Things we noticed in Indonesia

Char and Turtle

Char and Turtle

Terrific snorkeling and diving. We visited many healthy reefs with crystal clear water. If you need a fish photo you know who to call. Some of our favorites are in a slideshow in another post.

How taxis find things. In the US we use the address or a GPS to locate an office or home. Here, if we offer a taxi driver the address of our destination, or show them where it is on a maps app, they give us a blank look and ask for the phone number. They call and ask whoever answers for directions. There’s a conversation about landmarks such as “across the street from the BNI ATM”, and then we’re off to the races.

No beggars. There are plenty of poor people in Indonesia, but we never encountered a beggar. In many cases it was almost laughable how many people were employed. Sometimes they almost seem to trip over one-another. In one hotel there were six to eight people taking care of us in the restaurant, and we were the only guests. They seem to have a great time socializing together. One hotel owner told us he pays most of his staff the equivalent of $75 per month.

No drugs. When you board an airplane and they are going through the various normal announcements about seat belts etc, they include, “Dear Passengers: May we remind you that no drugs are allowed in Indonesia. Possession is punishable by death”. That gets your attention. On one tour we took there was a couple from Singapore and another from Amsterdam, arguably the two most draconian and liberal societies when it comes to drug policy. We had some interesting discussions.



A sleepy Luwak.  It's hard to know how they can be sleepy after eating so many coffee beans

A sleepy Luwak. It’s hard to know how they can be sleepy after eating so many coffee beans

There are a number of interesting things about coffee in Indonesia

They grow delicious coffee beans. Sumatra, Java, and Flores islands. You may not have heard of Flores but the coffee there is great!

The common way to brew a cup of coffee is to simply put a spoonful of incredibly finely ground coffee beans in a cup and add hot water. It’s like our cowboy coffee but even better.


Luwak poop containing coffee beans on the left, and after rinsing on the right.

Indonesia is the home of cat poop coffee, aka Luwak coffee. Luwaks are related to cats. They eat the coffee beans and them poop them still intact. By hand, humans then wash the beans, sort them by hand, remove the outer shells and roast them in an iron skillet over a wood fire. Then the beans are ground and brewed like any other coffee. We tasted some and it was good but not drop dead great. If you don’t believe the poop story, you can read more here. This includes a funny excerpt from the movie The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

You can’t find espresso coffee, or even coffee with milk, except in the seriously touristic centers.


Wine made from grapes is imported, rare, and expensive. A small glass of wine may run you $10.

Palm "wine" and herbs

They make palm wine, which is actually similar to rum. They tap a particular type of palm tree to obtain the sap. This sap may be boiled down to a substance very similar to brown sugar, or it can be distilled. Unlike rum, there does not appear to be a need to ferment the sap before distilling it – evidently it is already fermented when it comes out of the palm tree. Generally this stuff is cheap. During one ferry boat ride we sat on top of the cabin with a bunch of locals. One generous guy mixed a little coca cola with a bottle of this wine and then passed a cup around to everyone. On another occasion we tasted a fully fermented version you could ignite with a match. Various roots had been added to the bottle for flavor. Good stuff but it’d give you a hang over if you drank very much.


Almost every man we met in Indonesia smokes. We’re told that a package of 20 Marlboros costs 10,000 Indonesian rupia, or about 80 cents. The Marlboros are made in Indonesia and each cigarette is hand rolled. This is a major source of employment. There is a theory that unemployment breeds dissension in a society. Perhaps the government purposely set up this system as a strategy for reducing dissension.



A girl and her dog.  They gave us directions and asked us to take a photo

A girl and her dog. They gave us directions and asked us to take a photo

A girl and her dog. They gave us directions and asked us to take a photo

We never really understood why, but people seem to love to have their picture taken with foreigners. People would come up and ask if they could take a picture with us. If we agreed they’d click into producer mode and tell us just how to stand etc.


Trash in the river.

Trash in the river.

There is quite a bit of litter around, and it was not uncommon to see someone simply throw a plastic wrapper or bottle over their shoulder. We were told that until recently there was almost no plastic. Food, for example, was commonly packaged in banana leaves. Of course it is OK to throw a banana leaf over your shoulder when you’re done with it. In many locations garbage collection is still non-existent, and a “don’t litter” ethic has not yet been established.

Sandwich, wrapped in banana leaf


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