Big Question Marks

Saturday, July 11, 2009

High season fun in Java

We're a week into our Indonesia trip now and so far it's been a pretty interesting place to visit. Time to catch you up on our adventure!

After our flight fiasco from KL, the fun didn't stop yet-- our new flight left hours late too, and we landed in Jakarta around midnight. We caught a cab into town to the small budget-accommodation area and trudged down steamy Jalan Jaksa with our off-balance baggage only to find guesthouse after guesthouse with "full" signs. We yelled to each other over the loud live bands playing at the bars, got befriended by an odd (and possibly sketchy) Frenchman, Patrick, who kept urging us to drop off our bags at a nearby bar and he'd help us hunt for a place to stay. A few people-- including a wily prostitute and another tough looking dude yelled to us to stay away from "that man" and so we lost Patrick as soon as we could. Actually, the locals hanging out alongside the street were very helpful, pointing us to places that might have rooms and then when we found they were full, offering to call people for us and suggesting new spots. Finally we ditched Jaksa street and ended up on Jalan Johar, which was a LOT nicer looking that sleazy Jaksa but probably had price tags to match. We tried four or five fancier hotels and even they were full. Were we going to have to pull an all-nighter, drinking next to our packs til people checked out? Indonesian school holidays had just begun that day (our luck!) and people explained that it wasn't just European summer that was filling the rooms, it was the locals too!

We hardly believed it when a smiling man behind the desk of the very swank-looking Hotel Bumi Johar said he had a room available. But the TV wasn't working, he said, and bargained down his original price for us. Oh, and neither is the air-con, is that a problem? (Haha, we don't even like a/c!) We look at each other and he bargains his own price down further still, to 250,000 rupiah (about $25 USD). Well, it was quite a bit over the budget (we were hoping more like 70,000-100,000 Rp) but what can you do at 1am? Turned out the room was so nice-- fluffy bed, marble floors, hot water, free buffet breakfast, and housekeepers to pick up after us!-- we stayed for five nights!

Jakarta itself was pretty crazy, with no real city centre, heaps of traffic and pollution, really noticeable gaps between the super-rich and very poor. On our first day we braved a city train to head to the original Dutch port of Kuta (formerly Batavia). We clutched our bags from leering eyes and jumped on the old monorail-style train to head north. It was something out of a movie: dim, grungy, and packed, people hanging out the sides of the train as it veered above the city (there were certainly no closing doors to keep one from falling out!), and performers and vendors constantly pushed their way through the crowds to peddle their talents/goods. Kota was full of old Dutch colonial buildings and had a really quaint atmosphere. Crossing the streets was a bit of a nightmare-- constant speeding traffic!-- but we clung to locals as they crossed and dashed across as fast as we could. We checked out a history museum (right), got asked to be in many peoples' photos, and cooled ourselves off in the lovely Cafe Batavia, a grand old dame still stuck in the 1930s-- a great spot to sip an ice coffee, or if you can afford it, one of their cocktails. To complete the atmosphere, there was a live singer performing Sinatra hits and such to the handful of people inside-- Adrian couldn't resist the urge to karaoke a few songs with him, and others became braver after that. We left giggling at our first afternoon in Jakarta and decided to brave another form of public transit to head south within the city to meet Adrian's old college classmate, Diena. The "Busway" is a fairly new public transit system, with a few routes on nice a/c buses, with dedicated lanes to beat the insane traffic of the city core. What the Busway planners did not work on was creating some sort of order at the stops-- it was elbows-out as we became part of the swarming mass fighting to get on the next bus. Brought us back to our mosh-pit days. [I'm pretty sure I had my butt groped as well- D] Finally we pushed onto a bus... repeating our favourite analogy about "the journey being the most exciting part of the adventure". There was a great happy reunion with Diena (who was slightly weirded out at how much we enjoy public transit), and we met her husband and little son, and got to hang out at the family's (absolutely gorgeous) Balinese-style house for a fantastic evening.

The next day we checked out what was designed to be the city centre by the country's first (ambitious) president Soekarno in the 1950s. Being a Sunday as well as school holidays, it was packed with people visiting the Washington-Monument-style Monas. (The previous night we whizzed past what's been named "The Pizza Man", another of Soekarno's creations). Again, we were asked to pose in a bunch of strangers' photos, and even led an impromptu English lesson to a group of 15-year-old girls in hijabs. We didn't get much sightseeing done (as usual) but the charming Indonesians we meet along the way have been making up for it anyway. We met Diena and a friend of hers for some beers back at Batavia Cafe (we learned it used to be home to many raves back in the day) and to a beer garden down south in affluent Kemang. We learned that a love of Guns N Roses is apparently universal, that big (and mullet) hair is huge among Jakarta kids.

We spent the next few days running errands and enjoying the faint wifi signal we could steal from the comforts of our awesome hotel room. We said hello to everyone who greeted us on the street (a lot of hellos!). Michael Jackson continues to blare on speakers everywhere (thank god we don't have a TV). We tried some local food, and indulged in a little Pizza Hut too. We even came across the informal Jakarta press club: the hang-out spot of all the news photographers/ photojournalists in the city-- they were a fun bunch who were pretty excited about politics (the national election was coming that next day, July 8-- and as a country that's just emerging from dictatorships and hoping to shake its corruption, the election's big! Apparently the official results won't be officially counted for a week-- HUGE COUNTRY!-- but it appears "SBY", the current prez, has got the office again).

Finally we decided we should get seeing some more of the country, and took a train east to Yogyakarta (pronounced "Jogjakarta"), Java's cultural hub. The train travelled past some awesome scenery, including a few pointy volcanoes, and we ended up in Jogja a few days ago. It's got a better vibe than Jakarta, as it's a bit smaller and not so overwhelming, though as it's a real touristy place, we spent today dodging "invitations" to visit batik galleries and dance performances (tourist traps/scams rampant in the city). In between all of the hassles, we visited plenty of cool places: a bird market (lots of tweeting and cock-a-doodling), climbed old walls of the ancient city, and snapped photos of the nearby volcanoes looming above Jogja; visited the kraton (walled city), and the sultan's palace-- we gather Jogja still has a sultan, though we weren't lucky enough to meet him. And even though we're not morning people, we dragged our sorry butts out of bed to do THE thing to do in Central Java-- visit the ancient temples of Borobudur at sunrise, an absolutely magical sight as the mist fades from the surrounding hills and palms and the surrounding volcanoes materialize, while the temple itself glows a pretty yellow. Was definitely worth the extra coffee!


Sean said...

wow, Indonesia...sounds awesome! travel puts you in places you never dreamed of experiencing, it's the best way to live. what a trip!

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