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Bali - Luwak Coffee and Kecak Ceremony


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After a bad night with horrid dreams, an upset tummy, and a painful back, I am more than ready to get out of bed this morning.

Breakfast

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the massive choice at the buffet, and trying not to aggravate my already jittery stomach, I settle for some fried bananas this morning. And what a great choice it is!

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David orders two fried eggs, and while he is waiting for them to be cooked, helps himself to sausages, bacon, baked beans, and potatoes from the buffet. The eggs are slow to arrive, so he tucks into the rest of the food while it is still hot. He has just finished everything when the eggs arrive, so he wanders up to the buffet for round two of everything.

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Lunch

Unusually for me, I order the same food from the hotel restaurant for the third day running, sausages, while David has the Black Magic Burger.

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Lumbung Sari Coffee House

On our way to the temple for this afternoon’s excursion, we have a surprise stop at a coffee house. Initially, I am a little reluctant to go down the steps to the gardens and further on to the café, as I am not a great lover of drinking coffee outside our own house. I often find the coffee served in restaurants and other establishments is too bitter for my taste. We usually take a small jar of Nescafé Gold with us on our travels for that very reason – please don’t hate me!

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Indonesia is one of the world’s top coffee producers, and after we sit down at one of the many tables in the shade, the staff brings out a selection of coffees and teas for us to taste.

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I try them all, and while most are reasonably pleasant, my favourites are the vanilla and the ginger coffees.

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Kopi Luwak

As someone who loves new gastronomic experiences, I am really excited when I hear that this is an optional extra here (the coffee tasting is free, in the hope you will be so enamoured with their coffee that you purchase a bag or two), and I jump at the change of trying this weird, unique coffee.

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Also known as civet coffee, it is the way it is produced that makes this a premium coffee. Raw coffee beans (known as cherries) are fed to a civet, a wild nocturnal cat, and once the bean has passed through the animal, it gets removed from any other faecal matter and roasted and ground as normal. It is believed that the enzymes produced by the civet and the fermentation that happens inside its body, help to create this, the most expensive of all coffees, which carries the moniker ‘The Holy Grail of Coffees’.

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The flavour is quite bitter, and it leaves a lot of grounds behind. Is it worth all the hype? It’s an ‘acquired taste’, and I’m sorry to say that I still prefer Nescafé Gold, but I am delighted to have had the opportunity to try it.

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It does make me think of the time we did a walking safari in Zimbabwe some 20 years ago, and the ranger used his stick to pick out an almond nut from a pile of elephant dung. Having broken it open on a rock, he declared that an almond that has passed through an elephant is considered a delicacy, and asked if anyone wanted to try it. I didn't have to fight off any of my fellow walkers for the privilege. What did it taste like? An almond. Nothing more, nothing less.

Uluwatu Temple

Having spent the last two weeks in Sulawesi, where we rarely saw another Westerner (or even domestic tourist), and were able to pull up right outside all the various attractions we visited, the well organised, but horribly commercialised Ulawatu Temple comes as a bit of a shock.

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We are not here to see the temple itself, which I understand is now only open to devotees wishing to pray days following some abysmal behaviour by disrespectful tourists. Having seen similar shocking actions by a fellow traveller at a temple in China, I am sad to say that nothing surprises me any more.

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We encountered some horrible traffic congestion coming here, cars bumper to bumper at a snail’s pace for miles, with young Western travellers on motorbikes (no helmets or protective gear of any kind) weaving in and out of the traffic without a care in the world. These days there is a huge car park some distance away from the temple (although our driver is thankfully able to drop us right outside), and the entrance to the temple is thronging with people, in stark contrast to the last time we came here in 1991, when it was all very laid back.

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We are warned about the thieving monkeys, who will remove anything loose from your person, such as sunglasses and hats, even necklaces are apparently not safe.

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Kecak Dance

In 1991 the dance was held next to a bar, with the audience consisting of a couple of dozen people in deckchairs.

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Scan of an old print from 1991

In 2023 it is big business, with a purpose-built arena holding 1500 people.

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Before the performance can start, a priest blesses the stage with some food offerings and lights the traditional Balinese coconut oil lamp in the centre, all adding to the building tension.

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We chose to sit on one side of the arena (something I come to regret later when all my photos have the audience on the opposite side in them), whereas the people facing the sunset have a few issues with keeping the sun out of their eyes.

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It's impossible to take photos from where I am sitting without getting the audience in the background in my photos.

Originating from the 1930s, it is also known as the ‘Ramayana Monkey Chanting Dance’. A number of men wearing chequered cloths around their waists, congregate in a circle, performing a mesmerising “chak ke-chak ke-chak ke-chak” continuous chant while moving their bodies rhythmically and waving their arms and hands. The chanting is both hypnotic and seductive, which is not surprising as the dance has its roots in a trance-inducing exorcism dance.

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The performance depicts a battle from the Ramayana, in which the monkey-like Vanares (represented by the bare-chested performers), led by Hanuman, help Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana.

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Many other characters are introduced during the performance, and I have to admit that I get lost in the story pretty quickly. Here is Wikipedia’s take on it: “The story of the Ramayana is depicted, beginning with Sita and Rama's exile in the jungle of Dandaka. The performance reenacts the appearance of the Golden Deer, the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the battle between Ravana and Jatayu, the search for Sita by Hanuman, and ends with the battle between Rama and Ravana. The kecak chanters chant and sing in accordance with the mood and milieu of the story. “

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My favourite is Hanuman, who is a bit of an acrobatic clown, climbing on the temple walls, sliding down the banisters, jumping down several steps, and even sitting in amongst the audience.

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As the sun sets, the performance culminates in the burning of Hanuman, in which he is blessed by a priest and goes into a trance, thus not feeling any pain from the fire. This dramatic finale is really quite impressive to watch.

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You can see excertps from the dance on David's short video here.

Phone Photography

While in some ways I think it is great that the advent of the mobile phone camera means that everyone can capture their precious memories for posterity, and that it means you always have a camera with you; it can also be seen as the bane of modernity in the way that people hold their phones up above their heads, without a thought to the anyone behind them also wanting to take pictures. Looking around, I can only spot two other people in the audience with ‘proper’ cameras, whereas there is a sea of lights from phone cameras.

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Once the performance is over, there is quite a stampede getting out of the arena, with so many people being funnelled into a fairly narrow exit, giving me the start of a panic attack. I’ve always felt anxious in large crowds, and this evening is no exception. I stop for a while and concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply, and it helps. We finally make it to where the car is in the parking lot - so many of the tourist vehicles look the same, so I am glad our guide is in contact with the driver.

With 1500 people trying to leave on the same narrow road, you have to be patient as you are getting nowhere fast.

Ganesha Café

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As part of the evening’s excursion package, we have dinner at Jumbaran Bay. I take one look at the outside seating and my heart sinks: it is everything I hate about tourist restaurants – lots of people = mass catering, cheap plastic chairs sinking into the sand, wandering minstrels singing at the tables. I ask if we can sit inside.

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Seeing the kitchens doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence either.

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The restaurant keeps several different live crustaceans in tanks by the entrance – I suppose that means that at least the seafood is fresh.

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We are asked about allergies, and whether or not we like spices. When the food arrives, there is enough to feed a small army – this is just for one person: soup with tuna meatballs, crab, fish, squid, prawns, and clams with various dips (chilli and tomato, chilli and onion, and garlic), as well as a green vegetable (probably water spinach), and a mountain of rice, of course.

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It’s not only the food that is crabby, I am feeling pretty grumpy and irritable myself, my knee and back are hurting, and my tummy feels rather precarious after having suffered from the runs for several days. Having to fight with bones and shells for my food does not improve my mood whatsoever. After eating just a small amount of the massive portion, I rearrange the food on my plate trying to hide some of the flesh under the bones to make it look like I have eaten it more than I actually have.

We soon find the guide to ask if we can return to the hotel, explaining to him how I am not really feeling well. As soon as we get into the hotel room, I collapse in bed.

Thanks must go to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:04 Archived in Indonesia Tagged monkeys sunset bali restaurant indonesia temple priest dinner lobster fire tourism seafood coffee crabs blessing squid ramayana kecak hanuman clams oil_lamp trance_dance trance civet touristic chanting fire_dance undiscovered_destinations audience kopi_luwak harris_tuban_hotel fried_bananas lumbung_sari_coffee_house lumbung_sari coffee_house coffee_tasting bescafe_gold civet_coffee luwak_coffee the_holy_grail_of_coffees ulawatu_temple commercialised kecak_dance mobile_phone_photography ganesha_cafe seafood_restaurant

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Comments

Quite a tourist attraction so it seems. Over the years it definitely shows that there are too much people on this planet or more people have found a reason to travel! ;)
So sad to hear that you are still not feeling all that well!

by Ils1976

I guess it is easy to reach from Australia, so a popular destination for young Australians.
Thanks, Ils, I often suffer with an upset tummy when we travel. :(

by Grete Howard

I would be very curious to try that coffee, and unlike you I prefer my coffee with more bite than Nescafe Gold can offer, so maybe I would like it! The dance looks fascinating even if you did have to share it with so many others (and you got some great close-up shots!) but like you I wouldn't enjoy that restaurant in the slightest.

by ToonSarah

Thanks, Sarah. I know I am unusual in my choice of coffee, and it can make it hard when 3e travel. I tend to stick to water, it is easiest. x

by Grete Howard

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