Best time to visit: between April and October
Words Tiffany Chan, Iris Wong and Cherrie Yu Illustrations Tim Cheng
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 90, December 2017
Few visitors to Bali venture beyond the spectacular beaches, resorts and bamboo-clad wellness retreats in the south, which is preposterous given that the island stretches almost 150 kilometres from east to west and 80 kilometres from north to south. For something different, isolated and sparsely populated regions. Dotted with villages, Jembrana is all verdant mangrove forests, inaccessible mountains and a rugged coastline huge by black sand beaches.
What drew us however, was chocolate. The area is the biggest cocoa producing region in Indonesia. The plantations are so ubiquitous that French chocolatier Valrhona produced its first Cuvée Bali last year, working with the Kerta Semaya Samaniya (KSS) cooperative of almost 600 cocoa farmers.
In pulukan, we meet a leather skinned farmer Ketut, who has been cultivating cocoa since 1990 and started collaboration with KSS in 2013. Last year, his two – hectare garden plantation produced 1.3 tonnes of dried beans. He is slowly renovating his crop, grafting new varieties on to old trees, a process he describes as “copy and pasting a good plant with good genes”.
Forty – five minutes away, we meet another Ketut with a three – hectare plantation said to be the future of Balinese cocoa production. His trees are larger, healthier and more resident to garden pests and diseases, with plump, vibrant cocoa pods. He feeds the husks to his cattle and sends the beans to the KSS to be fermented, dried, handpicked and shipped. At the cooperative, we try the Cuvée Bali 68 per cent. It is fruity with a passive acidity that lingers in the mouth and reminds us of the chocolate we loved as children. With chocolate in hand a view of lush bottle-green hills, we couldn’t feel further away from the glamorous, crowded Bali that most visitors experience.
How to Get There
Jembrana Regency is a two – hour drive from Ngurah Rai International Airport, in Denpasar.
What to Do
Water – buffalo races, or makepung, are popular in Jembrana’s capital, Negara, to celebrate the end of the rice harvest, but tourists can attend special hour – long races year – round. East of Negara, the black – sand Medewi beach is quiet and beautiful, framed among surfers for the length of its waves. Off the north coast, the reefs around Menjangan island are a snorkelling and diving paradise. Nearby West Bali National Park, which accounts for almost 10 per cent of the island, has pristine habitats varying from mangrove forests to savannah, and is home to the endangered Bali starlings.
Where to Stay
Mimpi Resort Menjangan
Perched on the shore of Banyuwedang bay, this eco-retreat is studded with thatched – roof villas, thermal springs and a floating restaurant.
Jalan, Banyuwedang, 81155 Northwest Bali
T +62 362 94497
Kelapa Retreat & Spa
Five minutes from Medewi beach, this five star boutique resort boasts fresh ocean views, a private beach and an infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Jalan Ngurah Rai, Pekutatan, 82262 Bali
T +62 815 5820 2185
Bombora Medewi Wavelodge
Situated right on the beachfront in Nedewi bay, travellers will be hard-pressed to find a better located resort. Founded by an Australian surfer who fell in love with the beach’s breaks, it has just 11 rooms and is an idyllic surf getaway.
Jalan Raya Medewi, 82262 Bali
T +62 365 4501999
Where to Eat and Drink
An Indonesian/Malaysian dish of chicken poached in sweet soy and liberally spiced with garlic, shallots, ginger, tomatoes and pepper.
Nasi Padang restaurants are ubiquitous serving steamed rice with dishes such as beef rending, fried chicken, curries, stewed vegetables and fiery sambals.
This classic Balinese roasted suckling pig is turned over an open fire until it is crispy, juicy and tender. Traditionally the dish is enjoyed during special occasions and celebrations, but it is not uncommon on the menu in tourist restaurants.