West Meets East: how my parents survived Bali – Part II

I don’t know how we fit so much fun into so little time! Here are the highlights from the final days of my parent’s visit to Bali:

Plantation Princess in the warehouse - the strips are bound into blocks of equal quality rubber (5 grades), then shipped for further processing.

We set out one afternoon, not knowing we’d end up on a fascinating, last-minute, happenstance plantation tour. I’d gotten a local to tell us where the government management office was. We showed up late in the day, played charades with a few security men who didn’t speak English, and wandered around the office grounds. We were about to take off when a man in a Panama hat drove up on a motorbike. Not only did he speak English, but he was the plantation tourism director! To our delight, he agreed to clock back in in spite it being after-hours.

First he told us about the rubber trees and showed us around the factory. Rubber comes out of the trees as a white milk. It’s mixed with a small amount of chemicals and water until it solidifies into what looks like giant blocks of tofu. Then it’s pressed into long strips, dried in a wood kiln (fueled by rubber tree wood), graded, and bundled. Next we saw the trees themselves. Each worker is assigned two stands of 100 trees each. On alternating days, a stand is tapped in the cool, early morning hours. (Warm weather, ironically, solidifies the rubber sap). Working 8 hour days, take-home pay is $200 a month.

How they harvest rubber - widen the gouge everyday and sap drains into the cup for a few hours. Then mix with a shot of acid, let solidify, roll into sheets, bake, bundle, and ship for further processing.

Bananas, coffee, coconuts, garden veggies, cloves, and dragon fruit also made an appearance on the tour. We watched a local boy shimmy to the top to cut down a young coconut. Our guide then expertly hacked it open, creating a drinking funnel with a slice of the shell. Delicious!   We saw dragon fruit growing on bizarre cactus-tree plants. And found out cloves are actually flower buds from a tree that taste the same fresh as dried. This particular plantation’s trees are also blessed with an amazing view!

Our last full day in Bali was also full of amazing views. We took my parents to Candikuning where Pat and I spent our first week in Bali. On the way we happened upon a coffee plantation with attached restaurant. To our delight, they served the world’s most coveted coffee. Luwak or civet coffee is made from beans that have been hand-selected by a mongoose-like creature that will only eat perfectly ripe berries. The bean ferments in the animal’s gut, comes out the other end, is washed, roasted, and turned into a cup of coffee so tasty that the going price per pound in the U.S. is between $230 – $600!

One of the many gorgeous falls we laid eyes upon...

Afterward we hiked to a stunning waterfall, watched the cheeky road-side monkeys, showed my parents around a lake-side temple, did a driving tour of the botanic gardens, and introduced them to our favorite local’s joint — a grubby “Warung Muslim” (muslim stall) with the best sate ayam (chicken satay).   Thankfully, after lunch, the secret souvenir shop I knew about was open. They were able to buy memorabilia for reasonable prices without having to ruthlessly bargain (a skill that takes ages to develop, especially for Americans!).

I also conducted one of my many fruit-tasting sessions that afternoon, yielding the most memorable results so far. Durian, if you don’t know, looks like a fruit of the devil. It’s covered in sharp wooden spikes, it’s smell is off-the-charts, and it’s loved and hated in equal measures. Like bleu cheese, craft beer, or fine wine, it’s appeal is not often obvious to first-timers. The texture is strange — like stringy, chalky mashed potatoes. It tastes heavily of garlic, with fruity undertones. Or, if you’re Pat, “Old, smelly socks mixed with nail-polish remover.” My mother and Pat both recoiled, unable to make it beyond the first bite. My Dad hung in there and joined the ranks of those can at least tolerate Durian. Other fruit appearances during their visit: soursop, mangosteen, snake fruit, passion fruit, plantains, duku, rambutans, and dragon fruit!

My cute mom at the ceremonial gates in front of Gitgit Falls just before the rain hit.

Of course, Bali couldn’t let my parents go without one last tropical storm experience. On our last night, hiking to the tremendous Gitgit Falls near sunset, the clouds swooped in and opened up. We arrived at the falls just as it really started to pour. Climbing back up out of the basin, we were literally scaling a waterfall. Several inches of water poured over our feet and shins, racing to the valley floor. When we returned to the car, the tasty “Chicken Pitta” wraps we’d gotten “take-out” from our favorite Candikuning bakery were a small consolation. Then we discovered cars here don’t have “defrost” as we battled window fog (and actual fog fog) the whole way down the mountain!

To finish things off with a flourish, Bali swallowed my mom’s wedding ring! Well… kind of. After we said tearful goodbyes at the airport, my mom went into the bathroom to change clothes. That’s when she realized her hands were naked. She’d put her rings on the bed side table while she showered and hadn’t noticed them in the packing whirlwind. It’s been a drama getting them back into her hands, but that’s another story!

Thanks for coming to Bali, Mom and Dad! ♣

Here you can see cacao pods, rubber coming out of a tree, how to drink from a coconut without a straw, and what happens if you each chiles straight from the plant.

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