Rice is such a staple in Bali that I cannot imagine life here without it. Dewi Sri is the goddess of rice and people often tip the first sip from the arak glass on the ground as a gesture to her. The growing of rice take tremendous organization and hard work, large amounts of food can be produced, but much work must be undertaken to build and maintain the rice terraces. Bali has a traditional organization called the subak, that oversees the layout of watercourses and the distribution of water, from the highlands to the lowlands, ensuring everyone gets a fair shot and the water. This is all part of adat (traditional law) and the customs, traditions and practices are interwoven.
Rice is truly part of the Balinese culture and is revered. Ask a Balinese person what they have had for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the answer will usually be nasi (rice). Mothers in Bali tell their kids they must eat rice to keep them strong and there is an almost religious belief in this. There are 3 names for rice in Bali. Padi is rice growing in the sawah (rice fields). Beras is uncooked rice and nasi is the cooked stuff you get with your satay. Bali has a volcanic soil, a year round flow of water from the 4 big lakes in the highlands and being just 8-degrees off the equator, tremendous sunlight. This all adds up to a great place to grow rice. The wet season soaks the ground and fills the lakes. This is a necessary part of the cycle of rice production. Balinese people say that during the wet season the Earth is panas (sick) because the dampness is conducive to respiratory infections.
After the wet season is over there are ceremonies to bless the planting of new rice. On my recent drive out to East Bali I stopped to observe some of the scenes that involve the growing of rice. Driving down the narrow road between the sawah from the Ujung water-palace to Jasri, I saw 3 stages of rice production back to back. On one side of the road a field had been recently flooded and was ready for planting. I another field the new rice had started to grow and in an adjacent field ripened rice say ready for harvest. To keep the birds from eating the grain-laden stalks, the farmers rigged up an ingenious system of bamboo poles and strings. When the farmer tugged the string a pole would swing horizontally creating movement. When he tugged another string a set of cans would rattle and plastic would flap. I have also seen farmers using a type of whip, cracking it every minute of so. To a westerner this seems like a lot of work. I am sure we would devise some kind of extermination program for the birds.
When rice ripens on the stalk it is actually brown in color. After harvesting it is taken to a local processing facility to be treated, leaving a white grain. Working in the sawah is hard and temperatures can get very hot as the tropical sun reflects off of it. Farmers tend to work in the early morning and late afternoon, resting during the hottest hours. You will see many small shelters in the sawah for farmers to take a break. Balinese people have told me that working in the sawah means dealing with the occasional leeches and various other insects. There is a moth with white wings that can burn your skin just by touching it. The area I rode through gives a view of Gunung Agung on a clear day and Gunung Lempuyang to the East. I love this road as I always run into locals carting crops and firewood on their bicycles and heads.
If you are driving in the direction of Amlapura, take a right off of the road before you get there at the statue / intersection. Lovely scenery and a quieter experience.