Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jakarta nightmares

Our very first stop (for an extended period) in Asia happened to be Indonesia, of which we knew nothing about prior to arrival.  I'll admit, we did everything wrong from the very beginning.

We flew in to Jakarta around midnight from Singapore.  As soon as the plane landed I knew it was going to be a crazy country....the moment all the wheels of the plane were on the ground, people started standing up to get their bags and push themselves to the front of the plane.   The pilots had to make continual announcements to get people to sit down again...all I could think was...where are we going?

A view of Jakarta from its National History Museum (taken the next day)
So there we were in Jakarta...with no hotel reservation, no plan for transportation....at midnight.
The lonely planet said that the cheapest way was to take the bus....so on belief that the lonely planet could do no wrong (did I mention it was our first stop?) I paraded my way thru hoards of desperate taxi drivers to the bus stop, where we were pushed on to a bus by very loud, short men....and then waited for 2 hours....from there, after 2 more stops at other airports and more waiting, we were dropped off at the train station at 2am, covered in sweat, in a rain storm, terrified and hungry, with mosquitos swarming us in darkness.   We had no idea which direction to go and were terrified of looking it up in the sacred book of answers and having someone 'know' we didn't know what we were doing....looking back...our idiocy was pretty obvious!  Could we have had a better experience?  Most definitely...will I go back to try it all over again?  Absolutely not!

Our second meal in Jakarta - found in the basement of a mall downtown,
(right next to a basement mall grocery store)
Not bad food in retrospect, but as my first toasty whole fish, a bit terrifying
We eventually meandered our way to the "L.P. recommended" mosquito infested hostel (there were smears of blood covering the walls from previous guests swatting the gigantic mosquito bodies against the white windowless cell like walls) and found some food down the street to the screeching melody of old, drunk, expat Australian men.  The one major achievement that evening?  The discovery of super large sized Indonesian Bintang beers for $1 each!  After a few of those while waiting the required hour it takes to get food in Indonesia (pretty sure they had to go find and kill a chicken for every meal we ate there), the rest didn't seem quite so bad...the large, hairy Australian men seemed more like friendly accomplices and our hostel room was...cozy at 4 in the morning.

The next day we discovered the side walk we had walked along in the dark the night before with our oversized paks and looks of terror had sporadic 2 foot gaping holes here and there that you had to leap over or risk breaking a leg.  All of the decaying sidewalks in Jakarta have a deep and wide gutter system underneath them, which keeps the entire city from flooding and terrifies pedestrians...we were the only people walking the streets....it's almost impossible to cross the 5 car wide streets in some parts of the city.  Most people take taxis!

'walking' downtown Jakarta
This photo was taken on an overpass we fortunately found to walk over  the 'normal' street
Also, because we had no idea what we were doing, we had booked a flight out of Sumatra for 3 weeks later, so we decided to set up a plan with a travel office to get to Medan.  When we told the women we wanted to find a ferry to Sumatra, she simply looked at us a bit stunned and said....that's not possible.  A first of many surprising transportation realizations in Indonesia.  So.  We paid for two first class train tickets (which let's you have a little fan throw air towards you and has a little towel on your head rest) to Yogyakarta Indonesia...and would eventually fly out of Bali....

waiting for hours at the train station to leave Jakarta!
We ended up having to pay a man who grabbed our bags at the very last moment and demanded money
The real story of anger and complete despair lies in the next leg of our journey from Yogyakarta to Bali.....the part we really wish we'd known more about in our lack of research for the trip.  I will save that lovely story for another next blog!

All that being said....I will never return to Jakarta.  Worst place we visited on our entire trip by far!
Dirtier then the long dusty bus rides in Africa.  Hotter then the sun filled blistering days of Thailand....
Yup.  Just as there are beautiful places I'm dying to return to....there are places I would rather not see again.  Jakarta is one of them.  It did teach a lot of important lessons on the do's and don'ts of first days flying into new places  -

DON'T arrive late at night!
DON'T hand your bags over to ANYONE and not expect them to want money seconds later.
DO book a room before arrival for your first night in a new city!
DO make sure to plan how you're going to get there!
DO enjoy and have fun trying out the local foods and beverages!
Mistakes we didn't make again after that!

But to end on a good note...the best coffee I've ever had?  1 block away from our jail cell hostel at a hole in the wall restaurant:

Coffee Jakarta style - strong with the grounds still in with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an absolute nightmare that you've been going through while your there. Good luck with the rest of the trip!