Category Archives: Destinations

Temple of Isis, philae Temple, Egypt

Nearly Lost, Philae Temple Reconstructed

A few years ago, I flew from Cairo to Luxor to continue my Egyptian adventure, which had begun in Giza. I was on my way to fulfilling a lifelong dream: to tour Egyptian temples and the Valley of the Kings. 

First, my small travel group set off to learn about the construction of the High Aswan Dam, one of the world’s largest embankment dams. It was built across the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, between 1960 and 1970. The goal was to better control flooding, provide increased water storage for irrigation, and generate hydroelectricity. 

The dam became a political hotbed: the US and Britain pulled funding and the Soviet Union financed much of the project. We visited a monument honoring the Soviet involvement. 

High Aswan Dam Memorial
A tall memorial to the Soviets recognizing their help with the construction of the High Aswan Dam.
Continue reading Nearly Lost, Philae Temple Reconstructed

Lovely Lucerne Should Not Be Missed

Reading books to children can make a great impact on their lives. As a youngster, I fondly remember the book, Heidi. The story features a young orphan girl sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. She developed a deep love of the mountains and nature, something that still appeals to me. Looking back, I believe I was drawn more to the illustrations than the storyline, as I clearly recall wishing to see the Alps, chalets, and grazing cows. My chance finally came when I signed up for a Riviera River Cruise from Basel, Switzerland, to Cologne, Germany.  

A farm tucked into the Swiss Alps.
Imagine living in the Swiss Alps.

My travel buddy Judy and I flew to Zurich and boarded a train directly from the airport to Lucerne. Swiss Rail makes it so easy and the trains are very clean and comfortable.

I’m glad I listened to a friend’s recommendation to spend two days in Lucerne because the beauty and ambiance of the city can’t be overstated. The stunning Old Town rests on the banks of Lake Lucerne, surrounded by stunning mountains featuring Mt. Pilatus, rising approximately 7,000 feet. 

Chapel Bridge and view of Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne, Switzerland.
Sunlight shines on the flower boxes lining the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne. Mt. Pilatus in the rear.
Continue reading Lovely Lucerne Should Not Be Missed

Learning about Controversial Kopi Luwak Coffee in Bali

While touring and photographing the lush rice terraces in Bali, I saw a nearby coffee plantation. I decided to stop to learn more about Bali’s controversial kopi luwak coffee.

Taste Testing Kopi Luwak coffee in Bali.
A Cup of Kopi Luwak Coffee Served to me in Bali

I first heard about this outlandish java from one of my favorite movies, the 2007 film The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Nicholson plays an obnoxious billionaire who only drinks the exotic brand. He carries his stock of kopi luwak everywhere he goes and even takes a portable brewing station to ensure a fresh cup of kopi luwak wherever and whenever he wants it. Nicholson’s character calls it the “rarest coffee in the world,” indeed, it is the most expensive brew in the world. So, what makes it so extraordinary? 

What is Kopi Luwak coffee?

Red berries or coffee berries growing in Bali.
Coffee Cherries Growing on a Coffee Plantation in Bali.

Kopi Luwak is a famous (and somewhat disreputable) Indonesian coffee that has been digested by an animal called an Asian palm civet. The civet, a cat-like creature, roams the forests of Bali at night, eating ripe coffee cherries. But only the outer pulp is digested while the coffee beans pass through the animal’s digestive tract intact. After being expelled, the beans are collected, thoroughly washed, and meticulously processed to remove any remaining impurities. This process, coupled with the enzymes and fermentation during digestion, contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor and smoothness.

The History of Civet Coffee

Civets are cat-like animals that love coffee cherries.
A Civet in a Cage on the Coffee Plantation

The history of civet cat coffee or cat poop coffee goes back to the 1700s when the Dutch first set up coffee plantations in Sumatra and Java. According to legend, the locals noticed wild animals were eating the ripe coffee cherries (the stone fruits that grow in bunches on the coffee plant). They digest the cherries and excrete the beans. At the time, the plantation workers were prohibited from harvesting coffee beans for themselves, so they started brewing their drinks from these discarded beans.

Why Would You Drink Kopi Luwak?

Coffee connoisseurs seek it because wild animals will only eat the best, ripest cherries, so you don’t end up with inferior, unripe beans. The enzymes in the civet’s digestive system alter the coffee beans, producing a smoother cup of coffee.

How Does the Process Work?

Coffee Beans Excreted by Civets to Make Luwak Coffee.

The cherries get entirely stripped of their fruity exterior while passing through a civet’s stomach, giving them an extensive washing process. The workers then peel off any remaining skin, and the beans are ready for drying and later roasting. Without any fruit pulp left on the bean, mold doesn’t grow, resulting in a better cup of coffee.

Cleaned coffee beans before roasting
Washed and Cleaned Coffee Beans now Ready for Roasting.

Taste Testing

When I toured the plantation, more of a family compound, I saw a few civets in cages. The guide explained that they were only there so we could see the animals. 

Next, we stopped to see examples of the beans at various stages of the process. Then, we sat down to taste various locally grown tea and coffee blends. The guide collected an additional fee from those tasting luwak. 

A sampler of coffee blends.
Tasting a Variety of Coffee Blends

Naturally, I decided to take a taste test while I was there. I admit I was skeptical, but the coffee was one of the smoothest, low acid, and most flavorful cups I have ever tried. I liked it, but did NOT buy any to bring home. 

Luwak Coffee being brewed at a coffee plantation
Brewing Luwak Coffee at the Coffee Plantation in Bal

What’s the Problem with Civet Coffee?

The problem with kopi luwak coffee is that it’s rarely actually wild. As you can imagine, a plantation that relies on free-range civets would be unpredictable. Finding and collecting the excreted beans in the forest becomes a labor-intensive task and therefore is cost prohibitive for a business. 

As a result, the most common production involves removing civets from the wild and keeping them in tiny cages on coffee plantations – in other words, an unethical form of animal abuse. Many coffee plantations don’t comply with animal welfare standards for hygiene, shelter, and mobility. The civets may also be force-fed the cherries. If the civets are kept on restrictive coffee-only diets, that may lead to malnutrition and other health problems.

Wire cages keep civets from roaming free.
A Civet in a Wire Cage

The Dark Side of Coffee

The consumer must also be wary as much of the coffees sold as kopi luwak isn’t authentic. With incredibly high prices for this specialty product,  expect sellers to cash in by labeling unauthentic merchandise. I saw a 3.52-ounce pack of kopi luwak selling for $116.99 on Amazon. That amounts to a whopping $530 per pound.  

For some helpful information on the current price of kopi luwak:

Recommendations call for buyers to look for ethical sourcing and responsible producers. However, I think that would be difficult to determine.

To learn more I recommended reading:  Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee

Paperback – May 2, 2019

by  Antony Wild  (Author)