Beyond Tumeric

The Munduk area, where we are finishing up our trip to Bali, is cooler and has the right conditions for growing many of the world’s spices: cloves, turmeric, nutmeg, vanilla, 11 kinds of ginger, greater and lesser galangal, as well as cocoa and coffee.

The Balinese use every part of the clove for medicine and for treating toothaches. They distill the flowers for oil. They use the cloves for cooking. Cloves are a lucrative cash crop—you can see it reflected in the wealthy homes in this area—but the process of harvesting them is harrowing.

Every year there are fatalities when clove pickers fall from their bamboo ladders way up in the clove trees. Even though the pickers bind themselves to the trees with plastic rope and run lines in three directions to hold the ladders steady, the rungs break or the picker misses a step and plummets to the ground.

Here’s an essay in pictures of the clove trade and some of the other treasures from our walk the other day.

Here’s what cloves look like close up.

Stacked clove ladders.

We saw the ladders, made of bamboo, being constructed all along the side of the road and on the trails.

Long lengths of bamboo with holes for the rungs carved out with a chisel hit with a hard mallet. Photo by Sarah Perkins.

Close up of hole.

Finished ladder.

Picking way up high. See the man in the tree?

Cloves drying.

Back ones, green, newly picked. Middle ones, drying. Front, coffee beans drying.

We saw this in yards everywhere.

Cloves are harvested twice a year, in July and March, one flower at a time. When ripe they’re red and as they dry in the sun they turn black.

So, the next time you reach for a bottle of cloves in the grocery store and wonder why they cost $4.36 instead of $2.99, think of these men risking their lives every day to add the perfect flavor to your ham or the right flavor to your curry.

Images below of some of the other treasures found in this rich Balinese region.

This is nutmeg—fresh from the tree and then cracked open. Nutmeg was a major draw for the Dutch, the Spanish and the Portuguese when they came to the New World to find spices. These countries built their wealth on the slave trade. The local people here have accrued wealth from owning the bounty of these crops. We say houses with large temples and satellite dishes everywhere.

This is what the inside of nutmeg looks like. Surya warned us, “Don’t ever take more than a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg. One tablespoon will make you high for six hours.”

Nutmeg photos by Marsha Morgan.

Nutmeg photos by Marsha Morgan.

We crossed this bamboo bridge and several others like it.

We passed these beautiful schoolchildren.

Warungs or small stores were all along our walking route.

Burned, flooded rice field.

Our crew on the Back Roads of Bali.

Curvy coconut tree.

Red rice harvest.


Long view.

Crossing the bridge.

End of our hike. Photo by Marsha Morgan.

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