One of the things I enjoyed most about the Harau Valley was Abdi Homestay, owned and operated by the friendly chef Ikbal. He was employee #1 at the bigger, more expensive nearby homestay, Echo, but he quit a few years ago to go into business for himself. His philosophy, as he is happy to tell anyone, is ‘money is not number one, happy is number one’. In other words, he wants you to be happy more than he wants your money. He follows through too; he gave me great prices and let me pay what I wanted for some things like meals and short term use of his motorbike.
Of course, it is also good business strategy for him. With an attitude like that he will get great reviews from travelers and guarantee lots of eager new customers. Even now he’s busy sometimes. On my first night in Harau, I stayed at a REAL homestay, with Ikbal’s brother Riki, because his huts were all full. Of course, by the time I left I was the only one there, so he has a ways to go before the money is really rolling in.
Ikbal cooks up some of the best Indonesian food I’ve had. Now I don’t like Indonesian food (a.k.a. fried stuff) too much generally, especially compared to other Asian cuisines. But even up against food in general, not just other Indonesian food, I’d call Ikbal’s cooking very good. Lots of vegetables, not too much oil, just the right amount of spice. His veggie gulai dishes were especially good. His wife Noni cooked instead of Ikbal for at least one night, and it was equally good. Ikbal tells me that once business picks up sufficiently he will build a kitchen hut and run a cooking school.
Ikbal and Noni have two kids, and one of the reasons Ikbal told me he started Abdi Homestay is that he wants the good habits of westerners, like caring for the environment and speaking English, to rub off on his kids. Unlike most other guest houses in the area, Ikbal caters exclusively to westerners and not domestic Indonesian tourists. It may seem like a negative for some westerners, especially if you haven’t been here, to be segregated from the local travelers, but I think he is right; the Indonesians tend to throw their trash everywhere and prefer to be herded to the most ‘important’ tourist spots regardless of how commercial they have become. It’s not compatible with my travel philosophy. I love interacting with locals, but not local tourists, in Indonesia. Even Ikbal has a ways to go before he reaches Western hippie standards of cleanliness/earth-friendliness. He tosses his cigarette butts anywhere when he’s finished, and the ground around the huts is not 100% trash free (though compared to other places in Indonesia I’d call it pristine).
Hut prices are as low as 60,000 (~$7) per night, which is what I paid for the most basic hut, in the low season, for an extended stay. I’m not sure what the others go for, but I doubt any are above 150,000 or 200,000, even in the busy season.