Day #119 - Bean there - Rice & Rituals

Following our quiet day yesterday, today's plan was much more exciting. Once again we had booked our favourite driver to take us out for the day to see more of Ubud's sights and experiences.

Our first stop was to see some rice fields. To be honest, we weren't too excited by this since we had seen a fair few rice fields as they surround our hotel. However, when we arrived we were blown away by what we saw. Rather than the large, flat rice fields that we had seen so far, these were terraced rice fields that defended like steps into a deep, lush valley. 

We looked across the valley at this spectacular sight and it's one I am sure you would recognise as a classic image of Bali. Emerald waves of terraced rice fields cascading down the hillsides, all linked with an intricate gravity irrigation system.

On the side of the valley where we were, various attractions had sprung up to capitalise on this stunning view. Zip lines, giant swings, aerial cycles and Instagramable photo opportunities lined the terrace. So naturally we had to have a go! We did the couples swing - good fun! 

It's interesting to see the entrepreneur nature of the Balinese people and the way they are providing great tourist experiences. I hope that it doesn't over time, grow to something that overshadows what people originally came to see. 

Our next stop was Pura Tirta Empul also known as the Holy Spring Temple.  Legend has it that the holy spring within the temple emerged when the god Indra battled the demon Mayadenawa, creating a source of pure water for purification and renewal.

The lifeblood of the temple is the holy spring, believed to possess healing and cleansing properties. Balinese Hindus flock here to perform Melukat, a ritual purification ceremony that washes away negative energies and brings blessings -  the 30 sacred spouts, each representing a different blessing. Tourists are allowed to take part under guidance if they want but not being spiritual people, we decided not to take part. 

It was lovely to walk around and observe the temple in action and by now, we were both very familiar with the workings of the temples and felt at home in our sarongs. When we took the exit out of the temple, the managers of the temple had taken the whole "exit through the gift shop" idea to a whole new level!

We were funneled into a labyrinth of market shops all selling pretty much the same thing, with eager shop keepers inviting us to look, keen to start a conversation that us Brits can only end by buying something. So we exited with some more fridge magnets!

Onward to our next stop which was one we were both looking forward to. We wanted to taste the world's most expensive coffee - Kopi luwak or Civet Coffee. Coffee as we all know is made from the coffee bean which is harvested from the fruit (cherries) of the coffee plant, dried, roasted and then crushed. Kopi luwak coffee has an extra stage in its processing. It is made from partially digested coffee cherries, which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. The civet (a cute, but aggressive animal) picks the best fruits of the plant to eat and people collect the excreted coffee beans. The process of digestion alters the enzymes in the bean, which when they are roasted, leads to a milder flavour. Also the civet has selected the better beans which means a different taste.

We were taken to a "typical" Balinese family home and shown around both the home and its garden. Unlike the homes we are used to with everything under one roof, this home had different small buildings, each with a different function. There was the living and working space with a room for guests; a room for unmarried women of the family to sleep in; the family temple and the kitchen. 

This family has expanded their home at the back to show how the plants in the garden can be made into teas along with the process for making Kopi luwak from the coffee plants in their garden. We also came face to face with the civet responsible for creating the coffee.

Further out the back of the home, overlooking the valley, they had created a lovely cafe where we were given 12 or so teas and coffees to try, all made from different plants or flavoured in different ways. It was interesting to also be told what health benefits each was supposed to promote. 

Then it was on to the main event, trying the Kopi luck coffee. This cost us 50,000 IDR (Indonesian rupiah) about £2.50 a cup. So not that expensive here at source, but apparently retail prices can reach around £80 per kilogram for farmed beans and £1000 per kilogram for wild-collected beans.

The taste was amazing. I personally am not a fan of black coffee - it's bitter and sharp, but this was smooth, creamy and didn't taste watery. It was very pleasant indeed. As were all the other drinks we sampled. 

Fully refreshed, we headed off to our next location, another temple - Gunung Kawi Tampaksiring. This is a 10th-century temple (and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and is one of the most popular and famous in Bali because of its unique rock-cut candis (shrines). The candis are carved into the cliff face of the Pakerisan River, which flows through the valley below. They are believed to be dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his family. The shrines are decorated with intricate stone carvings depicting Hindu mythology and symbols.

From here we moved onto yet another temple famous for its rock carvings but this time in a different way. Goa Gajah (meaning elephant cave) was built around the 9th century, Goa Gajah's exact purpose remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.

Some believe it served as a sanctuary for Hindu priests, while others suggest it was a Buddhist meditation retreat. Beyond the main cave, a series of bathing pools carved into the rock face with intricate fountains add to the mystical atmosphere. These pools were once used for ritual purification and bathing ceremonies.

It was then time for a late lunch and our driver once again knew of a lovely restaurant. James went Italian and I went traditional Balinese: Bacon Carbonara, Nasi Goreng Kampung and for dessert, samosas and a lovely icecream and coconut milk float. 

Our day had one more stop and that was to a wood carving workshop in our driver's home village. He told us that most villages had a central trade that the village was known for, in his village's case, wood carving. This rang true since when we drove through villages and towns, there did seem to be a dominate industry - the workshops creating the same products or establishments offering the same service, like laundry. 

The woodcarving workshop that we visited is renowned we were told, for its skillful carvers and the intricacy of the designs they produce. Sadly, due to weight restrictions on our luggage, we couldn't buy anything they had produced despite several items catching our eye in the extensive showroom.

We returned to our hotel for another lovely evening meal and another spectacular sunset before more binge watching of True Blood!