It was the first time since I'd arrived in Bali that I'd been forced to interact with other tourists for more than a few seconds. There was a party of six from Romania, lead by a loud woman who interrupted all of the guide's speeches with questions only of interest to herself. There was a quiet American couple, and me and my travel buddy. And lastly there was a strange woman from Holland who was notable for two things:
1) she was scared of everything. Spiders. Snakes. Chickens. Pigs. Corners. Fruit. The visible light spectrum. Everything she encountered reduced her to a shivering, squealing mess.
And 2), she had no idea how to ride a bike.
This second thing blew my mind. Holland is the Land of the Bicycle. People in Holland emerge from the womb on two wheels. They're as Dutch as windmills, tulips and putting prostitutes in shop windows. How on earth do you reach middle age in Holland without being able to ride a bike?
And even if you do somehow manage this unlikely feat, why in the name of all that's holy do you then choose to pay money to go on a MOUNTAIN BIKING TOUR!?
We commenced our tour from a little town near the Kintamani volcano, and progressed down back roads, farm tracks and walking paths, mostly downhill, pausing every couple of hundred metres for the Dutch woman to scream at a cloud or crash into a fencepost. In between her histrionics, the guide told us about the backyard coffee roasting businesses, the rice cakes drying on the roofs of houses, how cocoa is farmed, and the exotic flora and fauna of Bali.
The fauna included a vast colony of massive spiders in the trees by the side of the road, which reduced everyone in our group to shrieking hysterics except for me and the American man. Our guide demonstrated that they were harmless, allowing one to crawl over his hands and even on his face, but that didn't convince the rest of our group that they weren't in immediate danger of a gruesome death. I jumped at the chance to let one crawl across my hands - I guess for most Australians, after spending our lives surrounded by venomous snakes, poisonous platypuses, violent kangaroos, disease-filled ticks and carnivorous plants, any creature that's basically harmless holds no fear.
The Romanian woman demanded to know why the bus-sized colony of spiders hadn't been eradicated. The guide replied, with an air of polite puzzlement, that the spiders ate the mosquitoes and other insect pests, so why would they want to eradicate them?
The tour ended at an elephant sanctuary - something of an oddity in Bali, given that elephants aren't native to the island. I've learned that there's a certain amount of controversy about the place, since the elephants are 'saved' from a life of agricultural labour and 'rescued' into a life of performing stupid tricks for tourists. But it was a beautiful place, with many elephants solemnly lumbering about and acres of landscaped tropical gardens.
The Worst Ninja in the World took the opportunity to practice his stealth skills. With mostly disappointing results.
But despite hysterical Dutchwomen, demanding Romanians and giant spiders, it was a lot of fun to get out into the country and do a little exercise. My cousins did not lead me wrong - it was a lot of fun and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just aim for one without Europeans, I guess.
We made it back to the city by early evening, and then headed out to dinner. Near the hotel we found The Bistrot, a French restaurant slathered in Gallic Hipster Chic, all vintage velvet couches, oversized chandeliers, flagstone flooring, repurposed industrial shelving and antique home appliances mounted on the walls, like the first apartment of some privileged Parisian student who furnished it with whatever he could find in the attic of his parent's chateau.
For dinner I had a double Gordon's martini, Salad Nicoise made with sashimi tuna and quail eggs, and an exquisite creme brulee with a crust as thin and delicate as a butterfly's wing... all for $30. In Australia the double martini alone would cost almost that much.