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After my bout with the stomach bugs, you’d think I’d be a little more careful with what I eat. But, NO, as soon as I had a normal b.m., I decided to try some more local food. These places that Don takes me are really no more than glorified street vendors with a real dining room. It’s scary to see them washing dishes from a bucket of water on the sidewalk.

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A few nights ago, we had Padang cuisine at what looked to be a fairly clean restaurant. As soon as you’re seated, they bring out lots and lots of small dishes each with a portion of some exotic food. That night I tried all sorts of things. Remember those eels that live in the rice fields? Well, I ate some of those. They fry them up whole, bones and all, in spicy oil and serve them in a tied bundle. Untie the bundle and pull one out and start crunching away. They’re actually quite tasty. I also tried another specialty called rendang beef. Cooked with spices until they permeate it. The roasting seems to also dry the beef making it tough to separate. It also was very good. Some other things I tried were fish head in yellow curry, cassava tree leaf with green chili sauce, beef tongue satay, beef rinds (like pork rinds), curried chicken and boiled chicken with red chili sauce. Some things I decided to pass on were the beef lung, beef tripe, beef liver, beef brain, etc. They eat just about any part of the cow, but I have to draw the line somewhere. So what happens to those dishes you don’t eat? It goes back to the kitchen and served to the next customers. Sounds far from sanitary, but they’ve been doing it this way for years.

I felt I needed fresh fruit in my diet so I found some great produce at the market. The papayas are huge–a foot long–and very sweet still. Watermelon so red, juicy and sweet like I’ve never tasted before. And a fruit from Bali called a selat–it’s covered with an almost snakeskin-like thin skin that you peel to reveal a garlic-shaped fruit about the size of a plum. It’s crunchy and sweet with the same texture as raw garlic. We also bought a huge bunch of apple-bananas–tiny little two-bite bananas–still on the branch, but these aren’t like the ones I’ve had in Hawaii which have a thicker skin and different texture. These bananas have a yellow meat that is very dense and skin that is very thin. The banana beetles and spiders came at no extra charge. I also tried mangosteen, a small brown fruit the size of a peach. Squeeze the fruit and the thick skin splits open to reveal a cluster of white pulpy seeds, some with hard black centers. The taste is tangy-sweet like a mango and the texture is like nothing I’ve had before. They’re very delicate and just about melt in your mouth–very yummy.

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Yesterday, Don and I went back to Punchak and visited a tea plantation. I saw the factory where they dry and package the tea in large bulk bags to send to the end producers. The plantation is fairly high in the hills so it is much cooler yet still humid. We hiked up into the orchards and Katiman explained how the women pick only the new tender leaves that sprout. Harvesting goes on almost daily with the women wearing the traditional reed hat and carrying a wicker basket to hold the tea leaves. They are paid (very little) by the kilo picked.

Many of the tea trees are 20 to 30, some almost 50 years old, yet stand only 2-3 feet high. Every few years the plant stops producing new leaves so they prune them back to just bare branches. It’ll take 4-6 months for the trees to grow out. Looking out on the hillside there are acres and acres of tea trees and occasionally a brown section where the trees have been pruned. Occasionally, the tree will stop producing altogether. They are then uprooted; the tree is flipped upside-down and the roots lacquered for use as a base for artificial trees–pretty clever.

While hiking, Katiman showed us a cinnamon tree. The trunk resembles an alder with a smooth bark. We found some peeling top bark and smelled it. Sure enough, a familiar scent. Even the fallen leaves have the cinnamon smell. I also noticed poinsettias growing in the orchards, except these where nearly 10 feet tall with bright red leaves! Not the kind they sell at Christmas time.

For lunch we stopped at a restaurant near the top of the hill overlooking the tea plantation and ate some more local food—mutton satay, whole fried fish, oxtail soup, cassava leaves and beef intestine. A good meal at a fairly fancy restaurant yet it cost only 109,000 rupiah or about $14 for all three of us. Food is definitely quite a bargain in Indonesia.

indo21Later that day, we hiked from the villa through the rice fields to a waterfall about 3 kilometers away. Along the way, we found some men who were catching small birds in a large fine net stretched across the rice field. I noticed they already had a quite a few in a bucket. They would later take the birds and deep fry them whole and have several of them for a meal. I was intrigued, but it did sound like a lot of work for such a small amount of meat.

We didn’t make it to the waterfall until dusk so I didn’t get any good pictures of it. We sat at the base of it and watched the bats circle around us catching bugs. When we finally decided to return, the rain started and since I didn’t bring a raincoat, Katiman and I used large banana leaves for an umbrella. I’m sure we were quite the sight walking down the road with a banana leaf on our head. Paved with large stones, the roads are slick and uneven. Combined with walking in Tevas with open toes, it makes for a slow return trip. We got back to the villa by 7:30 p.m., dried off and sat and sipped hot tea on the lanai while watching the geckos feast on the many flying bugs.

All in all, it was a very memorable and enjoyable day. I will be leaving by myself later today to go to Yogyakarta to visit Borobudur, a huge (mountain-sized) ancient Buddhist monument and Prambanan, large Shiva and Brahma temples. Don now has the stomach problems and will hopefully meet me later in Bali. Venturing out on my own will be quite the adventure since my Indonesian is almost nonexistent. It should be fun.

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