drinks

Weird Bali: 7 Crazy Balinese Customs

Cat poop coffee, temples of death and Balinese names are a few of the unusual aspects of Bali culture.

What makes islands so interesting is that they act as closed environments and often adopt their own distinct cultures. It’s curious that Bali is a Hindu island in the midst of the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Its unique religion permeates daily life.

Here’s a sampling of seven unusual things we observed or learned about on our trip to Bali.

The passage of the beans through the civet’s digestive tract, pressed against their anal scent glands makes the resulting coffee to die for.
Kopi luwak, made from the excrement of a cute wild cat, has become a craze. But we recommend boycotting it

Kopi luwak, made from the excrement of a cute wild cat, has become a craze. But we recommend boycotting it

1. A popular coffee on Bali is made from animal poop — and it’s the most expensive coffee on Earth.

Known as kopi luwak, this is essentially coffee beans that have been eaten, digested and shat out by the palm civet, a cute animal that looks like a cross between a wild cat and a mongoose. You’ll see signs for kopi luwak all over Bali, and Duke and I were like, no thank you. The British couple next to us at dinner one night said they quite enjoyed it, though, that the beans were a honeyed color, that the coffee was smooth, and they’d have gotten some if it wasn’t so bloody expensive.

Many poor civets are kept in cages and mistreated to make sure there’s a steady supply of luwak coffee

Many poor civets are kept in cages and mistreated to make sure there’s a steady supply of luwak coffee

Civets are shy, nocturnal creatures that roam coffee plantations at night, eating ripe coffee cherries. They can’t digest the pits, or beans, and poop them out. Somehow locals got it into their heads that the passage through the civet’s digestive tract, pressed against their anal scent glands, somehow makes the resulting coffee to die for.

One of the many places we were offered civet shit coffee. We declined each time

One of the many places we were offered civet shit coffee. We declined each time

What’s sad, though, is that the novelty of kopi luwak has turned into a booming industry, with many coffee farms mistreating the animals. They “suffer greatly from the stress of being caged in proximity to other luwaks, and the unnatural emphasis on coffee cherries in their diet causes other health problems too; they fight among themselves, gnaw off their own legs, start passing blood in their scats, and frequently die,” writes Tony Wild, the man who blames himself for bringing the kopi luwak craze to the West, in The Guardian. Treating an animal like that is just crappy.

There’s a very good chance that half the people in this photo are named Wayan. Seriously!

There’s a very good chance that half the people in this photo are named Wayan. Seriously!

2. All the kids have the same names, depending on their birth order.

As you become acquainted with more and more Balinese locals, you’ll notice something strange: They all seem to have the same name. And it’s not just that certain names are popular, like John and Jennifer in the States — there literally seem to be only a few names on the island to choose from. As bizarre as that seems, that is indeed the tradition on Bali.

In most cases, Balinese parents from the lower caste (that is to say, most of the population) give their children the same names, depending on their birth order — whether or not they’re boys or girls. Firstborns are named Wayan, Putu or Gede; the second-born is Made or Kadek; the third-born is Nyoman or Komang; and the fourth-born is Ketut. What happens if you have five kids? The cycle repeats itself, with the addition of Balik. So the fifth-born would be Waylan Balik, which basically means Waylan Returns.

You’ll meet tons of Wayans and Mades (this last one is pronounced Mah-deh), so how do people know who’s who? Most Balinese add a nickname or middle name. Our driver, for instance, was Made Ada.

Temples of death on Bali feature frightening statues out front

Temples of death on Bali feature frightening statues out front

3. Every village has at least one temple of death.

Known as pura dalem, every village has at least one death temple, often located in the lowest part of town, facing the sea, which is considered the gateway to the underworld. Bodies are buried in the nearby cemetery, awaiting the purification of a cremation ceremony. Pura dalem, not surprisingly, are typically dedicated to the most gruesome gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon: Shiva the Destroyer, Kali, Durga or Rangda.

Many temples of death are dedicated to the demoness Rangda, who has a long tongue, droopy breasts, phallic dreadlocks and a fondness for eating babies

Many temples of death are dedicated to the demoness Rangda, who has a long tongue, droopy breasts, phallic dreadlocks and a fondness for eating babies

Monstrous demonic statues line the entrance — many featuring bulging bug eyes, fierce fangs and large, saggy breasts. Some hold innocent babies in their arms as they stand atop a pile of skulls. These serve as a vivid reminders of what awaits the wicked.



The only thing that would make Duke and Wally even more macho than these sarongs is if they had flowers behind their ears, too

The only thing that would make Duke and Wally even more macho than these sarongs is if they had flowers behind their ears, too

4. Wearing a skirt and tucking a flower behind your ear is thought of as the epitome of masculinity.

At temples on Bali you have to wear a sarong, wrapping these bright cloths around your waist like a long skirt. When I first visited Bali almost two decades ago, I’d wear a sarong every day, and it was common to see local men doing the same. On this visit, though, we only saw one young man wearing a sarong in Ubud (and that’s why I approached him to be our driver for the week).

I’d also pluck a flower and put it behind my ear, having seen temple priests do so. When men on Bali would see me with my sarong and flower, they’d exclaim, “Look at you! You are so masculine!” Bali has got to be the only place on Earth where a man is considered macho for wearing what’s essentially a skirt and a flower behind his ear.

Newborns on Bali are so holy they aren’t allowed to crawl on the ground

Newborns on Bali are so holy they aren’t allowed to crawl on the ground

5. Babies on Bali aren’t allowed to touch the ground for the first three months or so.

Being Hindus, Balinese believe in reincarnation — more specifically, newborns are thought to be the spirit of an ancestor returning to live another life. Because babies are still so close to the sacred realm they came from, they should be venerated. And in a culture where the ground represents all that is demonic and impure, that means newborns aren’t allowed to touch the earth for at least 105 days after birth, and up to 210 in some communities. That’s when the soul officially becomes a part of the child.

At this time, there’s a ceremony called nyabutan or nyambutin, where the baby’s hair is cut off and he or she touches the ground for the first time. It’s often at this time that the child is given its name.

You’ll be a total baller in Bali!

You’ll be a total baller in Bali!

6. In Indonesian currency, you’ll be a multimillionaire.

Literally every time we hit the ATM, we got out the maximum amount: 1.5 million rupiah, which, at the time we visited, was only about $100.

We passed at least four Polo stores in Ubud — and they all seemed to be having a 70% off sale

We passed at least four Polo stores in Ubud — and they all seemed to be having a 70% off sale

Are these officially licensed Ralph Lauren stores? Probably not

Are these officially licensed Ralph Lauren stores? Probably not

7. There are Ralph Lauren Polo stores everywhere.

The preppy look is huge on Bali, at least among tourists. The island is lousy with Polo stores — though they might be of dubious affiliation with the brand. Walking through Ubud, we passed at least six Polo stores. Let the buyer beware: The online consensus is that these deals are too good to be true and are most likely knock-offs. –Wally



Cocaine and Crazy Clubs: Nightlife in Brazil

Tips for going out in Rio and São Paulo, from the drink card system to the abundance of coke.

Who’s high on coke? Probably this guy at Illumination in São Paulo

Who’s high on coke? Probably this guy at Illumination in São Paulo

When our friends Ben and Derrick visited Brazil, they hit the sights during the day — and decided to hit a few night clubs in Rio and São Paulo at night. They were a bit surprised by what they experienced and offer the following advice about what to expect from the Brazilian party scene.

Food vendors call out, “Do you want fried cheese, cocaine or meth?”
The massive, multi-floor mosh pit that’s the Week

The massive, multi-floor mosh pit that’s the Week

Cocaine is huge there.

One evening they were at a small bar. “Of the 50 or so people there, 40 of them went to the bathroom to do coke every five minutes,” Derrick tells me.

And it’s all done pretty much out in the open. The drug use was taking place in an antechamber to the bathroom. “You could straight up see everyone doing cocaine,” he says.

“We thought it was just a weird byproduct of this bar,” Ben says. “But it was not.”

At the big clubs, guys stood in front of the restrooms dealing drugs. “They do it in the open,” he says. “No one’s making any effort to hide it.”

A lot of the food vendors near the beach were also drug dealers. They’d call out, “Do you want fried cheese, cocaine or meth?”

A gay bar in the Bela Vista neighborhood in São Paulo

A gay bar in the Bela Vista neighborhood in São Paulo

It’s a late-night party culture — and the clubs are insane.

One of the things that surprised them is that most bars don’t even open until 11 p.m. and close at 5 a.m.

There aren’t many small bars where you can grab a drink in the afternoon or evening, aside from some cafés or the few establishments that cater to tourists.

Galeria Café in Rio

Galeria Café in Rio

Ben and Derrick went to a party at a massive discotheque called the Week. “There must have been 10,000 people over five floors,” Derrick says. “You could hear it from blocks away.”

“Which was good,” Ben chimes in. Their Lyft driver pulled into a dead end on a mountain road and said they had arrived. They were able to follow the music, though, and headed down the hill to the club entrance.

The Week in Rio, where pretty much everyone’s high on coke

The Week in Rio, where pretty much everyone’s high on coke



Tips for Going Out in Brazil

  • Don’t bring your passport or driver’s license. A copy of one of these forms of ID is sufficient. Have this ready or they won't let you in. Playing the dumb American card won’t work.

  • Once inside the club you'll be asked to pay a cover fee. This varies, but for the night they went to the Week it was $12. If you're also drinking, you’ll get a consumption card, which acts as your bar tab. You don’t settle your bill until you’re ready to head out. Once you’ve paid up, you'll receive a stamp — which you need to show to the bouncer before you can leave.

  • Even the smaller bars charge $5 to $10 as a cover. “Because people come in and do a ton of cocaine and don’t drink a thing,” Derrick explains.

With this in mind, should you find yourself out in a club late at night in Brazil, raise your glass and remember to say, “Tim-tim!” –Wally

Girls Trip to Tulum, Mexico

The best restaurants, bars and things to do in this Riviera Maya hotspot.

Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

It was the picture of a line of topless girls on the beach (seen from behind) that really got me.

I asked my former colleague and friend Megan if she’d be willing to write up a post about her trip to Tulum, Mexico. When I visited about 15 years ago, it was a sleepy getaway from Playa del Carmen, popular with backpackers and yoga enthusiasts. Then the Hartwood came.

The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids.

Megan really captured the spirit of the coastal town that has grown up so rapidly in the past decade. –Wally

Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Paradise Found

After spending weeks resisting responding to a chain of emails with the subject “February girls trip to Mexico!!!” I gave in and bought a flight on New Year's Eve. I didn't think I really wanted to go to Tulum with 10 girls I didn't know, but I'm easily persuaded by champagne. The girl organizing the trip was a close friend of mine, but everyone else was either an acquaintance or someone I'd never met.

The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

Fast-forward to February 2018, and we descend upon Tulum from every corner of the U.S. and Europe (thanks to The Organizer having friends in California, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, Illinois and Germany). We rented a wicked Airbnb with a pool, two kitchens and a really hot next-door neighbor who was sunning himself in the communal pool upon arrival (we aptly named him Mexican Jesus, to give you a visual). We all decided we like this place and I decided these girls are probably pretty cool after all.

Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Setting sight on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula after a grueling 12-hour trek from L.A. was when Tulum really hit me. The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids. Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can't do it justice.

The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

It didn't take us long to figure out that getting cabs with 10 girls was a nightmare. As dope as it was, our house was far from the beach bars and clubs Tulum is known for. We managed by taking everything we needed for the day and night to the beach with us to minimize our commute and maximize drinking time. We spent most of our days bunkered out at the beach club our Airbnb host recommended, Aura. It wasn't anything too fancy, but it was run by three tattooed Spaniards who brought us an endless supply of margaritas and giggles, so we were happy.

Not a bad place to spend your days…

Not a bad place to spend your days…

Megan's Best of Tulum

The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

Top Restaurants

La Zebra Hotel: Gorge views, great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, even if you're not a guest.

Hartwood: Wood-fired restaurant with hyperlocal fare. Dinner only.

 

Top Places for Drinks

Gitano: Chic jungle restaurant. Slip on a sexy dress and be ready to dance.

Papaya Playa: Good old-fashioned beach party, from what I remember (not much).

when you happen upon the perfect daybed in the jungle #elevatedlounging

A post shared by Megan Dawson (@megpandawson) on

Top Pool

Casa Malca: Pablo Escobar's old digs turned funky-sexy hotel. Great photo op.

Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Top Things to Do

Tulum ruins and cenotes with Sergio: Private tour of the beachfront Maya temple complex and limestone sinkholes in an air-conditioned van stocked with snacks and beer with the coolest local.

Biking along the beach strip: So much more efficient than taking cabs and also a fun way to explore.

Mayan Clay Spa: Get a mud treatment at this spa — it's insane. They massage warm mud into your whole body, including your face and hair, and then you rinse it off in an outdoor shower in the jungle.

Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Top Place to Stay

Nativus Tulum: Glamping locale I stayed at for a night when the first round of girls left. You're literally in a tent, but a big nice tent, with a full bathroom that's outside. It's incredible, and they serve an amazing breakfast. Plus it has a private cenote and is on the beach road you'll want to be located on.

Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Top Tips

  • Brush up on your Spanish — you'll need it.
  • Stay within walking or biking distance to the beach.
  • Get to the ruins very early in the morning to avoid crowds (and heat).

 

Favorite Moments

  • Taking the spontaneous topless photo with all the girls after too much sun and too many margaritas.
  • Trying to score weed with Mexican Jesus and failing miserably.
  • Running into my older brother, his husband, and my nephews by complete coincidence.
Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can’t do it justice.

Thai Iced Tea

This recipe for Thai tea is perfect for hot days and sweet tooths.

Thai iced tea: where dessert and drink come together into one delicious treat

In Thailand, iced tea isn’t served unsweetened with a lemon wedge. Known as cha yen, it’s more of a caffeinated dessert: a mixture of black tea, sweetened condensed milk and ice. I’m a fan. I mean how can you not have Thai iced tea when in Thailand? I enjoy it so much, I hunted down the recipe so I could have it even when I’m not in Thailand!

The exact origins of Thai tea remain a mystery, but some historians believe it to be a lingering influence from Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram,  a former prime minister of Thailand with a penchant for Western culture. The tea became a staple of Thai street food culture, sometimes spiced with star anise and orange blossom water, but more often than not, served without any additional flavorings.

As the climate in Thailand tends to be hot and humid, tea is often drunk cold with ice. Sweetened condensed milk was most likely introduced during the Colonial era and grew in popularity since it keeps without refrigeration.

Many Thai restaurants in the U.S. use an instant mix that contains the artificial food coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6 in the mix, also known as sunset yellow. It’s derived from crude oil, which gives it that bright orange hue, and incidentally, it’s the same dye that gives Kraft Mac & Cheese its trademark color. No thank you.

This version has a distinctively floral and spicy flavor, sweetened by a blend of condensed and evaporated milk. The sum of the parts isn’t overly sweet but quite rich, ideal in small doses. It’s one of those recipes that’s surprisingly easy to make, and once you get the basics down, you can adjust the flavors and concentration the way you like. The tea base and spiced syrup can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

Cheers, or chai yo, as they say in Thailand! –Duke

 

Special Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Measuring spoons
  • Small bowl
  • Glasses
     

Yield: 8 servings

Active Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: Chill for 8 hours to overnight

Break out the condensed milk, star anise, cardamom seeds, cloves and ceylon tea for this recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 10 bags black tea (preferably ceylon)
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 1 teaspoon decorticated cardamom seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup half & half
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Ice

Steep and chill the tea for 8 hours. Good things come to those who wait

Two kinds of milk mix together to give this tea its creamy, sweet taste

Preparation

Bring sugar and 1 cup of water and to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove the pan from heat and add star anise, cardamom seeds and cloves. Let sit for 20 minutes until flavors are infused.

Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Put in fridge.

Add 10 black tea bags and 7 cups cold water to a large pitcher.

Chill for 8 hours to overnight.

Discard tea bags.

Pour chilled syrup into pitcher.

In a small bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and half & half. Add ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract. Add to the tea in pitcher.

Serve over ice.

La Tranca: Kick Off a Day of Malaga Tapas at This Local Hangout

Famous for its empanadas and other tapas treats, this neighborhood bar has many a story to tell.

The local haunt La Tranca is full of character — and serves up delicious empanadas

Whenever possible, Wally and I try to visit cities where we have friends. That way you can visit the places they know and love — and you can be more of a traveller than a tourist.

When we stayed with our good friends Jo and José in Málaga, Spain, we started off one day’s excursion with a stopover at one of their favorite local haunts: La Tranca, an Argentinian-owned tapas bar. Which makes sense that they’re famous for their empanadas.

“Only tourists drink sangria,” Jo cut in. “Locals drink tinto de verano instead.”

The name La Tranca has a few interesting translations:

  1. A metal bar or latch to secure something, a deadbolt
  2. A drunken bender
  3. Slang for a penis

Wonder which one they were thinking of when they named the joint.

Carmen Amaya is considered to be one of the best flamenco dancers ever

Even though it was early in the day, the bar was already crowded. Faded photos of faded celebrities covered the walls. A bistro table in the corner opened up, and we pounced. A lithograph on the wall behind us showed Carmen Amaya in a matador-inspired dress. José told us she’s considered by many to have been one of the greatest flamenco dancers who ever lived.

“Carmen Amaya is hail on a windowpane, a swallow’s cry, a black cigar smoked by a dreamer, thunderous applause; when she and her family sweep into town, they cause ugliness, torpor and gloom to evaporate just as a swarm of insects strips the trees of its leaves.” –Jean Cocteau

The walls of La Tranca are covered with memorabilia, many of them album covers. José pointed to one with the image of an artist, Isabel Pantoja, who is serving a two-year sentence for money laundering. She was linked to the Malaya case, a massive real estate and bribery scandal in the nearby oceanfront Spanish city of Marbella. The state court of Málaga convicted Pantoja of helping her boyfriend Julian Muñoz, the former mayor of Marbella, launder funds he embezzled while in office.

 

Jo, Wally and José enjoy drinks and tapas at one of their favorite bars in Málaga, La Tranca

Empanadas, Beer, Gossip — and the Great Debate Over Sangria vs. Tinto de Verano

We ordered empanadas, and Wally considered getting a sangria.

“Only tourists drink sangria,” Jo cut in. “Locals drink tinto de verano instead.”

The name translates to “red wine of summer” and is an even mix of wine and citrus soda. Wally took her advice.

Meanwhile, over beers, José regaled me with more great stories. He pointed to a black and white photo of a man dressed as a matador. He explained that the man, Latin pop artist Miguel Bosé, wore the costume as a nod to his father, the famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín.

Dominguín had a passionate affair with American actress Ava Gardner. The story goes that after the first time he had sex with her, as he was putting on his trousers, Ava asked, “Where are you going?” and he replied, “Out to tell my friends.”

La Tranca is the kind of carefree place where you feel like you’re among friends and you can stay as long as you like without feeling rushed. –Duke