Exotic Huts and Exotic Critters

Our funky little hut, modeled after the rice barns of the Sasak tribe in neighboring Lombok, sets the stage for our scuba diving adventures here in Nusa Lembongan.

If you’ve just mumbled Nusa Lembongan to yourself and a dedicated critter hunter sitting nearby gasps in envious delight, it’s because this little island located off the southeast coast of Bali has a secret… a very big secret! But what? Stay tuned to find out.

A Taste of Kopi Luwak

We first mentioned kopi luwak, or palm civet coffee, while we were traveling in Vietnam. Considered the most expensive coffee in the world (yes, even more expensive than Starbucks), the beans undergo one unusual step in the processing which leaves some people gulping in delight and others gagging in disgust.

Coffee berries are fed to civet cats which function as little enzyme machines shortening peptide bonds and increasing free amino acids in the beans. After passing the precious load, the beans are collected, washed, sun-dried and lightly roasted. Connoisseurs swear Continue…

Eat, Play, Tough Love

“What do you mean a bicycle tour? Leave the villa and the pool?” I screeched in hysteria. I was in one of my lazy moods. “It’s time to wean you off this luxury,” Tony replied mockingly as he continued packing for the trip to Ubud, the place where Elizabeth Gilbert found love in Eat, Pray, Love. The thought of leaving didn’t seem so lovely right now. Clearly, I was addicted to our Bali surf villa. As our guides from Banyan Tree Bike Tours picked us up, I was still feeling hesitant. But the promise of Continue…

Uluwatu

The ferry from Java to Bali is only a short thirty minute ride, but the transformation is quite astonishing. Everything is different. Sparsely developed East Java gives way to trendy beach developments and tourist traffic jams. Mosques are replaced by Hindu temples and the call to prayer gives way to ritual gamelan music and chanting. On the way south, our dodgy bus screamed past hundreds of community temples and family shrines lodged between boutique hotels and shops full of tourist crap, I mean art. It’s another world.

First stop: Uluwatu, legendary surf paradise and temple town. Known to most surfers as Ulu’s, the little village boasts the most famous waves in Bali. For us non-surfers, the epic views of plunging volcanic cliffs and crashing waves will have to suffice. So why are we making a beeline for one of Indonesia’s leading surf destinations if we don’t surf. We’ve come to crash with our friends Lisa and Garrett joined by two new friends Aimee and Kurt at their ultra-swank cliffside surf villa. (Actually, we will rather parasitically be occupying the third room. Thanks guys.)

Java by Train

If we could travel everywhere by train, we would. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting back in comfort and watching the outside world roll by. Especially when the outside world looks like Java. Terraced rice fields, water buffaloes, coconut palm plantations and dense patches of jungle are interspersed with traditional terracotta-tiled houses and steep volcanic cones. Locals in conical hats plow the sunburnt fields and work the rice paddies as the train passes by at a snail’s pace. It’s pure fantasy.

Although you can travel the whole length of Java by railroad, for most people it’s not the Continue…

On Edge at Bromo

Smiling at sweet victory

Indonesia has more volcanoes than any other country on the planet. The landscape of central Java is dominated by a series of fierce smoking cones which thrust out of the plains giving the island a mystical air straight out of the cheesiest B-grade dinosaur flick. I love it.

So it should come as some surprise that one particular mountain, Bromo, has become THE must-see volcano featured on most Indonesia itineraries. It’s not the prettiest volcano in Indonesia. It’s not the highest. It’s not the most active. So why does everyone visit?

Well, the truth is that it’s Continue…

Prambanan and Sewu

Not only is Java the site of the spectacular Buddhist temple-stupa of Borobudur, just a short distance east of Yogyakarta lies the monumental remains of Prambanan, a magnificent Hindu temple which testifies to Java’s early links with India. Prambanan is the largest and grandest of Java’s many surviving Hindu temples and is considered one of the largest in Southeast Asia.

We spent several hours wandering through the 9th-century ruins, taking in the surviving sculpture and witnessing ongoing reconstruction work. Prambanan is surrounded by volcanoes including dangerous Mount Merapi. The entire area is seismically very active and in 2006 a 6.2 earthquake Continue…

Javanese Food

“Aren’t you sick of Asian food?” a German friend asked recently. Interestingly, I’m not. Well, not yet anyway. True, Tony and I are a little sick of rice, deep-fried foods, and the surprising lack of vegetable dishes here in Indonesia. This is especially strange because the markets are full of fresh produce – if only the restaurants knew about it.¬†As it turns out, one did.

When we stumbled upon a little eatery just outside of Borobudur offering veggie and tofu based Javanese cuisine, we were quite delighted. Sitting behind a sheer lace curtain protected from inquisitive flies were a dozen different dishes. This wasn’t your typical fried Indonesian fare. Instead Continue…