it isn’t the way I like to ride. I guess riding a motorbike in Bali is gambling to some extent and it all depends on what to want to risk per manouever.

Chris and Edah departed at a point on the road and the rest of us rode back to Mick’s house. I left my cell phone there and was happy to find it. Mick, Jas and I viewed the day’s pics on his computer with some hot tea and a chunk of his mum’s ( colonial for Mom ) cake.

This was a great day and I got to explore some of the island outside of Poppies Lane II. Mick is a super guy and I appreciate his patience and expertise. This island has some magnificent scenery and accessing the traditional lifestyle is as simple as taking a motorcycle tour for the day.

Mick has a website detailing his motorcycle tours. They are customized for each small group of people with excellent food promised as part of the deal.

Indo Bike Adventures

If you want the exact location of the waterfall I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to share a drink with me here in Bali and then we’ll talk.