22 December 2011

Clean Enough [Jakarta, Indonesia]

Jakarta is one of the most warm and friendly capital cities I have ever visited. For me, getting over the concrete sprawl and seeing the real city is easy; it is right there in the smiling faces of every person you see. While there is not many 'tourist attractions', I enjoyed every second in the city.

We arrived to the capital late, off our flight down from Medan. Even still we wandered the streets in search of cheap accommodation for about an hour. None was forthcoming, and we ended up paying $9 to stay in a room directly over an extremely noisy karaoke bar. But we were so exhausted from a huge day travelling we didn't even hear the bad Tina Turner renditions going on downstairs.

We only gave ourselves a day in the city, mainly because we booked our onward train tickets before we realised how cool of a place it was. But it was a blessing in disguise, as Jakarta is bloody expensive, and I think we would have run out of things to do fairly rapidly.

So our day was spent wandering around Kota, in between all the old colonial Dutch buildings. It is quite a cool area, but the hawkers and markets stalls have moved in, all vying for the tourist dollar. But they, along with everyone we had any contact with in Jakarta, were extremely friendly and helpful. There was one strange thing we witnessed; one street was lined with tattoo artists sitting on the ground behind big signs. They don't take you away to their sanitised studio to perform the tattoo, right there on the street is clean enough. We actually saw a few people getting work done; I couldn't believe it!

But the main tourist attraction in Jakarta? Julia and I. People were constantly calling out to us, saying hello, randomly giving us high-5's, or asking to take a photo with us. It was kind of crazy, and I wondered if they had ever seen tourists before. And while I am sure Indonesia does not get as many tourists as, say, Thailand, I am sure it gets its fair share. I think it is just in their culture to be amazingly friendly and welcoming. It is nice when people are genuinely interested in talking to you rather than just trying to sell sell you something.

Uhh, what else? We saw the largest mosque in SE Asia - Mesjid Istiqlal, a massive monument nicknamed (Soekarno's last erection), and a church that I don't know the name of. That's about it...

We departed Jakarta on an overnight train bound for Yogyakarta, in central Java. While the travel agents wanted to sell us second class seats for about $22 each, we went to the station and bought third class for $4. We could have got second class for $14 at the station, but that is still a big difference in price. And being seasoned travelers; third class wouldn't be a problem... We hoped! I was just praying that it would not be as hellish as the trains in China.

And it wasn't! And while it was not terrible, it was a long way from comfortable. The heat and humidity left us sitting in puddles of our own sweat, hard bench seats with vertical backs, people chain smoking and food vendors walking by every 30 seconds calling out what they had for sale. That was the bit I found most hard to believe; for the entire 11 hours, through the whole night, these people just walked backward and forward selling coffee or snacks or whatever. No exaggeration; one went past at least every 30 seconds.

To be continued...

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