The pale pink blush of dusk fills the late afternoon sky as we set off from Capella Ubud, a luxe new tented retreat overlooking the jungle-shrouded Keliki Valley and sacred Wos River. Camp ranger Jana is our guide for this rice field trek offered to guests at the Bill Bensley-designed property. Ahead, we see the silhouette of a farmer wearing a conical hat, set against the backdrop of the cerise sky.. It's such a quintessential Balinese scene it's as if the farmer has been placed there solely for our benefit.
He hasn't, of course. It's approaching knock-off time in the small village of Keliki and hardworking rice farmers are making the most of the lingering light. Some are preparing their fields for planting, some carry large bundles of cuttings on their heads; others are bent over like sturdy tables, planting small saplings as they stand in knee-deep water. Our farmer on the hillside is taking a moment to do what thousands flock to Ubud for – watch the sun sink spectacularly over the rice paddies.
The wonderful thing about staying in Keliki, which is about 15 minutes' drive from Ubud, is we're far enough away to be off the tourist radar but within easy reach of the famous tourist town. And, with the cost of staying at Capella Ubud out of reach for many, it's unlikely to be flooded with tourists anytime soon. This means we're the only non-locals on the afternoon walk which takes guests through the hilly village. The Campuhan Ridge Walk, which is about 10 minutes' drive away, sees a steady stream of inquisitive tourists, but here it's just us and the farmers.
Before we join the rice field trail proper, Jana takes us to see a home-based tofu production enterprise. The industrious workers offer us a taste and we accept, departing with the slightly sweet taste of fresh tofu on our tongues. From there we head into the rice fields and, as I'm photographing away, I see a farmer's arm shoot up over a flooded field. At first, I think he's shooing me away, but then I see it: that trademark Balinese smile breaking out over his face. One hand holds a plough, the other is raised in welcome. Relieved, we smile and wave back, continuing along the path through the terraced fields where, every once in a while, we step aside to allow a motorbike pass by.
Jana explains that Balinese rice cultivation can be traced back more than 2000 years.
"Rice is the lifeblood of Bali," he says, adding that it's the single most important productive and cultural element on the island. There are three types of rice grown in Bali – red, white and black. In the ancient way of rice growing, planting and harvesting is determined by the Balinese calendar.
As we loop back through the fields, we come across a farmer bent over at the waist, efficiently planting a small paddy. He indicates for our daughter, Ella, to have a go and she follows his directions. In the still, humid air, it proves hard going and soon her small face is flushed with effort.
We thank him and continue on. We've walked less than 100 metres when we meet more friendly locals sitting beside a small hut. They've finished work for the day and are enjoying some locally brewed palm wine. They invite us to sit with them and offer us a capful. Crouching down we accept their small gift, appreciating the insight we've been given into their daily lives.
From $US1014 (plus tax) per night, including breakfast, selected alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and snacks, evening cocktails and canapes, return airport transfers, laundering and more. Excursions, including the guided rice field trek, are also included. See capellahotels.com/en/capella-ubud
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Capella Hotels and Resorts.