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Jakarta Moments: Highs and Lows

Jakarta is a city that fills you with the highest highs and the lowest lows. Within the same day you can have the best moments and then the worst. The last two weeks have been filled with moments like these for me.

Two Saturdays ago, my Indonesian tutor and friend Niar invited me to her home to cook (will post recipes soon). After we had eaten we heard beautiful gamelan music wafting in the air. Niar’s neighbor across the way has a gamelan set on his second floor. Niar popped over and asked if we could all come in and watch. The group of 50- and 60-year-old Indonesians welcomed us into their home.

They played for us, then they let us take over their practice for an hour and learn how to play, much to everyone’s delight.

We laughed and played gamelan in the beautiful afternoon light. Then we were feed snacks of fried bananas and sweet Indonesian tea. The group wanted a photo with us at the end and one of the women kept saying, “I love you” because that was the only phrase she knew in English. This was probably the best afternoon I’ve had in Jakarta and it was in the presence of complete kind strangers and old friends who we had cooked with earlier.

But then on Monday, I hit a low point.

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What’s for Dessert? An Indonesian Spin On David Lebovitz’s Pineapple-Coconut Macaroons

One of the downsides to moving to Indonesia was discovering how expensive butter, cream and good cheese are here. So for months as I read my favorite food blogs, I sighed and told myself, “this recipe will just have to wait for another day.” Then one of my favorite food bloggers, David Lebovitz, posted a recipe for pineapple-coconut macaroons — not to be confused with French macarons. Pineapple you say? Coconut you say? It was a food blogging miracle. And the upside to living in the tropics? Having pineapple and coconut guys at the market, who also happen to be charmers.

The small pineapples sold in markets in Jakarta cost about 50 cents each. Every time I go to the market I buy one and have incredibly sweet pineapple for breakfast the next few days.

My favorite part of buying pineapples is watching the vendor skillfully peel and deftly spiral cut the fruit making it ready to slice and eat as soon as you get home, or on your way home.

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Krakatoa: The Volcano That Needs No Introduction

When Krakatau (spelled Krakatoa in English) volcano exploded in 1883, the sound it emitted was the loudest in recorded history. This is the volcano of legends. The one that managed to change the color of the sky all over the world. The one that enthralled artists and created myths. The one that may have inspired the reddish background colors in Edvard Munch’s iconic “The Scream.” The one that happens to sit off the coast of Western Java, a mere 5 hour journey from Jakarta. The one I had to see.

When you are on one of the world’s most famous active volcanoes, some dramatic silhouetted groups shots are totally called for:

We left Jakarta at seven in the morning. Our driver stopped so we could all have some bubur ayam, chicken porridge, for breakfast and then we drove three hours to the Western Java coastal town of Carita. After a coffee and some bananas, we boarded a boat bound for Krakatau. On the way we passed floating fishing huts — a sign that dinner would be tasty.

Our first stop of the day was Rakata Island. Before the massive explosion in 1883, Rakata and Krakatau, today known as Anak Krakatau (anak is Indonesian for child, so child of Krakatau), were connected. Click here for a map of the area with pre-explosion outline. We snorkeled off of Rakata in the warm waters that had once contained lava.

Later, as we sat on the shore of Rakata eating our box lunches, enjoying the nature and good weather around us, we heard a rustling noise. A monitor lizard, who we named Bambang (after a certain someone’s middle name), decided to pay us a visit. His blueish purple forked tongue greeted us.

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Tropical Fruit Installment 13: Santol

For my next two fruit installments, I’ve got some guests visiting from Thailand. Meet, santol.

I first spotted this fruit when I went to the market with my cooking class in Bangkok. I asked the instructor and he told me the Thai name which sounds nothing like the English name I found by Googling (I really do hope it’s the correct name). I didn’t get a chance to buy one then, so when I saw a fruit stand on Ko Phi Phi Don, I couldn’t resist.

The vendor asked if I wanted the fruit cut and since I had no idea which parts were edible, I said “yes.” She sat down on a stool in the back of the small, hot shop and she peeled the santol, with pieces falling on a giant jack fruit below. She cut slivers into the fruit so we could tear it off conveniently.

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The Night of the Cobras

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about to get a bit slithery.

“On any given day on Jalan Mangga Besar in Jakarta, dusk brings a scurry of activity from street stall owners…” Click on the link to read the piece I did for CNNGo about cobra blood shots on Jakarta’s streets with terrific photos from Melanie Wood (who has a great blog you should check out here). This post shares some of my blurry photos (pre-new camera era) and a bit of background about the whole experience. A warning for those who don’t like blood, there are some graphic photos in this post, this is, however, part of daily life here in Jakarta.

When Emily, apartment-mate and fellow journalist, and I heard that you could get shots of cobra blood in Jakarta we were both curious. Maybe it’s the journalist inside us both, but we tend to be drawn to the strange and the unusual and we were both curious to see if this was an urban legend, or if you could really sit down and buy a shot of cobra blood. Were lots of Indonesians doing this? And would said shot really improve women’s skin and up men’s sexual stamina like promised?

After walking along Jalan Mangga Besar (Big Mango Street) for some time, we settled on Dani’s stand. Dani and his assistant Beke seemed like nice guys and we got a good vibe. There was a big cage full of cobras under Dani’s tent stall and suddenly I grew anxious and started asking myself, “Is this a good idea? Should I do this? Could I get really sick?” (The post gets more graphic after the jump so be forewarned.)

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