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Published: August 21st 2017
We enjoyed a great breakfast and then bade farewell to our bat friend, who was back chilling on his palm tree after a night's hunting. On way out of Kalibaru, we were treated to a plantation tour and a visit to a rubber manufacturing plant. The Glenmore plantation was founded by Scots over 200 years ago and is still in operation today, using the original processing machines. First, we were shown, and given the opportunity to smell and taste, the different crops growing on the site - coffee beans in bright greens and reds, cacao pods, their scarlet shells vivid against the leaves and fragrant nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. The coffee beans were, predictably, bitter but the cacao seeds were a peasant surprise. I have seen cacao growing before, and watched the production of chocolate many times, but never before have I been allowed to taste the cocoa butter itself in its unrefined form. We pulled the seeds out of the shell and they were covered in a thick, slimy substance. We were told to suck the seeds to remove the flesh and then dispose of them. The flesh was incredibly sweet, with an ever so slightly sour edge to it and reminded me very much of my beloved mangosteen. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from them, but we had exploring to do.
Soon, we were pointed to a small pile of droppings on the floor. These, we were informed, were the presents left by the civet cat, a nocturnal animal native to Java. The civets have a real taste for raw coffee beans, and gorge on them over night. Years ago, when coffee plantations were first introduced, these cats were a menace - coffee is an incredibly valuable commodity, and farmers simply could not afford to lose their lucrative crops to civet. There were several possible solutions to this problem, but the one taken by the farmers was perhaps the least conventional. In the waste from the cat, the beans seemed to be very much intact, indeed, we could see them quite clearly in the pile before us. So, some enterprising soul decided, "To hell with the fact that these beans have been through a cat's digestive tract, I'm not wasting good coffee!" and roasted them up anyway. To their surprise, the Indonesians found that the enzymes inside the cat had made the beans super-tasty, reducing the caffeine level and increasing the health benefits. Civet coffee is now widely acknowledged as the best coffee in Indonesia, its value is ten times that of regular coffee. Of course, this has come at a price to the civets, who are now often kept on small cages so that their excrement can be farmed. Fortunately, on the plantation we visited, they only process beans found naturally in their environment, and can therefore only produce a small quantity of coffee. Despite the claims, we declined to try or buy any, preferring our coffee with a caffeine kick (and to not have previously visited an intestinal canal......)
We then visited the rubber plantation. We saw trees being tapped, the thick, white liquid spilling out of the bark, down a spiral slide cut into the tree and into a small bowl at the base. We then went to the actual processing plant, where workers (female are better and more thorough, we were told!) mixed the raw rubber sap with water, skimming off the excess foam, before the being turned into large rubber blocks. Then, 200 year old machines, built in Lincoln and powered by vast cam belts, churning over a series of pulleys, pressed the rubber into sheets, reminiscent of large non-slip bath mats. They were then smoked in huge racks, before being checked for quality and packed up for sale. They measured our wrists and presented us with a bracelet each (sadly, due to the smoking process, they absolutely stunk of stale fags!) and then it was tasting time!
We were presented with vast trays of fruit - star fruit, bananas, guava and bright purple dragon fruit, crispy slices of fried banana and generous lashings of freshly brewed coffee. We bought some of the arabica, the best quality that hadn't been through another mammal first, and then waved a fond farewell to the staff. We drove through paddy fields in the countryside, before reaching a city where motorbikes grazed the sides of the van, again piled impossibly high. One bike carried a small spindly man, and his fridge-freezer! More marchers slowed our progress, but we arrived at the ferry terminal, where we ate at another "point and pick" food stall. We were warned that it would be spicy. This was good news, as I had been asking for extra spice in a lot of the meals we had eaten (most places in Java don't think that tourists can handle the heat!). This place was NOT for tourists, in fact, we were quite the attraction as we chose local dishes from a large glass cabinet. The food was delicious - beef randang, spicy shredded chicken, hash browns, corn fritters, jackfruit curry, fried tofu, spicy Tempe...... It was all wonderful. Unfortunately, it was also very spicy, and most of the group left with red faces and burning mouths. I loved it!
The ferry was an industrial vessel, clunky and slow and the ride to Bali took around an hour to cover the 3km distance. We were teased with glimpses of white sand beaches lapped by turquoise water, rainforest and mountains providing the backdrop, as we ploughed on, the boat's captain taking the long way round to avoid the strong currents between Java and Bali. As we looked behind us at Java, huge black clouds had rolled in and the sky had an ominous darkness to it. In Bali, however, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Result! A short while later, we were on our way to our hotel in Pemuteran, only a short drive from the port.
When we arrived at our hotel, we were thrilled. We had passed mountains on the way in and these sat behind our hotel, allowing us a beautiful view from the pool, which sat temptingly next to the bar. A welcoming committee provided us with afternoon tea and snacks before escorting us to our rooms. Here, we found a gorgeous four poster bed swathed with a huge mosquito net. Our names were laid out in flower petals and two swan towel sculptures had been crafted inside a large heart made of petals. It was gorgeous and we had two nights here to boot.
We enjoyed dinner, watching a traditional Balinese dance performance, and then we took full advantage of the 7-hour happy hour. A few cocktails later, and we decided to go for a late-night swim in the pool. The water was surprisingly warm, and laying on our backs, we were able to gaze up at the stars filling the sky above us, before drifting off to sleep on our "Out of Africa" bed.
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