Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Long time waiting...

After so many fantastic responses to my blog, I've decided to try to keep it up. It'll be coffee centered, but knowing me, there will be rambles all over the place. Mostly food related.

Anyway, since I had photos of my trip I thought I'd post how I got scholarship that sent me to Sumatra. Also, I'll be updating how the rest of my trip went with fun little tips on what you should not do. :)

So, for the scholarship I originally wrote up this nice little college-like-application with some pleasant information. No go. The information needed to be more detailed and no one was wowed. How could you not be wowed by an extravagant trip to Indonesia? (hint: a boring black and white typed blah blah blah I want this statement would do it.) After being asked to reapply, I decided to try again, but this time I was not going to fail. So I turned my application into a comic book. Anya-illustrations and sad attempts at photoshopping. Please don't judge the later of the two. I had no idea what I was doing and it was too late to do it any other way. Also, I'm stubborn and no metal box without thumbs was going to beat me!

Enough chit chat though, here it is:

If you are wondering, yes, I am that egotistical to put myself on the front cover.
 Also, this is where the judging stops.  Photoshop is a strange animal...
(blah blah blah)

 This page is by far my favorite because I got to use an image of myself drawn as Sponge Bob Square Pants. WIN. (also, I had to look up what an airplane looks like.... fail.)

And the rest is history... at least my history.... and the internets...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fun Picture-y goodness

 View from my room door.

SnakeSkin Fruit

Inside the snakeskin fruit. Tastes like a musty apple/pear.

  This is coffee being dried in the street on a tarp. The thing you miss is that the trunk just up the street has coffee drying in the bed also. Nice. 

 From the top!

 Ferries to Samosir Island.
 Typical dishes at lunch.

 Coffee! (Robusta)

 Batak house detail.

Botanical garden
THE waterfall.

Finishing from Lake Toba (this

When last we left our intrepid adventurer, I was on the roadside cliff with a strange man named Samuel, who had just convinced me that I needed to join him to hear his band.  He also offers, again, that a tour of some traditional Batak houses, a waterfall and a botanical garden. 200,000 Rupiah. No, I say. Too much. He goes down to 150 and I agree because I really want to see Batak houses.

Samuel and I fly back to my hotel and switch to a taxi, which is occupied with two other younger gentlemen: Robin and Andros. They are the rest of his band. The saxophonist and drummer. Right. 

The four of us are zooming up the mountainside to the Batak houses. I learn on the way, that Samuel has a girlfriend in LA, Robin and Andros are both single, but in Batak region, dating is acceptable until marriage.  This is brought up in conversation in between the three of them off-key belting the lyrics to a Bon Jovi song I don't know. And "I lay you down, in bed of roses..." Over and over and over. Great.

The Batak houses are incredible. Over 300 years old I'm told. Carved wood, detailed paintings in white against a dark wood and when you enter, the temperature drops at least 10 degrees. The main floor is used for the living space and the upper floor is food storage, underneath is where the livestock is kept. It's difficult to grasp how impressive they are until you are next to this massive wooden structure that's held together that long. The women there were selling some woven cloth, but I hadn't brought enough rupiah, which was a complete shame, because it was some of the nicest handiwork I've seen. (Ma, Judy Chicago would have benefited from their work.)

Shortly, I was being swept up into the car again. To the botanical garden and waterfall. Frankly, I could have skipped it, but the guys were very excited to go swimming. I did my best to convince them that I couldn't swim and was afraid of drowning. Na, Na, we'll keep you safe. You not drown with us. Right.

The 'botanical garden' was a very sweet older gentleman's idea of identifying and preserving the local flora and fauna. It was sweet, but anti-climatic. Maybe I'm jaded, but though it was beautiful, I was just too busy brushing off advances from the 'band'. I have quite a few photos of them, because they kept grabbing my camera and taking photos of me with Samuel. Or me with Robin. Or with Andros. As the photos progress you can tell I am getting more and more uncomfortable. Not only do they wrap their arms around me, but I am about a foot taller than them, so I'm hunched over, grimacing.

The waterfall was pretty, but, again jaded, it was just a waterfall to me and I was not getting in past my ankles, despite 'the band's' best efforts.

Skip ahead to where they ask if I want to try some local moonshine. (yes I do) We get to the place and I see my father's worried face in my head and realize that this is a horrible idea. Down right terrible. I had two things going for me at that moment. One: I can drink. I can drink a decent amount and I'm nearly positive I can out drink all three of this guys. Two: The place appears to be closed and I am able to catch Samuel before he makes the phone call to get the shop owner.

Skip ahead to dinner.
I've prepaid for a special BBQ'd fish dinner. Lake Toba fish. Nula. Like carp I'm told. I'm excited. Fish here is incredible and I'm geeked to have it made locally by locals the local way from a local source. (Beat that Food Co-op-tree-hugging-localivore movement! [Disregard the 32hrs of travel it took to get here.]) And you know what? The fish was incredible. Truly delicious. Bbq'd straight out of the lake, The whole thing. Head, tail and fins. Covered in chili sauce, served with a large bed of rice and some steamed tapioca leaves. So good. Except for the company. Oh what, you think my day of Samuel is over? You're so silly. It's only 9pm. There are three more hours of Samuel and they are the most uncomfortable yet.

It's hearing his 'band' play. Do you notice how I keep putting the word band in parenthesis? Yea? That's because his 'band', I come to find out, is going to a small town karaoke bar that has instruments so you can sing and play along with your favorite American songs from 5-20 years ago. But let me back up a second.
I have agreed to buy the guys beers. Despite the level of annoying they have reached, there have been glimpses of amazing. Fresh pineapple from an old woman with a machete. Batak houses. Incredible fish and now I get to see the people Parapat in their natural environment. And really, the bir (beer:beer) isn't expensive. So I order four. One for each of us. They are a bit shocked. Keep in mind that a bottle of beer is twice the bottles we know in the US. Usually they are shared between two people, but frankly, I could use a whole one and as I've mentioned I'm just about positive that I can out drink them. (I'm of Polish heritage, I lived in the UP for six years and I believe in night caps. I'm good here.)

Turns out, I can out drink them. I finish my beer ages before them and they keep putting ice in their mugs. Ice! I know, I know. Culturally sensitivity, but ice? You know, I suppose I wasn't drinking it, so.... Anyway after a few hour of awful karaoke, brushing off advances and sitting without a beer, I'm done. Really done. If you haven't seen me when I've quit, you might not understand, but I turn into what Gauri calls Dragon Bitch Lady. I pretty much demanded to be taken home and that any more contact with my flesh was unwanted. They got it and took me back to my hotel. Before my release, Samuel gave the good ole Parapat try and leaned in for a kiss.

It was a replay of the time my high school freshman boyfriend tried to slip me tongue. I blurted "No" and ran off.

Worst night of sleep yet.

The next day he apologised and I was off to Medan on the longest taxi ride ever.

More in a bit.

Anya Out.

Friday, November 11, 2011

News from Lake Toba

Oh, I am tired.

I'm going to try to get this all down before I fall asleep, but beware, the post may be cut short.

So early-ish this morning I pick up my money (Steve, I owe you so much!) and I head out to buy trinkets. Of course I've forgotten that toko [To-ko: shop] doesn't open until 10-11, but I get things anyway from few people and wander around until I'm nice and hot and sweaty. Then I hail a minibus back to my hotel where I decide that I should stop being a wuss and really get out there. So I do.

And just after I've walked around the market a few times (later postings of fruit adventures) I get hailed by Samuel. The rest of my day has revolved around Samuel. This is a 39 year old balding big guy who speaks pretty good English, but is a classic third world country sales man. He's also at least a foot and a half shorter than me, which later makes all the photos really awkward. (Straight back to my freshman year of high school's homecoming. If you haven't seen those photos, you never will.) So he's selling taxi's to Medan, which I need. So I buy, because the price is pretty good and I need one and why the heck not? Seems like a nice guy and I turn down the 200,000 Rupiah tour, so I feel good about my pathetic excuse for bargaining skills. And I continue on my walk of Parapat.

This is not a walking city. There are no sidewalks. The roads are thin and the vehicles drive fast. They also are not labeled, nor straight.

Okay. No big deal. Minibuses are there to save you. For 2,000 Rupiah, it's a good deal for a hot sweaty American. Or really anyone. And they go where ever you'd like. So when I say stop, he stops. Which was how I got lunch today.

Met a sweet kid named Jeffery, who I had met the day earlier in the pos kantor [pos can-tor: post office]. He sat with me as I finished my tea. He asked,"why is your husband not here?" So I lied for my own ease. (Sorry Steve) :He had to work: And then there was an on slaughter of questions, all of which were very nice, but really husband forward.

Now as I'm walking back to the hotel Samuel drives past me on a motorcycle and asks if I want to see a good view of Lake Toba for photos. Next thing you know I'm flying up the mountain on a motorbike with Samuel and we stop and take photos and I have a cup of coffee and he about 5 cigarettes and a soda. He tells me he plays guitar and sings at a bar tonight and asks if I want to come. Sure. Sounds fun. He says he and his friends play.

Sadly I have to leave this at a cliff hanger... I'm nodding off. Will finish in the morning.

Anya Out. Literally.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Scraps and loose ends

It is currently four in the morning here and because I decided to take a nap at two in the afternoon only to sleep for about 12 hours (my mother would say I 'probably needed it'), I'm going to add somethings I have forgotten in previous posts.  It might be a bit random, but it's the little things you notice about different countries that seem to blur out against the obvious.

In Indonesia, you do nothing with you left hand. You might be familiar with this, but the left hand is considered 'unclean'. It really doesn't have anything to do with religion. It's based in hygiene practices. You use your left hand to clean yourself after you use the toilet. Often toilets do not have tissue. They have bidets, which are fascinating devices that spray water up. (see: Crocodile Dundee) This practise of right handed-ness is a bit tricky to get used to, but glaringly apparent. You won't be berated, but it's really unkind.

Dogs and cats are everywhere. They are not kept as we do; pampering, bathing, or treating with the utmost care. Not to say that they aren't cared for, but PETA would have a heart attack. There are regions where they eat their dogs when times are tough. It happens. Actually doesn't really bother me, because the condition that the dogs live in, it sorta makes sense. They aren't raised as family. They are raised more like livestock. I don't think I could describe it better, because it's really something you'd have to see for yourself.

All school children wear uniforms. It's really sweet to see a yard full, or street full of kids in identical blue or beige skirts and pants with little ties.

Indonesia is a lenient place religiously. There are five main religions: Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and the last one I currently forget. Because of this it is not uncommon to see woman in hajibs or Christian churches. (Fun fact: All Catholic churches have exposed bricks, unlike most buildings which are a smooth surface.)

Mangosteens have a little flower like mark on the bottom and the number of petals is the number of pieces on the inside.

Bargaining is a must, but I'm no good at it. Even if I did know the language, it feels really pushy. Negotiating is different. This is where looking like a dumb American really comes in handy.

Sumatra is sorta a dirty place. The homes and buildings are very clean on the inside, but the streets are always lined in litter and it is not uncommon to see piles of garbage on fire. It seems to me that the culture here supports that. The infrastructure cannot support a trash system and due to the lush ecosystem, the earth kinda swallows it up. It is very strange to see people throw things out windows and onto streets though. In the US, you can be fined. Also, we are now breeding in the guilt of waste. Not here.

Even food is made in "wasteful" quantities. When you order a dish, it is HUGE and often you share it, but I have yet to see a dish empty. Now I doubt that the food is wasted, but in the US we make exactly what we need for who is there. (and if you're parents are anything like mine, 'you clean your plate little lady!' {not a problem for this girl})

Water is always served warm. It is boiled before it's served so no one gets sick, but even when water is taken out of water coolers, it is always taken out warm. Takes getting used to, but frankly I've been so thirsty I don't care.

That's all for now.
I'm going to get some more sleep.

Anya out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Adventures before noon!

So I'm in Parapat [par-a-pat]- a tourist town on the edge of Lake Toba. It was a four hour drive with a sweet gentleman by the name of John. (I'm sure that I was pronouncing it wrong). We talked via his little English and my Indonesian phrasebook. It was rough, but good. I learned a lot of new words. [Fun fact time: jalan=road, jalak=bad] The roads would give my mother a heart attack. (Mama, it's worse than Scotland, not as bumpy as Costa Rica, but as fast as Greece.) I have developed a talent for closing my eyes when it gets bad so as not to gasp or thrust my hand at the dashboard. Drivers pass each other frequently and closely, honking as a way to say 'I'm passing you now' or 'watch out' or 'I'm coming around the insanely sharp and poorly paved hairpin turn' or 'hey buddy how's it going'.

 But the drive was indah [een-da: beautiful]. The mons [mons- mountains] are stunning and everywhere. It amazes me how quickly we can go from one place to another. You seem so far from this looming green mountain and then you're on the other side. Then Danau Toba [dan-you: lake] pops up. It's huge. Something like a great lake, but with Samosir [sawm-o-seer] island in the middle. I'd go there, but there has been a stupid traveler mistake that keeps me here.

So, when you go to another country there are a few incredibly important things to remember. First and foremost, you're passport. You can do nothing without it. Even when you get here, hotels will photocopy it before you get your key.
The second thing you need above everything else: currency. Guess which one I forgot to get before I left the states. Yea. Turns out my bank's credit card doesn't really work here. Even at the ATMs. (It worked in Singapore!) And people do not take Amex when you're not in a big city. When I went to check into my hotel in Parapat, my card wouldn't run, so I gave them the rest of my cash. But I only paid for one of the two nights I need to stay here.

What did I do? I Skyped with Steve, who Western Unioned me some money to Parapat. (Crazy that there is one here!) But, how does one get to the Western Union? I have an address, but there's no number and there are no peta-peta [pe-ta: maps] of Parapat. The lady in the hotel pops me on a minibus. A minibus, if you didn't know, is a minivan with no side door and benches on the sides. Also it's smaller. I felt like a giant.

The minibus drove all around, stopping at a money changers for me at the request of some lovely woman from Jakarta. (Did I mention how nice Sumatrans are? They talked to me until the had to get off for the ferry.) I kept on the bus, asking everyone where Jalan Parapat Porsea is. Then we picked up a bunch of school kids (sixth graders by my guess). They were very excited. One even tried out her English and said, "I like you".  I should have asked for their photo, but I was too nervous in finding the Western Union. Now minibuses drive where ever the people in the bus need to go for 2000 rupiah. [Fun fact: it's about 9000 Rupiah to one US dollar.] However, I didn't know any of this, so before one of the ladies with a comatose child splay out in her arms left, I asked with my handy dandy phrase book. But we're driving further and further outside of town. I figured if I just stayed on the bus he'd at least have to take me back to the hotel, but he dropped her off and started back down the mountain to the city. "Miss, here"  And I'm out in front of the familiar Western Union sign.

But their computer is down. They tell me I can go to the post office and they can help. Where's the post office. uh... uh... they motion to the guard who will show me the way. And he does. On his motorcycle.  That's right, I got on a motorcycle on unsure roads with fearless drivers in a foreign city. Oh, with a stranger. I figured it was okay because he was in a uniform. (good logic, right?)

At the post office (unscathed) I realize I didn't get the number from Steve before I let him go back to sleep. It's 1am there. Oops. So, I'm going to call him in the morning (my morning, his night) and get that. Until then, I have no idea what will happen. Something fun I'm sure.

For now I'm safe, clean, and happy.

Ooo! A lizard!

Maaf [ma-af: sorry], it's cute and crawling on the wall.  (harmless, I'm told)

Anyway, I'll report more later. Until then wish me luck with dining tonight. And figuring out how to take the bus back to Medan. Don't you love haphazard travel. I know I do.

Anya out.

more photos

I was falling asleep waiting for the photos to load last night. So here are some more.

civet cat

part one of processing

drying coffee


the hull


traditional pulping machine



Alright... Be prepared, this'll be a long one.

No worries. Lots of pictures.

So last night I updated before dinner. Here's dinner: So after Skyping with my parents and Steve, I wander out into the main room to find a great number of men. They are the managers of different parts of Wahana {Fun Fact: Wahana [wah-hon-a] means sacred land or heaven in "Indian"}. There are what appears to be 15 different plates. I'm sorry, no photos. I felt strange enough being the only female there. Anyway, here's the food line up: fried fish, bbq chicken, curry, buffalo curry, tapioca shoots, rice, satay, tofu, tempeh, chicken soup, shrimp chips, and a few things I either didn't get to trying or forgot. It was a lot. For ten people, it was a lot.  The whole dinner was spent encouraging me to eat this. Eat that. Gee, okay, I'll put this delicious {Fun Fact: Enak [ee-nawk] in Indonesian} food in my belly. So, we're stuffed to the gills, or rather I'm stuffed, and then they break open the Durian. Yes that's right, durian. Nasty smelling durian. And as they are scooping out the slimy whitish globuals of "fruit", I'm told that each durian is different and I should try them all to taste the difference.  .....deep sigh..... okay.

So Durian. Not as awful as it smells, but not as amazing as it should be. Each one was different, but the overwhelming smell really ruins it. The best I can describe the smell is; mold, fresh fish, paper with an intense overarching sweetness. You should try if you get the chance. Don't bring it in your home.

Alright, dinner's over. I'm exhausted. I sleep. Like the dead, until I wake up then I'm up, two hours before I have to be. Ah well. Jet lag.

So here's what happened today: information overload. If you aren't interested in coffee facts, skip on down, because there's going to be a lot of it.

So in Wahana, they are doing something that's fairly uncommon in Sumatra. They are growing 5+ types of coffee. The ones I can remember are Ratsuna, Tipika, Caturra, Longberry, Toraja, and S.795. Rasuna is the local variety. These are all Arabica. The trees, or more like large shrubs, are only 4 years old as planted in the fields. Before that they are grown in nuseries for about a year.
The cherries are sweet-ish. The skin is very bitter, but the pulp is sweet.
Here at Wahana and to the farmers in the area they are doing something that we might think logical, but is not so common; they are picking only the ripe red cherries. Seems so simple, but you have to understand that in Indonesia they don't have a picking season. It is always picking season. When you want to sell coffee it might seem simple to just take everything off the branches and process from there, but the flavor is incredibly different. It also makes the cost of beans higher, because of labor. Wahana also grow vegetables.
If you were wondering, they are working on getting Rainforest Alliance certified as well as Utz and organic. They don't have it yet, because this is the first year they've gotten a real crop. Last year it was just about one container. Much more now. Also, all the coffee is shade grown, so when they plant the coffee shrubs they plant faster growing trees next to them.
Up next we have the processing center. When I say processing here's what I mean: separating and washing the cherries, popping and depulping them, soaking them, drying and then dehulling them again only to be dried once more. Let's go into that.

Separating is the first step in making sure there aren't leaves, sticks, inappropriate-non-coffee-stuff. Then they wash and pop the cherry only to depulping it. There are a few layers in between the outside skin and the bean and all this is to get down to the bean. The beans are then soaked and dried. But that's not all folks! There is still another layer on the bean (actually two, but the other comes off in roasting). This is what dehulling is. The hard-ish layer is sort of brushed off the bean and then they are let dry again. Or speedily dried in large dryers. Think a giant laundry dryer with just the barrel.

That's the quick version.

The water used is collected rainwater and reused. They used to clean the water with chlorine, but found that it imparted too much flavor.

This was my day up until noon. Al lui and Andry both had to go back to Medan and I am to stay one more day, so Andry asked a couple of his guys to show me the other part of their business. Collecting and processing other local coffee. This is stuff grown by farmers and processed and sold by Opal coffee. They used to have the farmers, or another middle man called the collector, who depulps and processes the coffee on his own, take care of that, but there is so much inconsistency that they aim to have the coffee cherries, freshly picked, taken directly to Wahana.

See, you and I might think that as soon as you pick all the red cherries, you would immediately start processing, but that is not common. Sometimes, it's too late in the day, or it's raining outside and just doesn't get done. When that happens the cherries began to rot and ferment. It smells like apple cider vinegar. Not good for the sensitive bean.

Anyway, we drove around looking at farms and collectors and Robusta plants and other locally grown plants, like tobacco and rice and sweet potatoes. WOW. So beautiful.

As we're driving back up the mountain to Wahana, Fren asked I was tired yet. No, of course not. So we go to a 'touristy' place. The best I can describe it is as a multi religious roadside amusement park. Very weird. I'm going to let the photos describe what I cannot.

Now I'm back to the guest house. Oh here's the guest house:

And I'm taking a half hearted nap, when tap tap on my door and it's time to drive down to town for dinner with Andry's brother, *****, the accountant and another gentleman whose name I never caught. And it's Chinese food time. Real chinese food. It's real good. Corn and chicken soup, chickeny other thing and pork vegetable thing. Yum Yum. On the way home, after a lovely conversation about coffee, latte art, agriculture, and travel, ***** stopped and picked up fried bananas. If you know me, bananas are god's gift to living creatures. **** said that they are the best around too. It was pretty dang good.

Listen folks, I'm tired. I'll write more tomorrow. (my tomorrow, your today)

Anya Out.