Written by Gita Natalia, Travel Designer at SloMo Travel Indonesia
Travel Story Highlights: Borobudur Sunrise, Pawon Luwak Coffee, Coconut Sugar Home Industry, Yogyakarta
It was during the rainy season in Indonesia but my friend and I decided to gamble and went for the Borobudur Sunrise trip. We had to be ready at 3.30 in the morning to be picked up by our tour guide to go to Borobudur. We were lucky. The sky was clear and it was definitely one of the best sunrises I have ever seen.
After the trip, we went to Pawon Luwak Coffee, located not far from Borobudur Temple. Here, they show us briefly about the Luwak coffee beans, and the animal Luwak itself and we then had Luwak coffee in that small and intimate shop. However, the experience in Pawon Coffee is a little bit touristy (they only show us the beans and the animals that are caged and they don’t grow or roast the coffee there).
Our tour guide, Wahyu and I were having conversations about the huge tourism potential in Yogyakarta (Wahyu ended up being our partner in crime at SloMo Travel Indonesia for Yogyakarta trips) from adventure, heritage and culture and also culinary. Then, he suddenly remembered there is a lady who makes coconut sugar at her house and she lives only 5 minutes away. Without any further due, we went straight to her house.
Her house is located in a small village, just opposite the Pawon Temple. Most of it is still made from bamboo and plain bricks, something that is rare or expensive to be constructed nowadays. At the front of her house, there is an old traditional water well. Wahyu demonstrated how to draw water from the well, which seemed really deep. A bucket attached to a rope that was dropped into the well and Wahyu had to manually pull the rope to get the water out of it. Simple but it is already rare even in Yogyakarta. The lady, that I didn’t remember her name, saw us coming and welcomed us to her humble abode.
Wahyu already knew one of her sons so it didn’t seem like we just invaded someone else’s house. Although conversation could get a little difficult (considering I am Indonesian and speak Bahasa Indonesia), Wahyu who speaks the local Javanese language is such a great interpreter. The language barrier wasn’t an issue for us to get to know each other. Fun fact, Indonesia has more than 300 languages and it is possible for fellow Indonesians not to understand each other unless they speak Bahasa Indonesia. Although I came from a Javanese family, I only speak limited Javanese and I didn’t understand 90% of the words Wahyu and the lady were saying.
She explained how she makes the coconut sugar from the back part of her house. I call it the Javanese version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She first collects the sap from coconut trees and boiled it until it turns into a caramel consistency. Then, she pours the liquid into molds made from the actual coconut shells. She sells a kilo for IDR 20,000 or around USD 1.5.
I also find out that coconut sugar and red or brown sugar (we call it gula Merah) are different. They all come in blocks when traditionally made but coconut sugar has a distinct flavor. Almost tastes like caramel coconut fudge. On the other hand, red or brown sugar is made from coconut or palm but mixed with additional granulated sugar in it.
When we were at her house, she also told us a lot of stories about her life. One of her stories is when she was younger, she used to sell her coconut sugar in a local market. On some occasions, tourists came to see her coconut sugar but often didn’t end up buying. However, the local gangster in the area thought she must have got a lot of money so they asked her for money. It happens more than once so she got an idea. Apparently, she found out that the leader of the gang used to like this lady and asked her to marry him, but she said no. So, the lady said to those gangsters, “let him (I forget what his name) know that I’m (the lady) looking for him.” Since then all the gangsters in the market area stopped bothering her. What a bad-ass lady.
Her house is very simple. One huge room (more like a living room) where she sleeps, cooks. Watches tv and eats. I think there were a few small rooms as well for her children. That living part of the house is made from brick and bamboo. The home factory, which is located at the back of the house is made fully from bamboo and a little bit of plastic roof in case of rain. Here’s a glimpse of her coconut sugar home industry.
She also preserves a collection of postcards and photographs from many years ago, including a postcard of the previous king and queen from the Netherlands (and she has a big one framed on her wall too). She said she got it from a Dutch tour guide a long time ago. When we came she wasn’t cooking sugar but we were so privileged that she explained to us how to make the real coconut sugar from her kitchen.
Before we left she said something in Javanese to me but I didn’t understand and my face kind of said it all. “Selamat Jalan!” she said (or “Farewell” in English). I promised the lady that I will come back soon to get a private Javanese language lesson from her. I want to get to know my cultural roots and understand Indonesia’s diversity.
This story is also featured on https://www.slomotravelindonesia.com/