THIS HAS TO be one of the most surreal things I've ever done, floating around the back streets of an isolated Balinese village on a two-wheel electric Segway. I feel like a creature from a bad 1950s sci-fi movie that has somehow landed in paradise. We roll past walled houses, their gardens heavy with hibiscus, and children playing in the lanes who smile and wave as we pass. Tiny offerings in woven grass baskets full of flowers and food grace every house. A rooster in a bamboo cage by the side of the road raises its comb and crows.
The beautiful Alila Villas Soori resort is in a quiet part of Bali on a deserted beach overlooking the wild waves of the west. Here the excesses of Kuta are a distant memory. Right outside this gated luxury are rice paddies and tiny rural villages that have changed little for centuries just begging to be explored. You could go on foot or by chauffeured 4WD drive ...or you could take a Segway; a machine that looks a little like an electric pogo stick, but with wheels. This is a novel form of transport for a luxury resort to offer but it has the advantage of being a zero-emission machine which fits in well with Alila Villas Soori''s commitment to the environment. So you can have fun and be green at the same time.
We've chosen an Exploring Kelating tour to the nearby villages, although you can also choose to ride your Segway along the edge of the sand. First we're allowed a few practise circuits around the resort. I set off cautiously along Alila's flag-stoned drive. Riding a Segway is all about balance - lean one way and the machine will turn, lean forward and it goes faster, lean back and it slows down. As I watch my eleven-year-old son lean forward as far as he can to ramp up speed - a sort of Segway Schumacher if you will - I am glad the top speed is only 20 kilometres an hour (12.5mph)
Outside the resort gates, workers in straw hats are loading watermelons onto a truck. They stare impassively as we pass - clearly they've seen it all before. As we reach the brow of the hill, a line of ducks waddle across the road trailing after their handler with his long stick and I suspect we look a little like them, following unsteadily behind our leader Wayan on his trusty bicycle; strange and ungainly and all in a row.
Clearly I need to ''be at one with my Segway'' and everything around me.
However it is not long before we all get the hang of the Segways, they are so easy to ride once you trust them. "Relax", says our butler when I first get on, "keep calm". I feel like a parrot on a perch but just as I am about to squawk like one too it strikes me that a little Balinese serenity definitely helps when riding these things. Clearly I need to'' be at one with my Segway'' and everything around me. The machine responds to body movement, so tense up in Western-rush-hour-panic-mode and you are likely to end up face down in a rice paddy.
This is a fantastic way to cruise through the countryside. Perched up high on our Segways it is as if we are floating above the ground. Apparently the correct term for a journey on a Segway is a ''glide'' and I can see why. The whole journey has a dream-like quality: the air is warm against our faces and the slender rice shoots are an iridescent green. In the distance we can see Mount Agung like a conical hat against the sky. Even the Balinese dogs, which don't always respond well to strangers, seem to accept the Segways and one even trots happily beside us tail wagging in welcome.
We sail past a Banyan tree swathed in black and white check, an offering by its side, past the village kulkuls - hanging drums - and down tiny cobbled streets. The men at a local warung stall serving rice wine in plastic bottles smile indulgently. An old man in a long robe with a beard almost to his waist stands at the entrance to a family temple. His mouth is an open ''O'' as we pass. What must he think of these mad tourists and their devices? At least we're quieter than the motorbikes which whine along Bali''s back roads like so many angry mosquitoes.
Everywhere in the villages are walled houses bright with bougainvillea and frangipani, the thatch roofs of merajan (shrine) can be seen above the walls and rice is laid out to dry in the sun. I can smell roasting pork on the breeze, babi guling from a local wayung, it is making me hungry, time for the return trip. We wheel around on our Segways and head for the open country again. Two cows watch from a stepped rice terrace, like spectators at a stadium. One has an egret on its back and all three creatures seem to swivel their heads slowly as we pass.
It is all very serene and peaceful. Dusk settles like a soft blanket on our shoulders and I watch enthralled as a ''v'' of birds is silhouetted against the purple sky. Somewhere in the distance is the sound of a gamalan playing. As we roll through the gates of Alila Soori my husband and son speed up for a race down the drive - perhaps the soothing effect of the Segway only works on women.
Hilary Doling 3/6/11