Weasel coffee

If you are travelling around Southeast Asia, chances are that you will visit a coffee plantation at some point. Supporting local farmers is important, but there is a dark side to the roasting process.

In Vietnam, coffee is a serious business. Second only to Brazil, it exports the most grounded coffee of any country in the world. The most expensive coffee you can buy is called Kopi Luwak, otherwise known as ‘weasel coffee’ which retails at around $40-$100 a cup. This coffee is touted as ‘exclusive’ since the way it is harvested means that there is a limited supply.

A man slow roasts coffee beans in Bali

Wild luwaks are palm civet cats that select the ripest coffee cherries as part of their diet. The beans are not fully digestible, so they pass out almost intact, but with an added ‘musky’ flavour. Through partly digesting the beans using enzymes in its stomach, the acidity is changed and the resulting flavour is supposedly less bitter. Once cleaned, the beans are processed in the same way, but the selling point is that a wild animal has chosen only the best beans for your morning cup.

Coffee does really grow on trees

The problem is that wild luwaks are poached to maintain this story. Caged and force fed a restricted diet of coffee cherries, they are kept in squalid conditions in order to harvest their droppings. Without eating other important foods such as fruit, the animals inevitably become sick. Their naturally shy demeanour means that being on constant display and positioned next to other luwaks causes them further suffering.

Tony Wild, who has been credited with introducing this ‘poop coffee’ to the West, is now championing more sustainable ways to farm. His campaign in 2013 Kopi Luwak – Cut the Crap has garnered over 50,000 signatures to put an end to the practice of capturing palm civet cats for this process. He has called on retailers, including Harrods where he worked, to stop stocking this type of coffee. His book, Coffee: A Dark History, delves into the uncomfortable truths about coffee production, from animal cruelty to colonisation.

Despite the 2013/2014 movement fuelled by Wild that highlighted the plight of palm civet cats in making coffee, the persistent demand for Kopi Luwak means that the farmers have not stopped this practice. When I visited Bali in late 2018, I was surprised to see many road signs still promoting luwak coffee. Despite the backlash against this exploitative method, many coffee plantations still use confined civet cats and even showcase them as part of their tours.

Coffee cherries with visible beans

The thought of eating something derived from dung gives it a queasy appeal for those wishing to try something novel. It is still possible to buy pounds of weasel coffee online, and the influx of fake versions further attests to its popularity. Be wary of any farms that claims to have a ‘sustainable’ method of producing weasel coffee, since any method that inhibits a wild animal or breeds them in captivity is not ethical. Putting profit over the well-being of wildlife is not a sustainable practice.

Since 2014, new legislation and certification has been introduced to reduce the number of caged luwaks. The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is used by the Rainforest Alliance to help consumers choose coffee that has been farmed responsibly, and the UTZ also provides a certificate for sustainable coffee production. However, getting your hands on a legitimate bag of weasel coffee can be a challenge since the high retail price attracts many imitators who claim to be certified.

Although awareness of these civet cat farms has increased over the past decade, many tourists may not realise the true price of this coffee. If you are looking for a way to experience culture in Southeast Asia, trying weasel coffee may just leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The hidden waterfall tour, Bali

As I approached the ledge, I passed a painted wooden sign tied to a tree trunk. It read, ‘Never try, never know…Test your adrenaline!’ Before I could reconsider, I bounded forwards. The guide stopped me, telling me I had to do a standing jump rather than a running leap. The stone underfoot was cold and wet. My toes curled instinctively over the ledge as Kroya waterfall spat a frothy stream towards me. “Three…two…one…”


Our driver Wayan was visibly distraught. After a long three hour journey winding our way north, we had suffered a burst tyre and were now sat beside a paddy field, far from the last town. We were relatively close to the secret waterfalls, but for now we were stranded.

We understood his frustration. As we drove past the misty shadow of Mt. Agung, Wayan described how his family, who lived within 6km of the volcano, had been evacuated months before. Living in a shelter with his wife and two children, he explained the difficulties of trying to sleep and continue living while the threat of an eruption loomed over them all. This was back in December 2017, and the volcano continues to erupt with an evacuation zone of up to 9km.

He had tried to return to his house to collect some belongings, but officials had turned him away empty handed. In contrast to the media reports that feared the repercussions of lost trade through lower numbers of tourists, he told us that the locals were praying for the volcano to erupt. Waiting in limbo was more of a punishment than losing everything and having to rebuild their lives.


I stood on the ledge, willing my legs to move. They were now planted stiffly. An uncomfortable tingle had lodged itself in the crux behind my knees and in the space between my fingers. A queue had formed behind me. Counting me down to an anticlimax. Expecting me to jump.

As I weakly stumbled back towards the safety of the rocks, I looked up at my family. They had signed up for a whole day of waterfall adventures, and this was only the first jump at 5m. The rest were much higher, at 10m and 15m respectively.

Morale was slipping. I caught sight of a man clambering down the slippery craggy path from the road. It was Wayan, our driver, who had managed to repair the tyre on his car and was rushing to join us.

I pulled the strap of my life jacket and turned round. I strode up to the edge and looked over briefly to qualm my fear of braining myself on the rocks below. The young guide began to tentatively count me down. I moved my weight from my back leg forwards, then fell through the air, not wanting to let Wayan down.


Next, the guide held me in the stream and my legs flopped before me uncontrollably. I was dangling at the top of Kroya waterfall, 12m high. The life jacket buffeted my head as the water tried to dislodge me from the safety of his grip. I tried to make sense of what he was saying, but the deluge of water was all I could hear.

Before I could take a breath, I was spitting out water. My body was in free flow over the edge. My eyes were open but all I could see was spray. I was temporarily held under, before being promptly spat out. I found myself in the serene pool once more, floating downriver to the next waterfall.

The next jump made the first look like child’s play. At 10m high, you could count a clear second or two before your body hit the water. The cliff edge was decorated with pebble dash which made the launch spot uneven underfoot. I watched my partner Tom jump and reemerge around the bend. The grey shadows of rocks could be seen below, so this needed to be a confident jump outwards to clear them.

I psyched myself up, trying not to overthink it this time. Just head to the edge and go. Never try, never know. As I was preparing to jump, a crippling fear overcame my legs. I spun and held onto the guide’s forearms for support. I was laughing but my knuckles were white. I could not move, not even away from the edge. I looked at my family again, who had already decided they were out. I asked Tom to go again.

He didn’t even blink. He casually walked past me, glanced down, then was gone. He resurfaced with a big grin on his face. While he was in the pool below, I would join him, I decided. The only way down there was to jump.

After resigning myself to the fact that this one was simply too high, I was surprised to find that I was hurtling downwards. Shrieking, I crashed into the water and my bottom was slapped hard. I had forgotten to straighten my legs for impact. I clumsily pawed my way over to Tom, my life jacket bobbing around my neck.

The final jump gives me toe cramp just thinking about it. The last waterfall was 15m high, only accessible using a flimsy dog-chewed rope across the fast river. The undergrowth hid the jagged edge of the rocks leading to the abyss below. The guide did not demonstrate this jump. Our gaze followed the water down. It surged forward with a new urgency, dissipating into vapour as it struck a large pool, inky black in its depths.

I did not even entertain the idea of conquering this fall. The last had left a big impression on me (quite literally, my bum cheeks were bruised). This jump was fifty percent bigger. From up here, time would be suspended for a good three seconds as you plunged downwards.

Yet Tom lined himself up and reassured himself of the landing spot. He glanced sideways at me then leapt past the scratchy undergrowth and just out of reach of the hissing water. He screamed this time, before disappearing into a shock of water.

We craned our necks to see over the side. He had not surfaced in the still lagoon yet. Then, with the power of a champagne cork, he launched up in triumph. “How many people complete this last jump?” I asked the guide as we walked down to join him. “Not many. Not many are that stupid.”

5

In the final part of our journey, we walked back upstream and followed a thin snaking path. The sound of pounding water found us before we set eyes on the Aling Aling waterfall. At 35m high, it was a force to be reckoned with. Spray erupted and hung in the air like mist as the thunderous sound grew deafening. This was a jump that even Tom would not attempt.

Tour company – Pink Gorillaz. The Secret Waterfall tour includes transportation. See website for prices and details.

Travel guide to Sanur, Bali

Some travellers call the town of Sanur in Bali ‘Snore,’ as it is more relaxed compared to the party towns of Kuta and Seminyak on the west. Yet there is more to this place than its moniker suggests:

Where to eat
There are lots of local warungs to satiate your nasi campur appetite, along with more international options with fusion-style meals available. Here are our favourites:
Natah Bale – tucked away on the main street, you might miss this one. It is worth seeking out just for the hospitality. We learnt lots of Bahasa Bali phrases from the owner. They serve the best satay chicken and lamb served in their own mini charcoal pits so you can cook your meat to your taste.
Genius Bar – based smack bang on the shore with live music, dancing, movie nights and fire shows during the week. Their cocktails are strong (try the pina colada in a coconut) and their food portions are generous. Ideal for vegetarians or those who appreciate healthy food.

The delectable banana/honey pizza from the Genius Bar, Sanur beach.

Warung Baby Monkeys – a cosy reggae-themed cafe that serves hearty Balinese and international food. Their nasi lemak rivals the best in Bali. The hamburgers and thick shakes are a hit.
Soul in a Bowl – located further up the main street, this one is another great find for vegetarians. The menu is extensive and the salad bowls are huge. Try the fresh juices here.
Malaika Secret Moksha – the rustic atmosphere fits the organic menu, where food and art meet on a plate. Their key lime pie is a winner.

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Vegetarian lasagne at Malaika Secret Moksha, Sanur

What to do
Sanur beach is a long stretch of white sand. To hire two sun loungers and an umbrella for the day will put you back IDR50,000 (£2.70). The beach was clean, unlike Kuta and Seminyak that were sadly awash with plastic brought in with the tide when we visited (December 2017).

Watersports are available on the beachfront, with speedy jet skis or the option of paddle boarding on the still, shallow water. Kite surfing is popular here, but the regular surfing looked better in Canggu as the surfers had to be taken far out to the wave breaks.

Shopping
The main shopping street is Jalan Cemara that extends to Jalan Danau Tamblingan. Here you can discover boutique shops as well as the usual souvenir vendors. You can buy carved wooden statues, traditional instruments, artisan bamboo bags and handpainted bowls from local artists. See here for more information.

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Sunset view from Genius Bar, Sanur

Pampering
The Aroma Spa is located on Sanur’s beachfront and offers high quality treatments ranging from reflexology to deep tissue massages, and they even have a sunburn soothing massage for those who’ve spent a long day at the beach.

Day trips
The island of Nusa Lembongan is nestled into the mainland and is just a short ferry ride from Sanur. There, you can snorkel in the shallows by Lembongan Watersports, kayak in the mangrove forest and enjoy the tumultuous waves of Dream Beach.

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The rough turquoise waves at nearby Dream Beach, Nusa Lembongan

Sanur is ideally located in the centre of most activities in Bali. You can take a day trip north to visit the steeply tiered paddy fields and craft galleries of Ubud, jump off waterfalls in an arranged tour, or for a half day option, you can clamber through the nearby hidden canyon of Beji Guwang,

From Sanur, it’s possible to drive east to Tanah Lot and then on to Canggu to surf. Or head south to Nusa Dua beach, then on to the famed Padang Padang beach (locally known as the Julia Roberts beach as she filmed Eat Love Pray there). If you continue further to the southern tip, go watch the Kecak fire dance at the Uluwatu temple during sunset.

If you travel west, it is possible to snorkel at Padang Bai and if you’re lucky, you might spot a cuttlefish in the depths. For wildlife enthusiasts, the nearby butterfly park was a highlight, with fat caterpillars and hundreds of large winged butterflies and moths.

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Tourist map of Bali, provided by our driver Made Murjana

Where to stay
I highly recommend Terta Ening Agung hotel. It has a pool and a peaceful garden full of flowers and birds, and is just a 10min walk from Sanur beach. As a party of 12, we were given adjoining villas. During peak season, we paid £25/night for a large private double room with an en suite bathroom.

The rooms were clean and comfortable and the staff were friendly and accommodating. Breakfast was included and consisted of Balinese favourites as well as a continental option or pancakes. The owner, Wayan, booked all our transportation at a reasonable price and made us feel at home.

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I hope you’ve found this information useful. If you have visited Sanur or plan to go there soon, comment below as we’d love to hear from you!

The hidden canyon of Beji Guwang

Bali’s hidden canyon lies in Sukawati. To find the entrance, we drove down a small street with faded shopfronts. On corners, fat syringes of golden diesel perched in wooden huts. A woman, dressed in yellow lace, balanced a tower of fruit on her head to offer to a nearby Hindu shrine, which was nestled between shops selling sim cards and cans of Pocari Sweat.


We clawed our way onto the rocks that were deceptively smooth, like the skin of black eels. The choking rapids cajoled our limbs to join them as they bulldozed their way down the canyon.

Our two guides, Wayan and Made, had expertly navigated us through so far. They knew the crannies to trust with our weight. They knew which torrents to fight and which to surrender to. They could foresee the rock below our feet, despite the murky depths of the water.

The cliffs of striated rock, shaded like exposed muscle, curved to great heights around us. Thick vines dangled like dreadlocks from toppling trees. As the pale glow of sunlight fizzed brighter, spots of bleach illuminated the brown water we found ourselves in.

Layers of khaki stubble clung to the lower levels and made each step and handhold treacherous, yet we felt the giddiness of adventure stall any fear.

The river launched itself with force between the narrow rocks. The surface of the water was puckered with the strong undercurrents that shot downstream.

We continued through the hidden gorge, feeling with every subsequent step the power of the water. It toyed with us, spinning and pummelling our bodies as we moved forwards.

The rock faces dropped away, revealing a still lake. Turning the corner, we had entered a technicolour scene with the leafy vegetation giving us relief from the dull palette of grey and brown.

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The path, forged by the water, twisted on further. The rocks grew steadily in size, until they were monstrous. Leaving the water, we climbed a steep rock face and squelched our baked toes into the reddish soil beyond.

When we emerged from the canyon, the bleak sunlight stung our eyes. It felt as though we’d spent the last two hours in a cave, shielded by the cold stone.

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We hotfooted it along the path that skirted the paddy field, each row meticulously straight and growing fresh shoots. Our guides retrieved fallen frangipani heads and tucked them behind our ears.

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The canyon tour is becoming more well-known to travellers so locals believe it will not retain its ‘hidden’ name forever.


Name: Beji Guwang hidden canyon tour
Address: GPS -8. 609844, 115. 289898, Sukawati 80582, Indonesia
Website: Bali hidden canyon tourTripAdvisor
Cost: IDR 15,000 ($1.50) for entry each, then IDR 100,000 ($10) for one guide. Guides are compulsory and visitors are not allowed to explore on their own for safety reasons. Larger groups should expect to have a couple of guides to assist them. Tips not included.
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
Facilities: Toilets, showers and lockers at the entrance. Refreshment stall near the end.
What to bring: There are lockers so bring a towel and spare clothes to change into afterwards. You will get wet so bring a waterproof pouch for phones/cameras if necessary. The guides will carry some items, such as water and flip flops, in their dry bag. Walking barefoot in the canyon is advisable.
Top tip: Call ahead to check that the canyon is open. After heavy rainfall, the water levels become dangerously high and the canyon is closed to visitors. Some places were deeper than 5ft when we visited so tell the guides if you are a weak swimmer.
Age and fitness level: This activity is for adults only. The route requires good balance and strength, so a general level of fitness is required. For those with knee injuries like me, bring a knee support as it is slippery.
Extra information: Avoid the mini zoo attraction at the end as it does not promote the welfare of the animals. Birds of prey, boa constrictors, flying foxes and lizards are used as ‘props’ for photographs, and the owners encourage tourists to handle the animals. Rather than visiting or giving donations to continue this practice, walk on and buy refreshments from the hut to support the local economy instead.