A Visit to Coconut Sugar Home Industry, Yogyakarta

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.

Borobudur Sunrise View with Mt. Merapi at the background

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).

Pawon Luwak Coffee, Yogyakarta

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.

She was very welcoming and let us explore her interesting house and kitchen

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.

Her handmade coconut sugar! She even gave us lots of coconut sugar to try!

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.

That’s her when she was featured in a local magazine in 2005

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.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” her Javanese version

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/

The Courage to Grab the Wheel

I love the environment that forces me to challenge myself, defying all the odds. When I used to work, there were times when I didn’t feel like I wasn’t growing or challenged. I then decided to leave. It happened several times that there was a period of time where I changed 3 jobs within 2 months.

I was a total failure. It was even proven by my failed business and I decided to let it go. After a few conversations and several google searches, I found out I wasn’t committed. But what if deep down I know it’s not something that I want? They said you’re not there long enough to know. Maybe it’s true I just wasn’t committed.

I saw on social media about Meghan Markle exiting the Royal Family. And I was like whoa!! I knew about the bullies towards the young family of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As much as I wanted to spill my rage, it won’t change the fact that the unpleasant statements are already out and seen. It won’t make what so-called the ‘criticisms’ disappear from the face on the everlasting internet platforms until Facebook or Instagram or any other platforms decided to go out of business.

Meghan found courage. People see it as stepping down while what she is actually doing is stepping out from what doesn’t belong to her and forward to the life that she and her family deserve. It’s not even a year, it’s only a short period of time! Then I was like, wait a minute… she did it because she knows her worth.

Time is the most expensive thing that we have. Once it’s gone it’s gone. The price Meghan needed to pay an expensive price to claim her precious time in the future with courage. Despite all the odds, she entered the Royal Family and against all the odds too she left what was ‘thought’ to be where she should be for the rest of her life. She knows who is she and what she worth.

Each of us holds the steer to navigate the course of our lives. The road to your purpose might not as smooth as you thought, but focus on driving to your purpose. Don’t let anyone grab the wheel

Writing as a Form of Travel

Writing I think is one of the best forms to express myself with less bias around, especially in terms of physical attractiveness.

I can contribute without worrying about my nationalities, how do I look or even without worrying to act or dress a certain way to show confidence. No one knows who I am nor that I know you but I have never felt so connected. I never knew I matter.

Writing gives me a sense of travel although my physical body is strapped within space and time. I thought I have traveled far but my writing travels beyond countries’ borders. It doesn’t matter anymore if I am from a developed country or a developing country, that kind of system doesn’t define me as an individual. It doesn’t define me intellectually

I can’t thank you enough and I am so honored to be a part of this community. The only thing I regret is I didn’t start earlier

Support Local Businesses, but Who Gets to be the Local?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, local as an adjective means “from, existing in, serving, or responsible for a small area, especially of a country

If you travel to another country and you have this passion to be an impactful traveler, the simplest thing you can do is track where your tourist money goes to avoid what is called the ‘Tourism Leakage’. It simply means that a huge chunk of your tourist dollar leaves the country to where you travel instead of doing its magic to the locals. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 70% of tourist money in Thailand ended up leaving the country. That is also 80% of the Caribbean’s and 40% of India’s tourist money that left their countries instead of contributing to the local economy.

Why does this happen? World Travel & Tourism Council stated that the multinational company is mostly responsible for the Tourism Leakage. With their longstanding reputation, there is no doubt that travelers tend to choose them for the sake of convenience and quality assurance. Some of the multinational companies are slowly shifting towards contributing more to the local communities and projects, but you don’t need to wait for a miracle for change to happen. You can take the change into your own hands by leaving your tourist money to where it should be, the locals. Stay at local accommodations, explore with responsible local guides, eat at locally-sourced restaurants or buy locally made souvenirs. In fact, according to the data from the United Nations of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the ABTA, experiential travel and local experiences have gained popularity, especially among young travelers. The trend has shifted for better tourism.

Local tourism brings another question for those who want to travel more responsibly.

“To what extent can I consider someone or a business a local?”

There is no exact definition or dividing line of who gets to be the local in terms of tourism but we need to think about how our impact and money contribute to the local economy. It could be on the scale of a town, region or country. Some of the great examples of local enterprises and businesses in Indonesia that maximize the impact of every tourist dollar spent are Sudut Lombok, Rumah Inspirasi Jogja, Five Pillar Experiences Bali and many more.

Furthermore, due to its great tourism potential, Indonesia has attracted investors from all over the world to start and expand their businesses here, which leads us to another question,

“How can we know if it is a local business? It’s owned by foreigners. “

In order for a business to be considered a local business, it has to create an impact on the community, even if it is owned or founded by foreigners. Foreigners in this context are just a matter of nationality and physical appearance while their intention is to contribute to the local economy and working towards improvements in the community. With countless of emerging issues across the globe, collaborations become the essential attribute to create a better world. Nationalities are no longer become the boundaries to create changes. Collaborations are what we need to create a better world.

One of the examples that have become the pioneer in this matter is Marit and Andrew Miners, the couple behind the Misool Eco Resort and Misool Foundation. They came to an island of Batbitim of what used to be a center for shark finning camp. It was responsible for 100 million sharks to be killed each year. Fast forward now the UK-Sweden couple has not only has grown the business to contribute to the local economy and community but also made Misool as “one of only a handful of places in the universe where biodiversity is improving rather than declining.” Erdmann also raved that “There is greater biodiversity — that is to say, a larger number and greater diversity of fish, coral, and mollusks — on these reefs than anywhere on earth.” Read their full story here.

In conclusion, it brings back to a part of the Local definition by Cambridge Dictionary “..existing, serving or responsible..” When it comes to determining which one is considered a local business or enterprise, it takes a little bit of research particularly about the business values and mission, what changes have they done and continue doing to the local communities. The owners might be people from the community or country but it can also be foreigners that are passionate about making an impact on the communities.

Now is the time to be an impactful traveler. Leave your tourist money to where it belongs!

This post is also published on SloMo Travel Indonesia website

His Sin

astounded by her exquisite smile,

i began too look into her eyes, moisturized.

or should i say watered.

as she held her tears so they won’t fall she said to me,

“we’re going to have a some fun tonight!”

and there she goes,

quaffed in the alcohol together with his sin


Thoughts of Sustainable Shopping

As a kid I used to buy a lot of stuffs. 97% might be something that I don’t really need but I am privilege to have parents that can afford the silly consumerism side of me when I was little. Then, I went to study in Australia and had to move every 6 months for 2 years. It was a pain in the arse, especially when you have a lot of stuffs. Ever since I never overbought. I just use what I can use at home and shop basic for fashion.

Living in Australia doesn’t only teach me how to buy less, but also to live sustainably. Most of people in Australia, in my opinion, have higher awareness for sustainability and climate change compare to the people in Indonesia. Hence, eco-friendly becomes a lifestyle that almost everyone tries to implement in every aspect of their daily lives, including me. I became so excited with the amount of businesses that incorporate sustainability and eco practices in their company in Australia. I can now support sustainability and be a responsible shopper. However, as I dig deeper into sustainability and eco-friendly businesses, I realize there is another problem than just shop sustainably. Once an substance, a tangible product or an item is produced, they have nowhere to go but planet earth, the planet that we are living in at the moment (unless they finally find another planet for us to migrate to). Unless they are recycled or repurposed, they are just going to be junk, filling our space on the earth.

Ok, buying natural product I agree is a better option compare to plastic that takes forever to decompose. But unless we eventually re-purpose it when it’s no longer usable it’s gonna be a junk. In fact, it also creates emission to produce this items that often larger than disposable plastic. Take a look on how many metal straws are bought and by the end of x month, we forget to bring it all the time and accept the plastic straw instead (I’m talking about ya Jakartans). Cloth shopping bag too or goodies bag. It releases more emission to produce compared to a single used plastic bag. Another example is paper bag. Unless it’s made from recycled paper, we’re killing our oxygen provider (re: trees). Although paper company have their ‘conservation’ policy, the reality often doesn’t seem as they promised. Read: Indonesian Paper Industry Destroys More Trees Than Planting Trees (Bahasa).

Although buying less and minimalism lifestyle seems to be the key to reduce production of things, there are a lot at stake if that happens, especially the economy cycle. But I think it’s important to say that consumerism is not going to save the world either. I am not saying that I have stopped shopping at all, and neither do you. I think what matters is how and why we shop. It’s about perceiving values rather than solely about possessions.

The Victims of Systems

I read a brilliant book a couple of months ago because of the hype among the well-read people. It’s Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. As mainstream as it sounds that book is definitely a must read! It is for anyone who is curious about why the world society works and functions as it is today. It’s basically a story about us. It’s a pretty thick book but hey, blinkist is a thing today.

Why do I bring up this book? Well, reading our own narrative and history, I have learnt that Homo Sapiens are blessed with cognitive intelligence and revolution to develop the systems that exist but we are also the product of a system. In fact, the society (which is also a system by itself) is also shaped by a collective of systems. An example I get from this book is Yuval explains why do we, human beings become so dependent on grains in our diet. I mean in common meals there is always a portion of grains: pasta, bread, cereal, rice, etc. (unless you’re on a diet). In his book, he takes us back to the end of Nomadic era where homo sapiens (a.k.a. us) decided to settle down. Hence, the beginning of the Agricultural revolution (9.500 – 8.500 BC).

Grains become one of the earliest commodity to be domesticated and human realized that there is a way to have an abundance supply of food. Good thing right? Yet it wasn’t even easier than foraging. Human needed to opening up lands (that often caused blood and lives to fight for the land), moving away rocks and stones and carrying lots of water in order to keep these ‘grass’ to survive. It required human to settle down and live in houses to take care of their domesticated commodities (animals included). Who is domesticated now? Worse, our diet slowly became primarily dominated by grains and slowly but surely, human body became dependent on it. Our survival is now based on one staple diet compared to when human used to forage and not relying on a specific species to survive. In fact, our decisions to settle down leads us to more stories and has created many systems in the world. Village, tribes, kingdoms, colonialism, the trade system, politics, the UN, independent countries, the news and the list goes on and on and on..

A Job is one of the products of system. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t against going to office and do the WORK that matters. The system victimizes when we go to 9-5 every Monday to Friday following orders because that’s how it has been done for the past… I don’t know.. 34 years? The system where creativity is not flourished but killed to maintain the stability of a system itself. Or repeating this whole process for 30 years or so and retired by 50 something because that’s how to society works. Why can’t we continue the work we care until whenever we want to? This is not only about career, it’s also about marriage, education, law (realize how these two words are often accompanied by the word ‘system’), healthcare, travel privilege, citizenship (hence, different passport strengths worldwide) and many more.

I started to have interest to this topic when I was learning about travel privilege. I wonder I never choose to be born in a country that have weak passport and I never done anything wrong in my life that would degrade my personal value as a citizen of the world yet it takes me a hell of a process to visit certain countries. I once came to an embassy for a visa interview at 5 AM in the morning for a tourist visa application. I even think it might be still easier for a ‘strong’ passport holders who have committed a minor crime or misdemeanor compared to someone with ‘weak’ passport to visit a certain country.

I’m sorry for bringing criminal offender on this frame because one of the aspects that determine the strength of a passport is terrorism, which is a way serious type of crime that affects the safety of millions. But just because a terrorist come from a certain country or even the majority of the people there are terrorist doesn’t mean everyone is terrorists. Those few of people who aren’t involved in any kind of terrorism initiatives never choose to be born there but they have to carry the burden of ‘weak’ passport and losing the opportunities that are accessible to millions of others. Because it is easier for the system to do so. But it also leads to a more serious yet underrated problem such as bias. My friend from Indonesia came and visit his brother in the US. He’s been there multiple times and everything went smooth. The only time it was different is when he began to grow his hair and visited the States with longer hair. That ended up with him being interrogated with officials at the immigration.

On the other hand, we can’t imagine how the world we know today is going to be without a system. There is always a good and the bad side of every stories. I can’t stop thinking what’s going to happen if human decided to keep the nomadic lifestyle? What is the world going to be without the existence of systems?