Civet Cat Coffee and the Dreaded Durian Fruit
Apologies for not having posted in a while and for leaving all of you stranded with us in Bali (although it’s not a bad place to be stranded). Truth be told we were not stranded in Bali and as some of you know we have already returned to the United States from our round the world tour. But we had an opportunity to go on a medical mission to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and we jumped on it. My job (in case you were wondering where I suddenly came up with a medical degree) was to record the mission in still photographs and video to help create awareness for the charity organization “Unity for Haiti” while Francesca utilized her Physician Assistant skills.
As part of my responsibility I kept a blog (yes, another one!) during the five days we were down there which pre-empted my final Eat, Play, Love postings (click here if you would like to view the ‘Operation Hope For Haiti’ blog). But now I’m back to get us all home from Bali.
On one of our last days in paradise Francesca and I signed up for a mountain biking tour from the top of Mount Batur – one of many volcanoes in Bali – back down to the town of Ubud. The route was mostly downhill on pavement – so not your hardcore, single track mountain biking – but it was a pleasant ride filled with many cultural side trips like visiting a traditional village and a rice field trek. Francesca and I had seen so many beautiful rice fields in Bali that we were curious as to how the cultivation and harvest process worked and this tour promised to educate us in all matters rice.
Tasting different Balinese coffee varieties.
But first we had to wade through a tourist trap in the form of a coffee plantation. It was actually quite interesting and even though I don’t drink coffee it was fun tasting the different varieties, except for the dreaded Kopi Luwak variety otherwise known as the Civet Cat Poo Poo Coffee.
This variety of Joe is made from cherry coffee beans that have been eaten by these little muskrat looking creatures high up in the trees where they live, then fermented in their stomachs and finally passed out through their….uh… digestive system in tact (and then some!).
Here is a poor Civet Cat in a cage at the coffee plantation. Their scientific name is Paradoxurus, but they are known as Luwaks in Indonesia (hence Kopi Luwak coffee). The peanut looking things next to him are his excreted cherry coffee beans.
The Civet Cat is adorable, but his coffee tastes….well, like crap (no pun intended there), although it is expensive and generally liked by the locals. However, some of our expat friends told us that there is a real problem with fake Kopi Luwak coffee whereby some coffee growers charge Kopi Luwak prices when the beans haven’t been fermented by the civet cat. Shame on you!
Francesca enjoying the downhill ride through a bamboo forest.
Good thing I had my dry wick shirt on.
We rode past rice fields…..
We stopped by a traditional Balinese village.
Our guide Ketut walked us through the layout of a traditional Balinese house compound.
Ketut shows us the kitchen……
….and the pig pen. Apparently the pig is the prize possession of the Balinese family. Some have more than one (which is good – more is better as far as pigs are concerned).
But no family has both a male and female pig. They only have the female and then when they want to have little piglets they call the one guy in the village with a male pig and he either makes a house call with his pig or they bring their lady pig to his place so they can get piggy with it.
All Balinese houses have a temple or altar type structure in them.
Franny bids adieu to the youngest member of the family.
This little girl spent the entire time in her room combing her hair. We could see her through the open doorway, but she did not come out until just as we were leaving to wave goodbye to us.
Ketut stopped the group to point out these massive spider webs with dozens of huge spiders living there……
We stopped to watch some local villagers make wood carvings. These wood carvers get commissioned by companies to make carvings to spec (some days its horses, other days its tigers, etc.). They do the initial rough carving and then they are picked up and the company finishes them off with a thorough sanding and staining or paint.
It was interesting for me to see these things being carved by an individual because I had assumed that all the vendors in town got the exact same wood carvings to sell from some big company that mass produced them by machine. It’s nice to know that my wood carving purchase (had I made one) would go to help the lives of one of these local craftsmen.
We also stopped at a street side fruit vendor to taste the infamous durian fruit with its hard, thorn covered husk and pungent order. While these fruits are illegal to bring into certain countries and onto airplanes due to their malodorous nature, they are revered in Southeast Asia as the “King of Fruits”. Francesca had wanted to try one since our days in Vietnam and Cambodia, but didn’t have the courage before.
Durian fruit, it’s finger lickin’ bad!
After Ketut helped us bargain her down to an acceptable price – these things are expensive and even more so for tourists! – we dug in. It was probably the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. Surprisingly I didn’t think it smelled badly, but the taste was uncommonly horrendous. It was somewhat sweet, but had the consistency of a block of sweaty brie cheese. I couldn’t even finish my one piece. Francesca had a similar experience and it took us hours to get the durian taste out of our mouths.
We shared the road with other two wheeled vehicles.
After another nice, long downhill stretch we dismounted and started our trek through several rice fields and a jungle to reach the restaurant where we would have lunch.
As we walked through the rice paddies we met some adorable children who were definitely not camera shy…
….and a cast of other colorful characters.
He needs a tooth
She needs a bra! At least she’s keeping the sun off ‘em.
Along the way ketut talked us through the fascinating rice planting and harvesting process. Many of the rice producing areas, like the one we were trekking through, are made up of land owned by several different rice farmers and they all cooperate to utilize a common water source for irrigation. This method of common irrigation of rice fields is called the Subak System.
The water source typically comes from a mountain lake and miles of aqueducts are built to get the water to the rice fields. The flow of water is controlled by weirs or sluices which sends the water to one side of the aqueduct or the other. In this way the rice farmers stagger their harvesting with one side lush and green…
…while the other is dry and brown from post-harvest.
As you can see in the previous lush photo above, the rice fields are dotted with personal shrines erected by individual farmers (you can’t pray hard enough for a good rice harvest!). There are also larger temples or shrines erected by the collective group of farmers.
It’s amazing how these farmers make rice fields using every possible scrap of land. It’s the staple of their diet and while I assumed they would harvest most of it to sell, Ketut told us that most goes to feeding the farmer’s (sometimes extended) family, although whatever is left over is certainly sold at the local market.
Most of the time you see the farmers plowing the field with a water buffalo drawn tiller, but some now are fortunate enough to have a motorized one (above).
After about an hour trekking through rice fields and jungles we finally arrived at the restaurant and enjoyed a bounty of delicious Indonesian dishes. Then it was off to get one last massage before we left Bali to return to the US.
Official Name: Republic of Indonesia
Official Language: Indonesian (although several different dialects are spoken)
Capital City: Jakarta (also the largest city)
Government: Presidential Republic
Current Leader(s): Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President)
For more information about Indonesia click here.