Chapter 3: Coffee Plantation and Naked Children.
The three travelers and their motor scooter chauffeurs finally arrived at the Teraz coffee plantation, in Nongan village. With Komang as their guide, the women entered the property on a narrow trail that led them through steep terrain. The entire hillside was cultivated with cocoa and coffee trees, orange and banana trees, spice trees and shrubs yielding cinnamon bark, cardamom, nutmeg, star anise, and cloves; vanilla bean vines, ginger and lemongrass plants, and the large green leaves of cassava root. Anya enjoyed the short hike, happy to be under the tropical canopy, greeting some plants like old friends. If she could live simply in a tree house, it would have to be in a tropical place like this, she thought.
Ducking under overhanging branches of exotic trees and shrubs, they wound their way back to a small lean-to where an old woman demonstrated the traditional way of roasting coffee beans over an open fire. Outside the lean-to was a huge mortar and pestle which would grind the roasted beans into a fine powder. The old woman was so diminutive, it was hard to imagine that she was capable of working with the massive hand tool. She never looked at the visitors and seemed to be in a world of her own. Anya thought she looked sad.
Several bowls displayed spices, cocoa and coffee beans including “male” and “female” coffee and the mysterious-sounding “Luwak” coffee beans.
The owner of the plantation walked over from the nearby coffeehouse greeting them warmly. He was a handsome man with an easy smile who liked to pepper his English with a few German expressions for Anya’s amusement. He explained what made Luwak so special: Coffee beans grow inside a red fruit that’s called a “cherry.” Coffee cherries are one of the favorite fruits of the civet cat, a small mammal.
While the fruit part is digested, the bean itself merely steams in the cat’s intestinal juices and is then eliminated. Farmers collect the poop and separate the coffee beans from it, then clean and process them like regular coffee beans. It is believed that the fermentation process inside the cat’s innards adds special qualities to Luwak coffee (or “kopi”) that regular coffee does not possess.
Even Oprah had once introduced Luwak coffee to her American audience. Laurel and Jessie discovered a small pamphlet at the coffee house. It outlined the purported benefits of Luwak kopi: resistance to type 2 diabetes, improved digestive system, prevents colon cancer and Parkinson’s disease, can cure Beriberi disease, boost immunity and stamina (especially in men) and increase mental clarity. They all agreed this was an impressive list of curative side-benefits.
The Teraz coffeehouse offered free samples of various hot drinks: coffee, cocoa, ginger tea and lemongrass tea. A single cup of Luwak coffee cost 40,000 rupiah. After recovering from sticker shock, Anya calculated that it converted to “only” $4.00 US, the price of a fancy coffee back in the US. The owner informed them that it was mostly European business men who bought the precious coffee in bulk, then offered it back home for 30 Euros a cup. Anya would have tried a cup but it was late afternoon and she knew that the caffeine would keep her awake for most of the night. Instead, she bought a few gift-packed teas and coffee mixes, and a large bar of chocolate made in Java, the neighboring island.
Komang gently mentioned that it was still a long way to the hotel and shepherded them back to their motor scooters where the other two men had been waiting patiently, trading jokes with some villagers.
The sky was cloudy, threatening rain. Descending the winding mountain road, they all shivered in their short-sleeved t-shirts and the women drew closer to their drivers trying to preserve body heat. The ride back felt like a blur – Anya fell into a road trance, still taking in the scenario, but no longer thinking about it. One scene, though, jarred her wide awake. As the scooters approached a bridge, she noticed two naked children, a boy and a girl, bathing in the river below. The water drops on their perfect little bodies reflected the setting sun. The girl was on the cusp of puberty and Anya wondered how much longer she would be allowed to be naked outside. The children were alone, there was no adult around (although Anya assumed that their mother or some other adult was probably nearby).
Oblivious to the traffic on the bridge overhead, they splashed each other, laughing. Their splashing was so gentle it looked like a liquid blessing of the other’s body.
Anya was tempted to ask her driver to stop so she could take a photograph of this innocent scene. But she was afraid that she would not only offend the drivers but that the children would become self-conscious. She did not want to be the rude, white tourist, not THAT!
She thought about secretly taking a shot rationalizing that this would not disturb the children or make them feel ashamed. Was her lust for a great photo greater than her need to protect the innocence of these two children? The photograph was never taken, but the scene remained edged in her mind. She had come across people bathing in rivers, sometimes women with their upper bodies exposed, certainly lots of naked children. What was it about these two children that touched her so deeply?
For the rest of the ride she wondered: What would her life have been like if she could have been a carefree child like that, unafraid to bathe naked in the river? What would her life have been like if she did not have to learn early that being a girl was not a safe? Maybe it was the total lack of fear in these two children that helped her own wounded inner child to heal a little bit more. Somewhere in the world, children were safe to be just children.
By not trying to sneak a photograph of them, she kept them safe as well.
When the small group made it back to the hotel, it was getting dark. They saw people climbing out of vans, looking travel weary. Anya knew she would meet everyone at dinner and stopped by her room to freshen up. Her roommate had arrived and luggage was spread across the room which suddenly seemed much smaller. Marla was older than her with a body as ample as her luggage. She was exhausted from her travels and not very talkative, so Anya wandered over to the restaurant where the staff was already pushing several tables together to accommodate her group.
Gradually, the other women arrived; introductions and excited chatter filled the space. There were almost 20 women participants on this writer’s retreat led by Laurel, the group leader and Karina, the yoga teacher. A bit later, the two Bali tour guides joined them, accompanied by applause. An American woman, Janna, and her Balinese husband, Surinam, intimately familiar with Bali and its culture, would be with them for the entire duration of the retreat. Schedules for the next few days were shared – yoga and writing sessions, temple visits, cultural sites, language and culture classes …. It was too much to remember all at once.
Anya went to bed early and fell asleep easily. No jetlag for her! She was startled out of her sleep when the bathroom door slammed shut. Soon after that, she heard her roommate bump into the wall, then trip over her own luggage; finally, the front door opened and Marla left the room. Anya was annoyed – couldn’t the woman have used a flashlight to find her way around? It was 3 am on her cell phone clock! She was beginning to feel uneasy about this roommate match. Still tired, she pulled her crisp white sheet over her head and went back to sleep.
Note: This is a semi-fictional travel memoir based on an actual visit to Bali. All names of individuals have been changed. Some of the characters are composites and certain events have been slightly fictionalized.
Chapter 4: Snorkeling and Dinner at the Ashram