One of the finer things about air travel in Indonesia is the fact that you can turn up at the airport and book a flight and be on a plane within 2 hours of booking the flight. Doing just that I headed from Medan to Jakarta on a flight that would take 2 hours and cost as little as £60. It was either flying or face a 22hr bus ride to the capital and I knew which one i preferred. Jakarta is dubbed the “big Duran” by the locals as it is similar to the fruit – smelly, large and ugly. As I travelled the bus journey from the airport to Jalan Jaksa where i was staying I understood why I its called the Big Duran as I could see the smog hanging over a vast grey and sprawling city. Home to 9 million residents in the centre and a further 20 million in the suburbs Jakarta is everything you expect a big city to be – noisy, smelly, polluted, cramped, hot, humid and gridlocked (or “Mecat” in Indonesian).
This was to prove true as I asked the bus driver at the airport how long it would take to get to the centre of town and he said 3 hours, maybe 2 if we were lucky. Impressive for a mere 20km journey! 2 hours later we were lucky and with a bit of argy bargy through the traffic the driver dropped me off at Gambir Station where I then had to get to Jalan. I hoped in a taxi thinking they were making this mecat business up. One hour 15 mins later we managed to eventually arrive in Jalan Jaksa a mere 3 km away from the station, I was wrong. I was later to find out that there was a far easier and more cost effective way to travel through the streets of Jakarta but for now I was I need of a rest from all this slow travelling. Unfortunately for me the place i had booked had kindly let my room out so as forced to look elsewhere. Everywhere else was booked bar one place which was a little pricier than I would normally go for but the cable TV, hot shower, AC, very comfy bed and free wifi made me splash out a little. At £13 a night I wasn’t breaking the bank and the bed provided me with the best night’s sleep in ages.
One of the main reasons that I had headed for Jakarta was to sort out my visa for India so that night I organised myself and had all the necessary documents ready – passport photos, flights in and out of India, cash, bank statement and a references of where i was going to go and stay. All this sorted I relaxed had a beer and fell sound asleep watching the recent World Cup qualifying matches. The next morning I was up bright and early and outside the Indian Embassy for 9am ready for the long process and wait ahead. All went very smoothly and quickly and after only 30 mins I was next at the counter. The clerk must have been in a bad mood as he threw all the documents back at me and told me to go back to the UK to get my visa. He obviously didn’t want the extra paperwork. After a bit of a discussion about what an embassies role is all about and some nice comments about how much I wanted to visit India he seemed to relent muttered something rude in Indian and told me to come back in 7 days where he may or may not have my visa ready for me. Thanks.
With an air of uncertainty I decided to take my mind of it and discover the cultural side of Jakarta. I hoped on the back of a scooter (with driver) which was the quickest and most efficient way to get around town – anywhere for 15000 Rupiah – £1! And off we headed for Kota the cultural heart of Jakarta which was supposed to hold some fine Dutch buildings and canals. I was sadly disappointed to see that Kota only would resemble Holland if Holland had been left to ruin for 100 years. The canals were full of rubbish and the buildings were falling apart, literally. The only shining beacon in this tip was the main square which housed some decentish buildings, the Indonesian museum and Cafe Batavia. The museum is dedicated to Indonesian culture and history and a lot of it focuses on the Portuguese and Dutch rule rather than pre colonial rule. At the cheap entry price of 20p I was soon strolling through the rooms looking at some fine pieces of Dutch furniture and painting, some old Indo costumes and a rickshaw and Padang Food Stalls – are these last two really part of Indonesian’s fine history?!!
The Portuguese were the first Western civilisation to land on Indonesian soil in the mid 1500’s where they obtained spices such as pepper, cloves and nutmeg in return for building forts and buildings. However by the early 1600’s the VOC (Dutch East India Company) soon ousted the Portuguese and set up trade links with the ever growing Dutch Empire. Soon enough the Dutch had colonised many coastal towns and build ports and trading posts in order to send back many expensive and desirable commodities back to Europe increasing their wealth and status. The Dutch hung onto Indonesia until the invasion of the Japanese in the WWII and after the war Indonesia gained independence. The close ties between Holland and Indonesia still remain and ever present in the language where it is believed that there are around 3,200 Indonesian words exactly the same or similar to Dutch words. Some examples are – Anas (pineapple) Kas (cheese), senang (happy), kampong (village), sate (meat on sticks), nasi (fried rice), krupuk (crisps),sambal ulek (red pepper), pisang( banana), anak (child) and a lot more.
After an hour in the museum I decided to head to Café Bratavia which is a building that has not lost its charm or splendor. You certainly pay for it though and after ordering my most expensive iced coffee of my trip £3 I used the time to cool off, and decide what to do next. Lonely Planet didn’t offer much and I certainly wasn’t going to wait here a whole 7 days waiting for my passport so I decided to take a road trip back into Sumatra to visit the infamous Anak Krakatoa – son of the original Krakatoa that blew itself (and neighboring surroundings) apart in 1883. I went about organizing my only road trip, bus local buses, trains and ferries. That afternoon with time to spare I had a trip to the local Theme Park – Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.
This was Disneyland meets Indonesia. Think of Disneyland, take away the Mickey Mouse and friends and replace them with cheaper, tackier Paper Mache equivalents, reduce the size park by tenfold, reduce the number of rides by 75%, replace these rides with more ancient versions and you’re some way there. At only £8 entry fee it was far cheaper than Disneyland and I was the guest appearance judging by the number of times I had my photo taken with locals. I felt a bit lost as I was the only Westerner there and all the signs we’re in Indonesian but some kind people were on hand who ended up being my tour guide and interpreters for the day. Four hours later, all rides visited it was time to say goodbye and thank you and retreat. It was an amusing afternoon and not the best Theme Park in the world but truly molded into an Indonesian style and great fun all the same. A lot of rest was in order for that night as I was about to go where no tourist generally goes – onto the public trains and heading to Kaliandra and Anak Krakatoa, little did I know what would lay in wait for my on the journey ahead – typical travel in Indonesia – misery, pain, frustration and amusement. Don’t worry Jakarta I will be back.