The Jakarta Post
A weekend in Ubud, Bali, could mean an array of leisurely activities; calming yoga, relaxing spa treatment by the river, savoring culinary treats and rafting at the Ayung River, just to name a few. But for The Jakarta Post, when visiting the area at the invitation of Four Seasons Bali, a chance to plant rice with local farmers seemed interesting.
That morning, the Post and a fellow farmer for the day waited in the gym reception room of Four Seasons Bali in Sayan to meet Agus, the recreation attendant who would be guiding us on a walk through the rice fields, village and jungle paths before a breakfast by the river and then rice planting. While we knew that a simple, comfortable top and shorts or ankle-length pants would be the best outfits for the activity, we were unaware that the walking part required proper walking shoes. We only had on flip-flops, but it was not a problem as the resort had shoes available to rent, so we were good to go.
The guided walk started from the resort’s rice fields by the river. Then we climbed onto a narrow, slippery path lined with lush greenery on both sides. Our guide Agus was chatty and diligently taking photos of us using a pocket camera. Within minutes, we sensed that he was probably a naughty child from a neighboring village, and it was confirmed when he told us that he used to make fun of the resort’s security guards from the top of the trees across the resort’s backyard.
The walk took us to a house surrounded by a dense population of trees, and Agus told us that one of the family members residing in that house worked at the resort. We sat for a while and took a sip of water before continuing the walk through the jungle path that Agus said was the villagers’ orchard.
While making sure that we walked safely, he was always ready with a cold towel from his backpack. But before the walk exhausted us too much, we entered the resort again from a “secret” pathway.
Prior to getting ourselves dirty in the muddy rice field, we were whisked away to a bale (pavilion) nestled between the greenery and the river, where a low table was already set for breakfast. What was offered to us as “simple farmer’s breakfast” turned out to be rather fancy-looking, served in colorful woven bamboo baskets. Among the offerings were sliced tropical fruits, wok-fried fresh rice noodles and traditional black rice pudding with pandan-scented coconut milk.
Although lingering at the bale after breakfast was quite a temptation, we excitedly walked to a rice field instead. Two farmers stood waiting, and one of them, with the name B. Wirawan embroidered on his shirt, asked us why we chose to plant rice.
“Because we eat rice every day and want to learn how to plant it,” we answered.
The farmer then invited us to step into the 20-square-meter muddy field and taught us to flip the soil using a hoe. He told us that the black soil we were working on was the ideal type to grow rice. Soil-flipping completed, we had to flatten the flipped surface using a plow. And then it was time to plant the rice; we inserted the seeds, in the form of thin bouquets of grass, into the soil. There had to be a 20-centimeter gap between each bunch of grass, so that later when they grow, it would be easy to clear any weeds.
While hoping that the mud soaking our legs and hands would somehow be good for our skin, we bore in mind that we could always have a manicure and pedicure at the resort afterward.
Finally, with a lot of help from the farmers, we managed to plant all the seeds. Normally, it would take months and a lot of work for the rice to be ready for harvesting, and there is always a chance that the planting fails and no rice is produced.
Farmer Wirawan, who hails from Tabanan regency where the UNESCO World Heritage site Jatiluwih rice terraces are located, said now that we knew how hard it was to plant rice, we may understand that many young people would rather make a living from other jobs than farming. But those who understand the importance of farming like himself may still devote themselves to the hard work.
“When my father wanted to sell our family’s rice field, I protested harshly,” Wirawan recalled.
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We got out of the mud and cleaned our arms and legs using water from a hose, and a pile of towels had been provided to dry us out. Coconuts were then served and instead of drinking the coconut water through straws, we used some kind of pipes made of coconut leaves. Although a lot of coconut water dripped onto our clothes, it was a really fun way of drinking.
To add to the excitement, the Four Seasons’ Balinese Farmer package also includes the Batu Kali River Stone Bathing Ritual at the spa. And before the range of treatments started, the clothes we wore for rice planting were picked up to be washed.
The treatment began with a foot bath, followed with a body scrub, traditional hair treatment using cem-ceman oil (made of virgin coconut oil and various herbs and leaves to prevent gray hair and hair loss), a flower bath and finally, a combination of hot stone and Balinese massage that sent us to sleep.
While the whole range of River Stone Bathing Ritual is completely relaxing, those who are not used to vigorous massages may suffer from overnight sores. But we could still smile with a post-activity surprise from the resort, and the pleasant scent of cem-ceman oil for our hair actually lasted for days after the treatment.
Above all, taking part in this activity reminded us that rice planting is tremendously hard work that also takes a lot of time, so we should think again if we don’t want to finish the rice we have on our plates.