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Full Circle

Day 115: Jakarta

Michael Palin - Full CircleFor a fasting country there is an awful lot of food about. The roadside is stacked with bananas, yams, melon, rambutan, avocado and, of course, the famously smelly delicacy durian, which, as they say here, 'smells like him, tastes like her'.

About fifty-five miles out of Jakarta, we stop off at Gunung Mas, a sprawling tea plantation where the short, carefully cropped bushes spread in a great green crust, close and tight over the hillsides. In amongst them move the redoubtable lines of pickers, all women, in their uniform of wide-brimmed rattan hats, headscarves, blue and white track-suit tops, skirts over trousers and stout rubber boots. They move across the hills like human locusts, metre-deep baskets slung on their backs, snipping remorselessly.

The man in the tea tasting room pulls in his cheeks, gurgles, spits and talks of 'a good plucking'. Although soil and climate are vitally important for quality (we are at three thousand feet here) the skill of the pickers is what can make the difference. The welly-booted women of Gunung Mas are not just formation hedge-clippers they are, in their way, experts, looking for the precision of one bud and two leaves from the most succulent young growths - what they call the PG tips.

Our destination for the night is the city of Bandung. A couple of traffic lights' distance from our hotel we are ambushed by a well-drilled squad of young men selling city maps, carvings, bits of batik and large colour pictures of the stars of Baywatch.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 115
  • Country/sea: Indonesia
  • Place: Gunung Mas
  • Book page no: 167

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