the wonders of Indonesia series 8 – day 8 we wandered into a tea plantation

After staying for two nights in the same hut (which rarely happened to us because of our impatience) we decided to leave the village and explore further in the last two days of our trip. We walked down the hill, took a last glance at the rice fields and hopped onto a bus to start our next journey.

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Figure 4: we stopped at a tiny town for breakfast – vegetable stocks covered in peanut sauce

Bus ride was never fun in Indonesia. As soon as we arrived at the bottom of the hill, the road became congested and the air turned foul. Most unfortunately, our GPS lost its functionality to zoom out and we couldn’t get any bus to our “destination”, which was a bunch of narrow lines in the GPS (interpreted as trails by Toni). There was once when we got off the bus wrongly at a busy junction, and we were immediately surrounded by a group of aggressive motor-cyclists who wanted to offer us a ride. Then we followed another bus to its terminal and couldn’t proceed further. We walked around the village in the blazing sun and drank some coffee at a road side tentage. Toni became moody with the GPS while I craned my neck eagerly to look for a goldsmith who could make an engagement ring for me. In the previous day the owner of Bukit Panorama had told us that there was a gold mine nearby and we saw some people wearing gold accessories indeed. I was adamant about getting my engagement ring at that time, but my wish was only granted one and half months later in Thailand :p In the end, we decided to hire a motorbike to bring us to the narrow lines on Toni’s GPS. The price was exorbitant, but the ride was equally long, steep and strenuous. After around half an hour, we magically landed at the entrance of Gunung Halimum National Park. With tears of joy, we had some light lunch and packed rice and eggs for our hiking trip at a small restaurant next to the entrance. The owner even kindly offered to sketch a map for us, and told us the names of the security guards that we could look for once we reached the other side of the park.

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Figure 5: entrance to gunung halimum national park

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The park was really empty and we didn’t see any hikers. A few motorists passed by and all of them carried scary long knives. We walked in silence for the first one or two hours, only hoping that we didn’t attract some ill attention or fall prey to the knife carriers. All of a sudden, as we climbed higher, a patch of tea plants came into our view. This gave us some excitement and after a sharp turn, the whole mountain became covered in a breathtaking carpet of tea plantations!

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I was full of gratitude that despite our lack of research and planning for almost every trip, we could always somehow bump into something exciting. We soon spotted a small village which probably came into existence because of the plantation workers. It was not directly on our trail, but its loveliness attracted us to take a rest at the only snack store there. We wanted to order some fresh tea, but they only had sweetened packet drinks in plastic cups.

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Figure 16: entrance to the village

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Figure 17: panorama view of the village huts

While we were drinking, an old lady stopped by and observed us in silence. We smiled to her, and she made a sleeping gesture with clasped hands touching her right cheek. It was getting dark and we had not thought about where to set up our tent, so we decided to take a look at her place. She became happy and led us to her hut at the end of the road. It was dimly lit in the living room with a TV playing at the background. The ceiling and walls were made with flimsy straws. There were cupboards with tea cups and plates, but no tables or chairs. The old lady served some coffee to us together with some snacks. By this time, young kids and some adults had gathered outside the window to observe us. Since none of them could speak English, we tried to communicate with them by drawing on the papers, which confused them even more. There were three other people in the household – the old lady’s husband, their widowed daughter in-law and her son. After we told them that we wanted to spend our night there, the old lady went into the kitchen again to cook dinner for us. She came out with two plates of white rice and one sunny side up egg on each plate. They were seasoned with a kind of sweet sauce which tasted nice at the first bite, but made me lose my appetite after I saw the dirty bottle which contained the sauce. We were also served with fried peanuts and dried fish which had lost their crispiness probably since a few months ago.

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Figure 18: drinking coffee

During our dinner, a big man came to our house with a broad smile on his face. He reminded me of the crazy driver’s aunt slightly, because he could also speak English, and started teaching us some phrases in their local language. After our dinner, he offered to show us his house, which was located at the other end of the road 50m away. His house was broader and cleaner with a big fridge and soft carpet. Just after two minutes, he left us and brought back some snacks from the village store. We became overwhelmed by his hospitality, as he not only offered us the snacks he just bought, but also took some old snacks from his fridge and asked us to try various types of biscuits and desserts. I didn’t like them so much because they tasted artificial and stale. Then he showed us his backyard where he kept some chickens and asked us to take some photos. Toni chuckled secretly because he used to keep so many more chickens at his garden. We stayed at his place until some kids started knocking on his door. They came one by one and knelt into a circle. We thought our presence would disturb their praying process, but our host implored us to stay and even to sleep at his place. We didn’t know how to respond to him, because we already made some arrangement with the old lady, but he just pretended that he didn’t know anything and kept telling us how warm and comfortable his house was. He only stopped when all the kids had arrived, and joined them in the circle. In every round, he would start singing first, and point to a kid with his cane to continue the lyrics. If the kid couldn’t continue or recited wrongly, he would spank their palms. Apparently the kids were excited about our presence, and giggled whenever they were punished. Their teacher seemed to enjoy his stardom as well, and sang loudly with his deep voice. Soon his wife came back, and started cooking fish, chicken and a variety of dishes. It became more and more difficult to leave, but the old lady’s husband came into our rescue. He came into the house and asked us to follow him back, where we stood up swiftly and left the owner before he had time to turn back his head.

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Figure 19: the big man and his son in the backyard

When we were back to the old lady’s shabby house, we felt a bit more peaceful but also bad that we didn’t say thanks to our host. We sat through the rest of the evening watching TV, which showed a story about a rich family with a grandly furnished mansion. The widowed daughter was silent all the time, while her young son climbed around with curiosity. There was a short cut to their neighbour’s hut – a mini hole cut out from the straw wall. It was covered with straw in the day time, but when the kids felt like playing, they could lift up the straw and climb into each other’s house freely. I took a peek at our neighbour’s living room – the layout was more or less similar, and they had a TV as well, which played the same channel…

Before it was time to sleep, Toni couldn’t contain his guilt any more and went to the big man’s hut again to express our gratitude, but came back only to tell me that the friendship was strained and the big man became completely estranged~~

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