Rice, Poop Coffee and Julia Roberts

Trip Start Jul 29, 2010
Trip End Aug 12, 2010

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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Saturday, July 31, 2010

Between the heat, the negotiations of the first half of the day, and the focus required to communicate with our guide, by noon we're both DONE with shopping and a little bit cranky. Foreseeing this, Dana whisks us off to our pre-arranged, pre-paid Thai lunch. The restaurant is a nice outdoor place that participates in a local movement which uses profits from tourists to build a more sustainable economic and ecological tourism story for Bali. Awesome. But really what we are looking for is food. At this moment we have our first of what will turn out to be many very awkward moments around tipping the Balinese. Our book says that you should buy lunch for your guide. So ok cool, we invite him to eat with us. He politely refuses and says perhaps another day. As he walks away we realize we've just totally blown it - of course he is not going to eat with us, the meal is pre-arranged; he will eat with the driver. We were *supposed* to give him cash. But how much? There's no indication in the book about that, and after this shopping excursion we have absolutely no idea what things cost.

So now we've reached another theme of the trip: "WIRWYNH", or Where Is Rick (Steves) When You Need Him?!? We discuss the painful lack of a Bali guidebook in RS' repertoire while waiting for our lunch and smoothies to arrive. I can sense this lunch/tip thing is just the tip of the iceberg so I'm already fretting over the tip at the end of the day. Our guidebook casually mentions that we can consider giving him up to $3 -- is that REALLY it? I mean, he just took me to a place that wanted $600 for some silver! Rick would have an authoritative opinion. Rick would have told us how to avoid the shopping scam. Rick would also have an opinion about which temples are must-see and which can be skipped (there are more than 30,000 of them on the island after all). Instead we're completely at the mercy of a pre-arranged guide who speaks very little English and a so-so substitute guidebook. Which brings us to a larger question: why is Rick such a Euro-snob anyway? Shouldn't he get out and try to see the rest of the world (ideally starting with Bali) a bit? Then the yummy food arrives and we gain perspective. We'll just do better tomorrow.

After lunch, Dana informs us of our afternoon plans:
- the temple of Goa Gajah (known as the Elephant Cave. Yes there was a reason for so many paintings of elephants gods this morning)
- a stop by a coffee plantation
- north to Pura Tirta Empul Temple 
- a tour of the picturesque rice fields
- and then onto the town that Julia Roberts visited for Eat, Pray, Love

From our lunch spot, we reach Goa Gajah quickly. Having read ahead both V and I are wearing longish pants b/c it's forbidden to enter the temple with short clothes on, you must then borrow a sarong. [Side note: it's also forbidden for women to enter the temples while menstruating. This leads me to wonder how they would check for that...]. Goa Gajah is an old temple dating from the 11th century, and is carved out of stone in the side of a mountain. It's unlike any of the other temples we will see. To the left of the cave is a statue of the goddess Hariti, who used to devour her children until she converted to Buddhism, when she then became their protector. Um, ok. There is a large carved face around the cave, and you enter through the open mouth. Inside is a statue of the elephant god Ganesha, son of Siwa (Shiva). There are several other shrines here, and it's our first taste of Bali's rich temple culture. 

Back in the car, Dana is explaining to us the naming conventions here in Bali. Your name depends on your birth order: first borns are always Wayan, second is always Made, third is always Nyoman, and fourth is Ketut. After that, you start over from number one. But most Balinese have nicknames that they prefer to use.  It is actually very interesting, but the heat and the sun and the movement of the car and the jet lag get to us and we both nod off. As we awaken we're pulling in to a Coffee Plantation to the north of the island. 

All kinds of crops are grown in the northern part of Bali, and the plantation we are visiting, while primarily a coffee plantation, has several other crops: anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginseng, vanilla, cacao, bananas, snakefruit, mangoes, passionfruit, starfruit, jackfruit, Balinese limes, etc etc. We take a tour first of the grounds, marveling at the trees and plants (it's very hard to describe how green and lush everything is without getting really repetitive. Suffice it to say, it's gorgeous). Once we've done that we head over towards the sitting area so we can sample the coffee. But on our way something way more interesting grabs our attention (not literally, thank god): right there in the middle of the path are two huge bats, hanging face-down, from what is clearly their normal home perch. I admit, I was a little shocked - I had honestly never seen one before. And really, they seemed quite larger than the normal bat. It was lunchtime, they were being fed their afternoon snack: bananas. Yes, that's right, the bat was clutching his banana in his little claws (or paws? do they have claws? who the hell knows...) and chomping away, looking just like any human 2 year old would (other than the wings of course). V pulls out his camera and gets a video. I'm so ready for coffee now.

We try some of their teas and hot chocolates, but what we're both really loving is the spicy ginseng coffee. It's a great flavor and it tingles in your mouth (we later bought some to bring home. It was overpriced, but frankly I was done bargaining for the day). As V, Dana and I are sitting around the table drinking our coffee, checking out the gorgeous mountainside, I start to peruse the laminated brochure on the table - something about a special coffee that goes for like $600 a kilo, or for a cup about $10. It's ringing a vague, distant bell and just as I start to say "I think I read about this in the New Yorker" V's eyes light up and he grabs the brochure: "Ahhhhhhh! This is the poop coffee!!! I wanna try some of this!!" 

Yes in fact, it's called "Kopi Luwak". From Wikipedia: the animals eat the ripe coffee cherries and their digestive process removes the outer layers of the fruit. The remaining coffee beans are collected and washed. Coffee experts believe that the unique flavor of Kopi Luwak comes, at least in part, from the extraction of naturally occurring potassium salts from the beans during the digestive process. This results in a smooth, mild cup, with a sweet aftertaste. So basically, the animal eats the berry and poops out whatever is left after digestion, and then it's picked out of his poop, roasted and turned into coffee for richer versions of you and me. Don't believe me? Look it up yourself. What we want to know is - who the hell figured this out to begin with? One thing we can vouch for: it's a damn tasty cup of coffee. 

We reach our next destination: Pura Tirtha Empul. This temple dates to the 10th century and is built on top of natural springs. The water is believed to be holy water, and so many people come to purify themselves here in the baths: one for men, another for women, and a third for priests. Sacred Barong dance masks and costumes are also purified here. On our way back to the car, the noise from one of the local insects is suddenly extremely loud - and we look up to see several of these winged black bugs in the trees. It's making noise like a cicada, and it's huge - really about the same size as a small bird. They go on for several minutes, and then abruptly they stop. Very cool.

From there we head out to get a picture overlooking the rice terraces, which is a must-do in Bali. In the northern and western parts of the country you see many of these, growing several varieties. It is absolutely gorgeous, and heartbreaking at the same time to think about how much work goes into tending rice fields. In a good year a rice farmer can get 3 rice harvests. 1 square meter of rice planting (roughly 3 square feet) will yield about 1 kilo of rice. According to V's reading, rice is a crop that isn't valuable in terms of the Return on Investment for society: it requires too much water and land, and the farmer must expend too much energy to ensure a good crop. In exchange, you have a crop which does not put any energy back into the body. Looking out at rice fields as far as you can see, it's easy to understand that argument.  

It's been a packed day so far, and Dana wants to take us now to the royal palace in the Julia Roberts town. Ubud, which I'm pretty sure was discovered and loved by Balinese and foreigners alike looooooong before Pretty Woman came to town, is a tangled nightmare of tourists and traffic when we arrive. V tenses up in the seat next to me, and given what time it is we ask to put that off until the morning. We have had a full day and would like to unwind a bit before our Spa Appointment this evening. Dana understands; it's been a long, exhausting day for him too - entirely in English, which has got to be as exhausting for him as bargaining is for me, and the mention of Julia Roberts is for V. We awkwardly tip him the equivalent of $5 (we just can't bring ourselves to do $3, I'm sorry, I'm American, we are genetically wired to tip) and plan to meet again tomorrow at 9, this time with our bags. We'll have another full day and then Dana will drop us at the second hotel on the coast, the Alila Soori.

We nap (hello, there's always a nap involved) and head over to the Spa for our Ocean and Earth treatment. We are doing a ton of spa'ing in Bali, and you're going hear about it (I promise to not over-share). We start with an awkward, funny moment after being let into our room to change, when the disposable underwear is handed to us and we try to refuse it. According to the brochures and website they are optional since their "primary concern is our comfort"; we can assure you the paper panties are mandatory. Every treatment begins with a foot bath, then this one is followed by a 60-minute massage, a sea salt scrub, then a seaweed mud mask treatment. And then to finish, a bath under the stars with some ginger tea. It was a long day, and it was totally worth it.

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Judy Riley on

All I can say is, "WOW!"

Isabelle on

I call that a vacation! Good job guys!

broom on

There are many English speaking guides in Bali, perhaps the travel agency that sold the package thought you both speak German that's why they assigned such a guy. Being afraid to lose the job that poor guy stay with you though he doesn't speak English fluently.

lazycaravan on

Hi Broom - thanks for reading! I agree, I'm sure that we had a German-speaking guide b/c we booked through Kuoni in Zurich. Having said that, we absolutely loved our guide and couldn't have been any happier if he spoke perfect English. He made our trip unforgettable!

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