So, what’s on the agenda for today?
Just a hike to a waterfall. Yes. Let’s go hike to a waterfall in the mountains of Bali. Sounds good for an experience. Maybe take a few pics for my memories, stories, for posterity.?. Maybe I’ll post a couple to Facebook to let all 547 of my friends know what I’ve been up to. And to collect a few self-gratifying “likes” and atta-girls along the way. All is well.
We begin. Made Surya is our gregarious fearless leader, born to do what he is doing- every bit of it in every moment. Ketut, our guide and sage is showing the way, offering a strong hand and a stronger smile. My new friends Max and Monica, and myself. Along for the ride. Or hike. That will be etched in my memory for a lifetime, it turns out.
The mountains of Bali (Munduk, to be specific) are rich. In rice and spices, plants and customs that have been used for centuries in cooking, healing, living and dying. We learn about cat whiskers and avocado tea for kidney stones, mangosteen poultices for breast feeding, stag horn as a meat tenderizer and a purple ginger and spice poultice for lower back pain. Very important to this poultice- that the water element is ‘arak’. The local liquor. Because have you ever had lower back pain and tried to harvest an entire rice field? Right. And passionfruit… Do you know why we call it passionfruit? Made asks. Because of the way you eat it. You open it up, push it apart, and then just suck. Yeah…
We hike, through the steep, stepped mountains of Munduk, through the modest but botanically stunning homes of the native villagers. They are farmers, harvesters, keepers of modest shops and mountainside stands, schoolchildren. Dogs loll. Blue dragonflies flutter about. Monkeys hang out, eating bananas. Really. The air is full of spices. Obliging clove, nutmeg and cacao trees shade us as we walk through coffee plantations, rice fields, vanilla, yarrow, ginger, chive. Marigold, just to throw in some brilliance. (Which, incidentally, is in the citronella family, and is effective as a bug repellent).
Ketut kneels next to a yarrow plant and picks a large leaf that has collected large drops of the morning dew. He folds the side edges together, and all the drops roll together into a glimmering liquid ball. It reflects the sun like a crystal, until Made hits it with a stick, and the water droplets separate again, bouncing on the leaf like children on a trampoline. Ketut tilts it, draining it, and the waxy leaf is completely dry as if it had never been touched by the rain. Yarrow leaf, as it turns out, is a great umbrella if you happen to be passing by, in a downpour, without one.
Made is pointing out the edibles with his coffee wood walking stick. Pule, Pandanus, Sigapur.
“Free range chicken.” He says, deadpan, pointing to a chicken that is indeed, perhaps the paragon of the phrase. The chicken continues its foraging, freely ranging under a tree.
“Chicken soup with nutmeg,” deadpan, Surya points again to the nutmeg tree above the chicken, and we move on.
The trail leads us to an intersection where a mountain market is open for business. Munduk style, the market is more like a lean-to, a rough tin roof angled for drainage, and held up by a few bamboo posts. A red and gold print fabric wraps the rough shelving, also bamboo, where spice bags showcase the colors and scents of the gifts of the earth. Nutmeg, cinnamon, curry, clove, paprika, ginger, lemongrass and more contrast and compliment each other visually and aromatically. The coffee is deep and rich in both color and aroma, bringing the base to the sensual symphony. The essential oils are displayed surrounded by their natural essence. The aromas rise and mingle to an unformed, unlit natural incense. And yes. Of course. Of course I am going to buy some spices here. And coffee.Luwak coffee. Which in some places goes for up to $35 USD a cup. Unfamiliar with Luwak coffee? How about “cat poop coffee”? Anyone? Anyone?
The palm civet is an Indonesian coffee snob wildcat. The civet feeds on coffee beans, and is the most discriminating connoisseur- the foremost expert on coffee in the world. The civet eats the red “fruit” membrane that covers the coffee pod. He only wants the best, the ripest, the richest. As our lives are too short to drink cheap scotch, so is his too short to eat bad coffee fruit. So, he picks the best berries, digests the red “fruit” part, and poops out the bean pods. These are collected, (yes, cleaned…), cracked, dried, cleaned again, and roasted. And sold for a shit ton of money abroad. Pun completely and shamelessly intended.
I pay 170,000 rupiah (about $17 USD) for a bag that will make about 20 cups. I don’t really even drink coffee. But come on.
Stopping at this market, the equivalent of watermelons, beef jerky and corn on the side of a highway. Except with spices and oils and cat poop coffee. And oh yeah. There’s the tree that it came off of. And there’s the giant mortar and pestle (lesung) where it was ground. And oh, here comes a woman balancing a giant spice filled bag to grind more of it.
I have forgotten where we are going. Because I am here. Listening to Made negotiate good price for cat poop. Being intoxicated by the fullness of the air. Watching Ketut dig up a ginger root and crush up some lemongrass. What did I do to deserve this day?
And it is still well before noon.