One of our favorite places in the world is a Balinese village tucked into the folds of the hills that make up the island's northern coffee and clove growing area. On our first visit to this less-than-one-street place, two hours and light years away from the island's crowded southern coast, it was harvest time. Every morning we woke to the sound of workers - men and boys - calling out to each other as they made their way through the mist to (and up) the towering clove trees that crowded three sides of our temporary abode, and every evening we watched as they hauled out to the road tarps sagging under the weight of countless immature buds.
And each minute, no matter where in the vicinity of the village we wandered, we breathed in the most intoxicating fragrance imaginable: that of tons of clove buds maturing on the tree and releasing molecules of oil to the air as, stirred periodically with wooden rakes, they darkened on mats under Bali's scorching dry-season sun.
I'd almost forgotten that scent until, as we were exploring the streets and alleys of Padang's Chinatown on our last evening on Sumatra, it hit me like a suckerpunch. There was no mistaking the source of the heavy, sweet Mandarin orange-ish fog we'd wandered into.
It came from the open doors of a warehouse (the edge of Chinatown borders Padang's port), and from the contents of a container truck parked in front.
We watched as two men, muscles straining under the weight of 50-kilo bags of dried cloves, made their way from warehouse to truck and back again, as two others packed the burlap bags tightly into the back of the container.
The driver told us these cloves - all five tons of them - were bound for Jakarta, where they'd be processed before export. (This is atypical; little of Indonesia's clove crop is exported. The country is actually a major importer of cloves and its kretek - clove cigarettes - industry is the world's largest clove user.)
Inside the warehouse two women sat at a wooden table, sorting cloves by the fading, late-day light seeping through the doors. How many flat, woven baskets of sorted cloves does it take to fill a 50-kilo burlap bag, let alone a container?
I imagined that, at the end of the work day, they wore the scent of cloves home.