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Full Circle

Day 115: Jakarta

Michael Palin - Full CircleAll of these questions I put to my travelling companion, Eko Binarso, an Indonesian tour guide, as we pull out onto the wet, steamy streets of Jakarta shortly after eight o'clock on a six hundred and fifty mile drive between here and the north-eastern port of Surabaya from which we can try to find a boat through the islands and on to Australia.

Eko, short, thick-haired, mid-thirties, founder of a successful trekking business, reckons that on the whole people drive more calmly during Ramadan as their stomachs are less full, and because true Muslims are not supposed to lose their temper with anyone during daylight hours. It's not really worth my while challenging these theories because Eko delivers them all with a twinkling, inscrutable smile which makes it very hard to know whether anything he says is true or not.

On the other hand, it may be that he is inhibited from saying what he really thinks owing to the presence of Mr Suherto. As in Vietnam and China, we have to take with us a government minder - someone who makes things more difficult by helping us. In Indonesia it is the short, amiably anxious, terminally confused Mr Suherto. He refers to our work as our 'activity' - as in 'What is your activity today?' or 'Where is your next activity?'.

We drive for a while on an encouraging stretch of well-kept motorway, flanked with huge billboards advertising golf ranges and polo-playing holidays. It lasts only thirty-seven miles before petering out into a clogged two-lane hard-top.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 115
  • Country/sea: Indonesia
  • Place: Jakarta
  • Book page no: 167

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