The Best Day of My Life . . . So Far

I arrived in Borobudur yesterday after an overnight in Yogyakarta, where I had a fantastic hostel experience. I arrived after dark, and at least ten guests were hanging out in front of Laura’s Backpacker 523. I was immediately made to feel welcome and stayed up way too late enjoying the conversation. (Find Laura’s Backpacker 523 in Yogyakarta through their website: http://laurasbackpackers523.weebly.com/. Cost: about $7.50 per night, breakfast included.)

But that’s not what this blog post is about. This is about a bike tour I took today, making for one of the best days of my journey so far (and that is saying a lot).

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My guide, Andreas, picked me up by scooter at my guest house in Borobudur, Indonesia (more on that soon) promptly at 9:30 am. We rode to the tour office, where I chose from a variety of bikes. They are all one-speeds, but there is no need for more, as the entire tour was on easily rideable flat paths.

Our first stop was to The Original Pawon Luwak Coffee, where the most expensive coffee in the world is made from the poop of the civet cat (which is not a cat). The civet is fed a variety of fruits along with the most select coffee beans. The beans pass through the animal whole, and they are fermented along the way, removing all traces of acidic flavor. The result is an incredibly smooth, rich coffee free of any bitterness whatsoever. I enjoyed a cup of the java and samplings of cassava chips and Javanese banana chips.

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The coffee bean poop is nearest, followed by different stages of drying.

This little guy was very friendly, unlike the last civet I met a few weeks ago. He and his buddies were quite tame, and we shared a banana together.

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I loved this friendly little guy!

Leaving our bikes for a while, we walked to the nearby Sejarah Candi Pawon, an eighth-century temple built to honor King Indra; it is a World Heritage site. As I traced my fingers along the ancient grooves cut into the rough rectangular stones, I felt a deep connection to the meticulous carvers who worked long hours carving each bas-relief.

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Ancient bas-relief at Sejarah Candi Pawon.

We walked along the peaceful village road and hopped back onto the bikes, rolling along until we arrived at the private home of delightful elderly couple who make coconut sugar patties. I was enthralled by their traditional water catchment system, which is one of the few left in Borobudur. The run-off rainfall is captured from the trees by a thin bamboo half-pipe, which guides the water into a much larger bamboo pipe. A hole at the lower end of the large pipe is plugged by a wooden stopper, which is removed when water is desired, like turning on a faucet. The well is on the ground to the left of me in the photo below. (I’m only 5’2”, so you can imagine how tiny this charming elder was.)

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The coconut sugar is melted in a wok-like pan, caramelized, then pressed into shape in shallow coconut shells. The circular brown clam-like pieces are the end result. There is nothing quite like a chunk of it-doesn’t-get-any-fresher coconut sugar melting in your mouth to whet your appetite for the cup of hot jasmine tea and rambutan fruit we enjoyed in their home.

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Making coconut sugar cakes. They’re the golden discs in the foreground.

 

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Yummy jasmine tea with coconut sugar, sweets, and rambutan fruit.

Next we made a stop at a batik studio, where a huge variety of hand-painted batiks are made. Young art students draw the pencil designs on white cloth, then highly experienced women hand paint the batik wax over the designs before dipping the cloth in colorful dyes. I named my elephant design “Lumpy” because, well, I sucked at batik.

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Art students drawing batik designs.

 

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I sucked at batik.

 

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My final creation, “Lumpy.”

Our next stop took us to a small factory where workers make by hand the tiny rengginang, which are traditional Javanese rice cake bowls. They come in two flavors—salty and sweet—and they melt in your mouth. I pressed a couple and realized I was a much better rice bowl maker than I was a batik artist.

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Making sweet rice bowls.

The weather was perfect for the stretch of our ride that took us through rice fields. I had my Eat Pray Love moment along this tiny road, waving to the farmers standing shin-deep in the watery paddies. I have so much appreciation for the hard work these people put into planting, growing, and harvesting the rice, with nearly all the labor done by hand.

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This is just a small portion of the incredible scenery along this stretch.

We rode through the narrow streets of small but tidy neighborhoods thick with banana and coconut trees, flowering trees, and hundreds of kinds of tropical plants that could easily take over the land. Most people here are farmers of some sort, and even on the smallest of plots of land, I noticed yards full of cassava melon bushes, colorful chickens clucking to their little chicks, and drying peanuts spread homogeneously across colorful sheets on the ground.

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We peddled our way back to the tour office, then set out on the scooter to visit the traditional market. I was awed by the sheer size of it, which sold everything from garlic and eggs to shoes and gold jewelry. It must have covered two acres.

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Sampling duku fruit, the yellow balls in the foreground.

 

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An Indonesian version of a co-op.

It was lunchtime, so we scootered over to a local eatery in a light, warm, drizzling rain, where I sampled a smorgasbord of local foods, from spicy grilled chicken to stir-fried papaya greens. I passed on the fish heads.

After we sated our hunger, we straddled the scooter once more and headed to our final destination, the ninth-century Mendut temple, another stunning example of the ancient Hindu temples that abound in the Java region of Indonesia.

The temple, built during the reign of King Indra, had been lost to time and overgrowth until it was rediscovered, completely covered with bushes, in 1836. Its restoration was finished in 1925, and although the top had been toppled, it was not restored. The rubble from the once-towering pyramid-shaped top was reverently stacked into small piles near the main temple.

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Mendut Temple

The three large, detailed statues that reside inside the temple were each carved from single stones some twelve hundred years ago and still look smooth and life-like. The center statue of the Buddha stands about ten feet tall. Its purpose is to free devotees from bodily karma.

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The left-hand statue is Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara and frees devotees from the karma of speech.

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The right-hand statue is Boddhisatva Vajrapani, freeing devotees from the karma of thought.

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The bas-relief carvings on the exterior walls, representing the  Boddhisattvas, or Buddhist divinities, show the wear of the centuries as well as the decay triggered by a huge earthquake in 1001 AD and again in 1990. Both times the earthquakes were coupled with eruptions from Merapi, the nearby volcano.

On the same grounds resides an absolutely enormous Bodhi tree, its twisting, gnarled roots calling to mind all manner of myths, fairy tales, and legends. If you grab hold of one of the vines hanging from high up in the tree, you can make a wish, send out a prayer, or call in your dream and it will come true. Mine already has.

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A 70-year-old Bodhi tree.

 

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I had the best guide I think I’ve ever had on any kind of tour, a delightful and handsome young man named Andreas. I ended up having a private tour because I was the only one on the books for the day, which made for a deeply personal and super-fun-filled day. Thanks, Andreas, for so many great camera shots!

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Andreas and me.

The tour I took, which lasted nearly five hours, cost 250,000 rupiah, or about $18.50, which covered the entire day. I also received two gifts: a yummy banana layer cake-like loaf (the whole thing!) and a hand-made cloth shoulder bag. This tour company also offers many other tours and travel services. In fact, they booked a flight for me a few hours after I got back to the guest house!

(I apologize if you see some pictures sideways. I don’t know how to fix it, and not everyone sees it like that. Try viewing in another browser.)

The company is JavaLestari Tour and Travel and is owned by Dista Ayu, a lovely young woman who has a great thing going. Find JavaLestari at: www.javalestari.com; javalestaritour@gmail.com; phone +62 85 643 433 056.

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Owner Dista Ayu.

 

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